In days of yore, buildings were designed and built by master builders. These were people who spent their whole lives learning about buildings by creating them – from idea to reality – working side by side with others, many of whom who had more experience than they did. That’s how they eventually achieved mastery. Practice, repetition, and observation of everything to do with the building’s creation.
As centuries have passed, our work has become increasingly specialized. Two byproducts of specialization are fragmentation and loss of breadth. Another artifact of specialization is the sequential hand-off model of building development:
- Owner conceives of project;
- Architect conjures up design – typically with strong emphasis on form and program;
- Structural engineer figures out how to make it stand;
- Mechanical consultant sorts out how to make it (marginally) comfortable;
- Landscape consultant selects growies to put around the edges;
- Interior designers and lighting designers work out how to make it attractive and pleasant inside;
- Contractors have to actually build it.
If you’re one of these professionals, please don’t take umbrage at this unflattering characterization of your work. Through no fault of our own, all of our contributions are often reduced to this level – in no way because that’s how it should be, and many of us have opportunities to contribute more effectively on the occasional project. But too often all the players in the design and construction process have limited opportunities to influence the building for the better, simply due to the nature of this hand-off process.
Of course I’m oversimplifying, and there is some back-and-forth among project team members. But the cold, hard reality is that our opportunities to interact – and to share with one another the benefits of our experience and insight – are far too few. And our buildings suffer as a consequence. Each of the players in the process inherits and has to solve, often solo, problems unwittingly created by well-meaning teammates who are higher up the food chain. How many times have you thought, “If only they’d asked me about that!”?
Integrating the design team and the construction team
We may accept this process as inevitable for garden-variety projects, but it is the death knell for high performance. Stated differently, the green building community has long since arrived at the collective observation that high performance is most readily achieved through the process of what is often referred to as either “integrated design” or “integrative design.”
Over time, I have developed a strong preference for “integrated project delivery.” I realize that this may mean something somewhat different to others in my industry, but what it means to me is that the building is delivered (designed and built) by a team working via an integrated process throughout both design and construction. My final boldface phrase deserves repetition: design and construction.
Developing a common understanding
There are some critical components to integrated project delivery (IPD). For my 2009 book, Energy Free: Homes for a Small Planet, I mined several sources to hone a couple of definitions to support my understanding of IPD:
- An integrated team is one that is unified by coming together to work as a whole; and
- In an integrated building, the building components and their interconnections are brought together into a unified whole.
As these definitions suggest, integration is an important attribute both of the team and of the building they collaborate to produce. And it reasonably follows that it’s hard to get an integrated building without an integrated team and team process.
Possibly the best explanation of this that I have found comes from a somewhat surprising source: a lawyer. Attorney Will Lichtig produced the diagrams shown in Image 1. Perhaps he was drawing from painful experience (building processes that were not integrated?).
As Lichtig’s graphs so effectively highlight, the critical distinction between business as usual and integrated project delivery is that during IPD, common understanding among team members (including the general contractor and trades) is achieved very early in the design process. It’s easy to see, then, how much easier it is to meet high performance goals, when everyone on the team is party to design accords and – perhaps even more importantly – participates in reaching those accords.
Integrating not just design, but project delivery
This is why I’ve shifted my thinking over the past couple of years from “integrated design” to “integrated project delivery.” When the building team isn’t privy to the reasoning behind design decisions – and may in fact have good reasons to quibble with some of those decisions – field implementation may not occur precisely as envisioned by the designers. By contrast, when the building team participates in design, the team has the full benefit of expertise on constructability issues – including cost implications – and can therefore make decisions that are much better-informed and are likely to be much more faithfully executed during construction.
This explains why high performance – or zero net energy (ZNE) – is a recessive gene (click on Image 2 below).
Having now belabored the rationale behind integrated project delivery, the question remains: how to implement this process in your projects? I’ll offer some suggestions and resources on this subject in my next installment.