Let the Internet Be Your Guide

The idea that it makes sense for all components of a building to be compatible and to complement one another is not new. But as buildings and the ways they are used become increasingly sophisticated and complex, so does the task of planning, designing and construction to ensure that all systems function together. Indeed, the whole of a carefully planned, built and efficiently functioning modern building is greater than the sum of its individual parts and systems.

The concept of the whole building process provides a platform for all parties involved in the design, construction, operation and use of today’s facilities to approach and execute a project in an integrated fashion,” said Dominique Fernandez, director of the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Whole Building Design Guide. “The goal is to create successful high-performance buildings. To achieve that goal, we must apply the integrated design approach and the integrated team approach to the project during the planning and programming phases of a project.”

Sound familiar?

For electrical contractors experienced in design/build projects, the description of the whole building concept may seem the same as that of the design/build approach to construction.

While many elements are similar, Fernandez said design/build is a means of executing the larger concept of the whole building process.

Architects and builders have long sought to coordinate all aspects of designing and constructing buildings, but the concept of the Whole Building Design Guide was not formalized until 1997, Fernandez said.

“The Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG), is the only Web-based portal providing government and industry practitioners with a one-stop access to up-to-date information on a wide range of building-related guidance, criteria and technology from a whole building perspective” she said. “It is a collaborative effort among federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions under the auspices of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization that provides an authoritative national source of knowledge advice for both the private and public sector of the economy with respect to building sciences and technologies.”

The whole building approach is more comprehensive than design/build, taking into consideration operation of the structure, environmental factors and future requirements or modifications that may be necessary to keep the structure functional at the highest possible level of efficiency over its life cycle. It encompasses how the building and its systems can be integrated with supporting systems on its site and in its community, and how materials, systems and products of a building connect, interact and affect one another. It also provides the strategies to achieve high-performance, low energy, sustainable and secure buildings.

The WBDG Web site, www.wbdg.org, is an excellent source of information. To summarize some of its key points, there are two basic components to the whole building process. They are the integrated design approach and an integrated team process.

The integrated design approach

The WBDG describes the integrated design approach involving all stakeholders in a project—including the owner, designers, technical planners, those constructing the structure and operators of the building—working together to consider project objectives and the building materials, systems and assemblies from many different perspectives.

An excerpt from the WBDG says, “This approach is a deviation from the typical planning and design process of relying on the expertise of specialists who work in their respective specialties somewhat isolated from each other.”

Design objectives that must be considered in concert with one another include the following:

  • Building accessibility

  • Aesthetics of both exterior and interior

  • Cost effectiveness

  • Functional operation

  • Productivity of occupants

  • Security and safety

  • Sustainability

  • Historic preservation requirements if the structure is in a historic preservation district.

The integrated team process

According to the WBDG, it is essential, in practice, that all involved evaluate the design for cost, quality-of-life, future flexibility, efficiency, overall environmental impact, productivity and creativity. The process draws from the knowledge pool of all the stakeholders across the life cycle of the project, from defining the need for a building, through planning, design, construction, building occupancy, operations and maintenance.

An important element is the design charrette, a focused and collaborative brainstorming session held at the beginning of a project that encourages an exchange of ideas and information and allows truly integrated design solutions to take form.

“Team members—all the stakeholders—are encouraged to cross fertilize and address problems beyond their field of expertise. The charrette is particularly helpful in complex situations where many people represent the interests of the client and conflicting needs and constituencies. Participants are educated about the issues and resolution enables them to ‘buy into’ the schematic solutions,” reads the WBDG.

The whole building concept and design/build

Electrical contractors experienced in design/build will find many whole building elements similar or the same as the whole building process, making design/build an excellent approach to implement a whole building project.

Under the design/build approach to construction, the project owner executes a single contract with one entity for all design, engineering and construction services. Because this single contract results in a single source of responsibility, much of the design and performance risk transfers from the owner to the design/builder.

The Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) cites other design/build advantages that accrue both to project owners and to all members of the design/build team. DBIA studies have found that typical design/build projects are 6 percent lower in cost, 12 percent faster in construction time and 33 percent faster in total program time. In addition, design/build projects are well known for improved project quality and much lower rates of conflict and litigation.

