Feature Article - February 2004
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Building Bliss

How to select the best architect and builder for your next construction project

By Kelli Anderson


LISTEN UP

Architects and firms working on complex projects like recreational facilities usually team up with specialists to handle the multifunctional design needs that range from aquatics to fitness to childcare to concessions. What becomes vital in such complicated construction is the architect's ability to listen carefully to the needs of the owner, staff and users.

Evaluating the responsiveness of the firm to your functional and aesthetic ideas is critical to weed out those with the inflexible "we-know-best" attitude and to recognize those firms who really know how to listen and consider your input and concerns.

Two of the best ways to get a sense of the firm's ability to listen is to take the time to talk to them and get a sense of whether they will work well with you as a team and then to talk, at length, with those who have worked with them in the past. Likewise, in evaluating a builder, taking the time to get a sense of the relational "fit" and talking to others who have worked with them on previous projects will give you a pretty accurate indication of whether they will work well with you.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

After walking down the contractual aisle, there are some key factors to help ensure that the relationship stays healthy and happy. First, in the planning phase of the project, be sure to give them the benefit of everyone's wisdom—from janitorial, mechanical, programming and administrative staff to the users in the community. Let no view be left behind in the effort to make sure everyone's needs and wants are understood.

Another invaluable skill is knowing when to get out of the way. Creativity and skill can be needlessly stifled when micromanaging owners don't know when to let others do their job—especially when dealing with D-B firms in which handing over control is characteristic of the process. It is a definite art to oversee a project and be involved without creating an atmosphere where other professionals feel their expertise is not respected and where they are constantly second-guessed and challenged. If you've hired people you can trust, then trust them to do their job. Only when they lose that trust should you feel justified in holding the reins more tightly.

In the end, no matter whether your project is small or large, simple or complex, using a CM, or a GC with a DBB or a D-B method, it still comes down to one thing:

"It doesn't vary that much," concludes Mather, who has used all the various delivery methods successfully. "In every case, design is the key element. You're handing off a set of drawings and saying, 'Go build it.' We go back to people who've given us good designs and people we're comfortable with. Everyone can see the results of the project—what it looks like and how it functions."