Array Architects

Why to Collocate a Design & Construction Office for Integrated Project Delivery Success

Posted by Guest Contributor on Aug 04, 2014

Featured in Healthcare Construction + Operations, July 2014.

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is gaining traction in the healthcare AEC industry. There has been a lot written about the benefits to the method, including budget control and schedule achievements. Going into my first IPD project, I knew the process was different on a contractual level and the traditional design process was altered to some degree. What I didn’t know much about was the strategy of operating a “Collocation” Office. The concept is simple enough, a team of contractors, architects and owners occupying a dedicated office during the design and construction of a project. I wondered how it would differ from what I was used to. I’d worked in several architecture offices, but never shared space with anyone other than interior designers and engineers.

I questioned how would it change our work process? Could we be efficient or would we be distracted? Would we be comfortable outside the culture (and relative comfort) of our office and how can we make the most of sharing an office with a Construction Management team under the close scrutiny of an Owner?

Exterior of Henry J. Carter Hospital

The project was the re-use of the former North General Hospital site in Harlem NYC, which included a renovation of the 270,000 SF hospital into a 201-bed Long-Term Care Hospital and an adjacent/connected newly constructed six-story 185,000 SF Skilled Nursing Facility.

Combined, the facilities became the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility. To meet the accelerated schedule of approximately 30 months from start of design to resident move-in, it became mandatory for the design team and construction manager to allocate staff full-time in a dedicated office together.

During schematic design, those of us who would be working full-time on this project, moved from our midtown office and set up in an space fit-out by the Owner in TriBeCa. A number of our consultants joined us in the office for a total of six companies and approximately 30 staff. We set up our workstations and plotters and it was obvious how technology was going to be critical for this office to operate. It was a small comfort that I was still essentially working from my computer in the office through an internet connection. The Construction Management team was much more accustomed to setting up in temporary offices, but this was more than your typical construction site office. Since all meetings would occur there, the office space totaled just over 5,000 SF, with a number of conference spaces.

Our relationship quickly developed with the CM team. This is where the IPD philosophy of shared incentives benefited the project by giving a financial reason to work together. But it was also a testament to individual personalities on all sides coming together with an IPD mindset. This collaborative office set up became a constant string of impromptu and scheduled meetings, many taking place at our workstations. The atmosphere could be very intense at times and in many ways, our traditional working boundaries became blurred. We could provide instant feedback to the CM’s estimators, schedulers and project managers and in turn we understood the impact of our design choices much better. It was much more efficient way of communicating.

A simple example of this was the phasing and logistics that would be involved with keeping a tenant operational in the building during the first half of construction. Instead of drawing a phasing plan based on what we thought would need to happen, we benefited from having access to the CM team. With our knowledge of code issues and the CM’s logistics planning we worked through a solution which maintained egress for the tenant at a much quicker pace and precluded re-drawing the plan multiple times.

During the bid award phase, we were available to attend meetings with the CM and potential sub contractors to understand if the scopes were covered as intended and respond to any design intent questions immediately.

Most importantly, we developed relationships and the quality of our communication improved. This real time back and forth was very beneficial and challenged us to refine our time management skills. We still had to design the project, so the pressing meetings could have kept us off-task and prevented crucial milstones from being met. We benefited from having additional team members in our office drawing and working behind the scenes, while those of us onsite were essentially the coordination leaders on our team, responding as needed.

Months later, toward the completion of Construction Documents, the team moved to the project site in Harlem. We occupied an area of offices within the existing hospital. With our working relationship with the CM was well established by now and a view of the construction site, there was no time lost on travel and no reason to put a decision off ‘til the next meeting.’ We reviewed field conditions with the CM, subconsultants and Owner constantly, revising any details, orders, etc. with efficiency. Details could be worked out in the field and with instant feedback from all parties, it reduced going back and forth through emails and phone calls to resolve an issue. We typically would solve an issue in the field then follow up formally with sketches or RFI responses.

This was beneficial but it split the day for us, one where we walked the site and attended meetings and the second where we caught up on the traditional paperwork of sketches, RFIs and Submittals. With the CM and Owner onsite, we were likely to be pulled into many directions. We were the “eyes and ears” onsite and we benefited from having members of our team off site working without distraction whom we relied on to attend to the necessary revisions.

In this office setup, the fundamental goals of IPD were most apparent. Early on, it was clear that the collocation strategy was critical for the team to meet the schedule for a project of this complexity and occupancy date.

With such high stakes for all parties, the collocation site certainly wasn’t without heated arguments where we lapsed back into traditional boundaries and the pace and stress levels was more intense than typical projects. There are plenty of recommendations and lessons learned:

  • You need experienced and knowledgeable staff. The way to earn respect of the other parties is to have your best staff on site who are able to make decisions. When each party respects the contributions of others, it’s easier and more efficient to work through the tough issues.

  • Personalities of team members are just as important as respect. Many of us became friends. Maybe this was due to being “sequestered,” but we definitely saw how hard everyone else worked which contributed to our mutual respect. Any who might hold onto the old thought of “us vs them” would be out of place.

  • Understand the role of the co-lo team and the leadership position they’re in… they’ll be doing much more than drafting.

  • Having part of the design team off site was beneficial. As a project architect, it gave some control of the information being sent to the design team, and it protected those in the office from distractions at the co-lo.

  • Having some of the team offsite also came with its own difficulty. With decisions occurring quickly on site sometimes, the remote staff can feel out the loop if they’re not kept up to date.

  • Understand how you’re going to document conversations and decisions. When meetings occur so quickly and so often you still need to record “why” you did what you did. Keeping meeting minutes and a system to log emails are even more of a challenge. Technology can help you log emails more effectively.

  • Maintaining a connection to the home office helped counteract the feeling that we were isolated or forgotten. In this case we were in the same city as our local office so we could still get back to the office.
Written by Tom Hudak, former Project Architect with Array Architects.


Topics: Collocation