Walker Lee Evey, DBIA president, said that design/build is suitable for almost all types of projects, including those which are large, complex and have extreme time factors. In the United States, design/build is used in both the private and public sectors, and the number of design/build projects continues to grow each year. 

“We estimate that today design/build accounts for approximately 40 percent of the market,” Evey said. “While the exact number is difficult to pin down because reporting systems are not consistent, the important point is the direction design/build is headed. In 1985, less than 5 percent of U.S. projects could be classified design/build. What is clearly visible is an extraordinary amount of growth in a remarkably short period of time.”

DBIA’s estimate that 40 percent of today’s projects are design/build closely parallels the findings of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR’s most recent “Profile of the Electrical Contractor” study: 43 percent of the responding contractors’ revenue was derived from design/build or design/assist work, with a vast majority of that figure representing design/build. To download a full copy of this study, visit www.ecmag.com/research.

What three contractors say

Clearly the benefits of design/build make it ideal for implementing the whole building process, and the electrical contractor plays a vital role in the execution of whole building concept and design/build projects. Observations of contractors experienced in design/build cite that benefits of that process closely parallel the key benefits of the whole building process.

“The design/build process allows the owner/end-user to be a part of the team and design process, thereby ensuring that the ‘little things’ are covered. We see much more satisfied clients as they receive what they really want. And the process also results in a project with largely minimized change orders and unforeseen expenditures. It provides a much more realistic budget for the owner/end-user with far less ‘blue sky’ and speculation about costs,” said Nick L. Cole, manager of construction services for Commonwealth Electric Co. of the Midwest, Lincoln, Neb.

Cole said the market is driving the trend to design/build because owners/end-users get what they want and save money, too.

Matthew Logan, who is responsible for business development for Coghlin Electrical Contractors, Worcester, Mass., believes design/build will continue to grow as long as construction continues to be cost and schedule driven.

“Owners will continue to look at this contract method for cost savings and compression in design-to-build time,” he said. “The common element in all design/build projects is that owners or their architects are able to articulate clearly the scope of work or desired end result of the project. To be successful, an experienced team that includes architectural, electrical and mechanical members must have the ability to work in harmony with one another. Electrical contractors must commit to customer service, maintaining knowledge of the best and latest applications.”

James Mackey, president of Evergreen Power Systems Inc., Seattle, said the number of design/build opportunities is increasing as projects become more complex. He added that design/build creates a closer relationship among the developers, architects and end-users. 

“Projects have shorter design and construction schedules,” he said. “The electrical systems are designed to meet the owner’s requirements and not over-designed to limit the engineer’s exposure. Awards are based on reputation and performance, instead of just low number. There are far fewer change orders and claims.”

However, limiting costs can add design risks.

“One of the most challenging aspects,” Mackey said, “is extracting information and scope from the end-user, scope ‘creep’ and realigning the budget. These problems can be mitigated by drawing from related experience in similar work or working with developers in the past.”

Mackey also believes the trend toward design/build will continue. “With rising interest rates and construction costs, it is imperative for developers to minimize the design-construction time and bring their projects to market sooner,” he said. “Electrical contractors develop a reputation for design/build by shortening up the time it takes to design and build, by controlling costs, increasing flexibility and providing budget estimates for various design scenarios.”

Design/build and the larger whole building approach appear here to stay, and both are sure to evolve to better serve building project owners.

The WBDG Web site provides this view of what may be coming soon

“As buildings continue to change and grow in complexity, additional programs and information will have an impact on the entire design, planning and construction community. Among them is building information modeling (BIM) software that is the newest trend in computer-aided design. Many industry professionals forecast that buildings will be built directly from the electronic models that BIM creates, or that architects will no longer create drawings but will instead build buildings inside their computers. BIM has the potential to change the role of drawings for the construction process, improve architectural productivity and make it easier to consider and evaluate design alternatives. BIM will also aid in the process of integrating the various design teams’ work, further encouraging and demanding an integrated team process.”                EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net