Today’s construction process is a team effort. Gone are the days when architects passed off their project plans to the construction team and hoped for the best. Now, more than ever, collaboration throughout the project is key to its success. Of course, collaboration is not always easy, especially between industries that have been somewhat at odds in the past. As an architect, I know that I sometimes have a very different vision of a project’s end result than the construction team may have. Our project goals may not align, and completing a project may be challenging if we have competing interests along the way. However, as our industries evolve, we can no longer afford to be at odds. The troubled economy of the past few years has left our clients with tighter budgets and stronger demands. To provide our clients with the best results, architects and construction managers must each learn to use our unique skill sets to our advantage, delivering results that meet and exceed expectations.
But how can our industries most effectively work together? Establishing trust early on in the project, communicating clearly throughout the process and knowing how to use technology effectively and efficiently can ensure a successful relationship between architects and construction managers.
The architect and construction manager should strategize together to find areas where inefficiencies in the process can be reduced or eliminated. In addition, they should collaborate over where design deliverables can be phased to allow procurement and construction of time-critical items to begin at the same time as designs are completed.
Traditionally the center of tensions between architects and construction managers revolves around getting answers from the architect in a timely manner in order for the project to be priced accurately and built on time by the construction manager. The architect probably feels that the construction manager doesn’t understand what a designer needs to do to get to an answer. To be fair, answers are rarely simple to arrive at and require coordination of many factors. But the construction manager has a tight schedule to keep. Architects sometimes forget how important timely answers are to ensuring the project stays on schedule and on-budget.
When all stakeholders sit down to develop priorities and strategies, and continually review them together, there is a greater degree of “buy-in” and commitment to seeing it through. Establishing the relationship early helps both parties establish trust, which makes tough conversations easier. Because business conditions require this close collaboration more than ever in the past, architects should also stress that building owners engage construction managers as early as possible on projects, even if only for pre-construction services.
Frequent and effective communication between the parties is essential, and this communication should include regular in-person meetings and phone calls, not just emails. At my office, we have a three-email rule. Once an email has gone back and forth three times, it’s time to pick up the phone and call. Whether a project is completed using Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) or more traditional project delivery methods, each team will find the right balance of when and how often to communicate.
Typically, I’ve found that architects and construction managers speak the same language. The jargon and terminology we use is the same, and the project issues we face are very often interconnected. As technology advances it helps our coordination efforts but it can also result in communication becoming less personal; we just need to remember that sitting down at a table together, rather than emailing back and forth, is sometimes the most effective way to move a project forward.
Using Technology Effectively
While technology can sometimes hinder communication, it does have its advantages. Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) technologies make it easier for architects and construction managers to pinpoint challenges in advance, saving time and money during project construction. As technologies like VDC have emerged, project teams have sometimes found it more helpful to gather everyone into one room to work together on completing a project, using the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) approach. In the years ahead, I predict this convergence will continue, and I look forward to the increased speed, accuracy and collaboration it will bring to our projects.
These traits all help to build a strong relationship between architects and construction managers. I also have some advice for construction managers as they think about the type of architect they want to do business with. Good architects should take initiative, contributing ideas about a project’s success without having to be asked. They also should be adaptive, willing to be a problem-solver to meet the needs of clients, construction managers and other stakeholders. We all become attached to our ideas and project visions, but these visions are meaningless if they do not meet the objectives of the client or the goals of the entire group.
At the end of the day, we are all working together to please the same clients, and the success of our collaborative efforts ensures the success of the project. We are partners in our efforts to build and design something beautiful.
Matthew Michel is a principal and architecture team leader at Spagnolo, Gisness & Associates Inc., in Boston. Michel effectively influences the planning and performance of all of the firm’s architecture projects while collaborating with clients, construction managers and consultants to move projects ahead on-time and on-budget. For more information, visit www.sga-arch.com.