8 Professionals Sound Off on Critical Issues in Project Management

Feb. 1, 2008
Building owners and architects discuss key concerns regarding new construction

Last September in Park City, UT, during the annual BuildingsXchange event (www.buildingsxchange.com), the editorial staffs of Buildings magazine and ARCHI-TECH magazine (Buildings' sister publication) invited eight professionals (four involved in building development, ownership, and management; the other four involved in architecture) to discuss their most pressing project-management issues.

During this roundtable discussion, it was revealed that these kinds of decision-makers have a lot more in common than they thought. Of particular note were expectations regarding project delivery and building for the long term.

"Measurement" was the defining word for the group, whether conveyed by 30-year design/engineer veteran Hu Richardson (director of engineering services at Nashville, TN-based Holladay Properties), who seeks a truly integrated building management system with metrics and tools that "surpass even my expectations for energy management and a ‘better building,' " to Dave Dimond, design principal at Perkins + Will, Minneapolis, who believes that such assessments have manifested themselves in the creation of Building Information Modeling (BIM). "With BIM, we are creating a whole systems integrated approach to building in a digital world before we reassemble it out of real materials in the physical world," he says. "This allows us to target performance expectations at the front end of a project and drive those through design, construction, and post-occupancy. Great buildings will leverage research, technology, and performance metrics to create even more beautiful, humane, soft, and accessible environments."

Gregory K. Hunt, vice chairman and director of design at Leo A Daly, Washington, D.C., concurs with Richardson and Dimond's comments, but points to the architectural industry as being "woefully under-researched."

"How much is good metrics developed from true performance studies, and how much is lip service? Do we, as a profession, really know how exterior glazing systems perform? Do we really understand how vapor barriers work?" he asks.

Hunt advocates evidence-based design (currently embraced in the healthcare industry), in which architects learn from studies of how buildings actually function and how they affect occupants. "How many feet do nurses have to walk? Is it really true that surgical patients recover more quickly if they look at nature? I would certainly like to see our profession somehow engage in such research in a larger, collective way," he says.

Bryan Irwin, principal at Watertown, MA-based Sasaki Associates Inc., approaches the same issue from a slightly different angle. "There's something I have thought about a lot recently: how antiquated the construction industry is. When you think about how a building gets assembled, it's a shockingly primitive process." He points to a study conducted several years ago: It concluded that 50 percent of all labor expenditures on a construction project are wasted. "Time and money go down the drain in terms of idle workers waiting for product delivery or because work gets torn out due to poor coordination," explains Irwin. "There's a distinct dichotomy between the sophistication of what can be imagined using computer technology in design and the primitive tools and processes we're still using to build our structures. It's a situation that's even more complicated because architects, by and large, are somewhat sidelined from the actual process of construction."

Which is exactly why Will Jensen, vice president of architecture and engineering at Ryan Cos. U.S. Inc., Minneapolis, says he accepted his current position. "What everyone has said is absolutely true, and these issues are exacerbated by one thing: the speed at which we need to perform these days. It's unheard of. Twenty years ago, back when I was drawing in ink on Mylar, we had time to design, be thoughtful, and coordinate and collaborate. Today, what does real-time or just-in-time real estate do to your design? It squeezes the timeline. Therefore, BIM is a huge solution. At Ryan, it's a way for us to get back to our master-builder heritage.

"We are much more in control of the product. The reason for using an integrated design-build delivery method, in my mind, is that the client can benefit from a side-by-side working process involving the design and construction teams, engineers, property management, energy-analysis folks, and subcontractors. BIM allows us to take the construction document phase and, essentially, shorten it while increasing coordination and quality. We must all understand that we need to make decisions earlier in the process, and three-dimensional visualization tools can help make that happen. BIM is a great opportunity for us to get back in front of the delivery process and, ultimately, to provide real value."

Lawrence Speck, principal at PageSoutherlandPage Architects, Austin, TX, is clearly as concerned about using these processes for project delivery as he is in their ability to advance building innovation - particularly with recent trips to Europe and Japan to expand his vocational awareness. "I don't think we're in the leadership role we used to be," says Speck. "Very seldom do we actually look at what's going to happen 10 years from now. Will [a building] have a useful life in 10 years? Will it have an adaptive-reuse life in 10 years or 20 years? What is the real investment? How much is it worth investing in that building to give it a long, productive life?"

Bill Correll, director of architecture at Bentonville, AR-headquartered Wal-Mart Stores Inc., summarized the discussion: "What can we do that's right?"

"How can we balance the return on investment with the initial cost? How can get we get those much better, more durable products that you see in Germany, Japan, and elsewhere, at costs that allow them to be applied reasonably to all of our products? We need to get those products that are very innovative. [Then], monitor and test well, and then modify our behavior and our systems in accordance with those tests."

Donald Sparks, director, plant engineering and facilities services at Ft. Worth, TX-headquartered Alcon Laboratories Inc., offered the following analogy as a step toward the solution: "Innovation in the process is critically important. [We can take a lesson from] what the Japanese did after the war: innovation in the process, not really innovation in the product."

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

Hu Richardson, Director of Engineering Services, Holladay Properties, Nashville, TN
Gregory K. Hunt, Vice Chairman and Director of Design, Leo A. Daly, Washington, D.C.
Dave Dimond, Design Principal, Perkins + Will, Minneapolis
Will Jensen, Vice President of Architecture and Engineering, Ryan Cos. U.S. Inc., Minneapolis
Donald Sparks, Director, Plant Engineering and Facilities Services, Alcon Laboratories Inc., Ft. Worth, TX
Lawrence Speck, Principal, PageSutherlandPage Architects, Austin, TX Not Pictured:   Bryan Irwin, Principal,
Sasaki Associates inc.,
Watertown, MA Bill Correll,
Director of Architecture,
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.,
Bentonville, AR

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