By Ramsay Ritchie, Associate Director

In the 21st Century, most architects are employed for only a part or limited stages of the design and construction process. In our experience, this scenario can mean that the building contractor becomes the one who determines the way the project is to be built, with the design team following, and, as a result, it could be argued that “Form follows Contract(or)” is becoming the paradigm.

“Contractor’s Design”, commonly known as Design & Build, is a form of building contract that became popular in the 1990s to enable clients to directly engage architects and design teams for limited parts of the building project, usually only for the very early stages. The reason for this was that clients felt that the construction implementation (and therefore costs and time control) of their chosen design should rest entirely with the contractor due to his specific expertise, and not with their architects. In the 2000s, this process became a norm, increasingly used internationally, even for prestigious projects. However, this form of contract was invented for simple and repetitive building projects and its use on complex luxury hotel projects does need to be questioned.

The thinking is that “Contractor’s Design” is a more efficient and cost-effective method of procuring a project and should create a faster and more cost certain building design. But what happens when clients appoint the contractor at the same time, or even before, their architect? How does the design team respond when the building contractor starts pouring concrete before the concept has even been signed off? Clients look to their architects to advise them and suggest options for achieving their objectives and difficulties arise when the project programme and costs do not allow the design process to be fully developed, sometimes resulting in the building’s design being imperfectly realised.

Recently, we were asked to accelerate core design on a project in order to maintain the contractor’s site programme. The core design inevitably affected the general planning of the project as all the vertical building services needed to be considered. The result was that they all ended up located within the structural cores. Inevitably, the design became a shell and core project which could have translated visibly onto the façade and building envelope if this had not been corrected by the designers in time. If sufficient time had been allocated for the design team to investigate a number of structural options, as is the traditional method of operation, no doubt we could have resolved many issues and provided a more integrated design solution. This could have achieved far more slender cores, releasing additional floor space, as well as creating a more flexible and efficient building form.

Hopefully, the next step in the evolution will be modelled more on a Management form of contract. This may prove more successful in combining the benefits of both the traditional procurement routes and the fast-track contractor’s design. Optimistically, this will offer the architect, the design team and the contractor sufficient time to resolve the many competing and diverse design and construction issues before they reach the building site.

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