True Collaboration, True Responsibility

Success in design and construction is increasingly being gauged as much by the process as by the outcome. This is a trend being driven by building owners, who more and more are turning to collaborative, streamlined processes such as design-build that can shave months off the building schedule and save hundreds of thousands, even millions, in building costs. Whether the financial meltdown of 2008 and lingering recession, or national media attention drawn to outrageous expenditures of money (such as the $2 billion in cost overruns on World Trade Center transportation hub that we discussed in our ‘Scope Creep‘ story), cost sensitivity and aversion to risk are leading prospective building owners to seek out alternatives to the design-bid-build (D/B/B) building delivery method that has dominated the industry for the past century.

But as Oliver Snider explains in page 72 of a recent feature story in Commercial Construction & Renovation: The collaborative cousins of design-build differ in one significant respect, and it’s that our company and our subcontractors take all the financial responsibility when problems crop up on the jobsite. Our team, comprising the architect and the contractor, agrees to design and construct a project for a guaranteed fixed price. If a subcontractor makes a mistake or overlooks a detail, the subcontractor pays. If Stanmar fails to put something on its drawings, and it must later be added, Stanmar pays.

This method, in which no change orders accrue to the owner, contrasts with collaborative methods such as integrated project delivery (IPD), which the AIA California Council found lacking during a 2010 study (a “pure” IPD model has “no provision for change orders,” the council stated). As more owners consider collaborative (or collaborative-sounding) methods such as IPD, architect-led design-build (ALDB) and others, the question of “Who pays?” is crucial. When you choose a project delivery method, you’re choosing a contractual arrangement, not simply conversations around a planning table. Only by understanding the very real differences between collaborative methods can owners get the benefits of collaboration in reality, and not just in theory.

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