The Role of Owners and Architects in a Smart Building


  • 1.1 Design Teams
  • 1.2 Facility Programming
  • 1.3 Siting the Building
  • 1.4 Materials
  • 1.5 Coordination
  • 1.6 The Handoff to Operations

One of the tried and true adages in the design and construction industry is that "there are no good projects without good owners”. The building owner is in the driver's seat when it comes to the necessities in a newly constructed or renovated building. They have devised the project and will fund and pay for design and construction. As the eventual purchaser of the building, the owner obviously has significant input and a tremendous stake in a successful project.

A good owner is a leader who can clearly communicate, is transparent in his decisionmaking, listens to experts, and encourages collaboration and innovation among the designers and contractors. Typical considerations for the owner involve the purpose of the building or space, budget, time constraints, the complexity of design, physical conditions, economic conditions, project sequencing, the project delivery method, as well as legal restrictions and environmental impacts.

Prior to committing to a project, building owners will commission preliminary studies to establish the project's feasibility. The building owner (especially for a commercial building) wants to know if the idea is economically sound. Some of the variables that may be assessed are general economic conditions, specific situations of the area or community where the building is to be located, projected population growth, land prices, and current cost of construction. If the project is a commercial building or development, some of the initial studies will also be related to similar existing competing businesses as well as an overall assessment of the business potential and climate.

The owner's team usually consists of the owner (or a representative) a construction manager, possibly an existing facility manager or engineer, and major tenants or the overall facility user. The owner will select an architect who will then assemble the design team. Two other project teams may be constituted as well. One would be the contractor team which includes the contractor or design-builder, the contractor's Project Manager, Construction Manager, Superintendent and any subcontractors. A supplier team will also be established, involving representatives from equipment or material manufacturers, independent product representatives and suppliers or distributors.

There are a number of approaches to the overall delivery of a building project. Probably the most used and somewhat traditional method is design, bid, and build. In this process, the design of the building is completed, then bid out to qualified contractors; with the competitive bidding used to determine the lowest cost bidder. Government funded projects generally use this method. The downside here is that lowest cost doesn't necessarily mean the best value for the owner.

A second approach is design, negotiate, and build. This is a more informal process where the contractor is involved in developing the costs and negotiating a contract to construct the project based on some stage of the design. In this case oftentimes the owner is looking for specific expertise, wants a notable architect or needs to expedite the schedule.

Another approach is design-build. In the design-build delivery method the owner signs on with a single entity for the complete design and construction of a project, providing design and construction under a single contract with the owner. Generally the design and the construction companies enter into a joint venture or one entity subcontracts to the other. At some point after initial design the sole entity provides a guaranteed maximum price for construction. The potential benefits of this approach are greater collaboration between designers and the contactors with fewer change orders or variances (since the designers and contractor are working as one team) and better adherence to the project schedule. This approach may save

©Issola, used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 1.1 ©Issola, used under CC BY-SA 3.0.

time and money, as well as reduce the owner's risk and potential litigation. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that design-build projects are generally delivered faster than those projects constructed under the design -bid-build process.

Often a building owner will hire a construction management company to manage the project from conception to completion in order to supplement the owner's staff and role. A construction management company will either advise the owner or act as a contractor. When acting as a contractor, they are referred to as construction management at-risk. Typically the building owner will bring in the construction management company prior to completion of the design and then incorporate the architect and construction management company into one entity or contract. Once contracted the construction management and the architect design teams review and evaluate the project, eventually coming up with a guaranteed maximum price. There are architectural and engineering firms that can perform construction management at risk as well. The benefits to this approach are enhanced coordination with the design team and contractors, better cohesion in the project team and reduced risk.

These different approaches to project delivery are vitally important because they define roles, legal responsibilities and risks, and profoundly impact the schedule, costs, and quality of the building.

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