- Nov 19, 2019
I’ve spent the last two years working with Falls Church City Public Schools and our design-build partner Stantec to design a new 21st century learning environment. Throughout this process I’ve learned that it’s more than just one secret ingredient that makes design-build delivery successful.
As with any successful project, preparation is key. Getting the Request for Proposal (RFP) process right is the first step in successful design-build delivery. Create an RFP that clearly communicates your goals for the project. The difference between performance versus prescriptive specifications is the level of flexibility the design-build team has to meet your building’s needs. Start with identifying the underlying reason for your specification. Understanding this early and communicating it often will lead to a design-build proposal tailored to your specific needs.
Selecting the right ingredients
The selection process can be daunting. Taking the time to choose the right team will make your project successful. A clear RFQ and RFP is important, but don’t be afraid to incorporate unconventional methods during selection as well. For example, one-on-ones with proposing teams can help them identify the underlying reasons for your specifications. Site visits are another way to get a feel for the design aesthetic of your prospective teams. It’s also an opportunity to point out aspects that you either want or don’t want in your new building.
What are ingredients without people to mix them together? Having the right cooks in the kitchen makes all the difference. An all-day administrator meeting at the start of the project gets everyone on the same page. It also allows you to set workload expectations. Design-build is more like making risotto than minute rice. It requires a lot of time and attention to get right. Therefore, a decision maker for the client, designer and builder should always be in the room when decisions are being made. If the lead can’t be in the room, delegate authority to the right people to avoid delays in schedule.
Without the right tools, it’s difficult to execute any plan. Focus on using processes and communication protocols that enable productive scope alignment while maintaining a focus on schedule, budget and owners needs throughout design. At the start of any design-build project determine what tools you’ll use for tracking programmatic and cost changes. This allows for an open dialogue on changes during the design process. I recommend you develop an overall schedule that encompasses design, construction and owner activities. Use this as your roadmap to ensure you meet your goals. Align this with a cost tracking log that identifies when a final decision needs to be made and the priority of that item.
For a public project, community engagement can be a great tool. Organize community focus groups tasked with a certain aspect of the building such as sustainability, community use or athletics. Don’t forget to be flexible. At the new George Mason High School we delayed the decision timing of finishes and FF&E to allow for an Architectural Selection Advisory Committee, made up of school and community representatives, to provide input on materials after construction documents were finalized. This allowed us to maintain design production to support the start of construction, while allowing adequate time for the committee to evaluate the multitude of spaces within the high school.
The Final Product
The recipe to a successful design-build project is no secret. With the right amount of preparation, ingredients, and tools, you can set up your design-build project for success.