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

Finding the right architect or builder for your next construction job can save you money, time and sanity if you choose your future partners correctly. It's no small thing to ensure that the business relationship you share is a good one when projects typically average several years from a brainstorming start to a ribbon-cutting finish.

"You're going to be married to this group for a year or more," says Don Fowler, park supervisor with 20 years of experience in the city of Grandview, Mo. "So if it doesn't start off well, you're in trouble."


Before saying "I do" to that special architectural or construction someone (or even before beginning the search for them), it helps to understand your construction project's functional needs, its scheduling and funding availability, and recognizing whether it's a simple, "boilerplate" project or a complex one. Identifying what your project is and isn't will help you give better information to prospective architects and builders while giving you the information you need to better formulate the criteria on which to judge them.

"The first phase should include a community-specific survey of recreational wants, needs and willingness-to-pay, project site selection, identification of funding sources, and functional space needs," says Greg Neal, director of the Chavez Community Center in Santa Fe, N.M. "This will give more accurate information to the proposing firms and will ultimately provide for a better contract between the owner and consultant."

Also invaluable is knowing yourself and how you work best. Do you enjoy the challenge of juggling 500 balls in the air? Do you have the time to oversee every detail down to the perfect toilet-flushing mechanism? Are you knowledgeable or experienced enough to handle this project on your own or do you need a consultant, general contractor (GC) or construction manager (CM)? Can you give up control when you know you've found competent people or do you crave being a part of every decision?

Gathering project data and answering questions of management style will directly effect what kind of management and delivery method will best suit the project and your needs. And that, in turn, will have an impact on how and on what basis the architect and builder are selected.

In some cases—as in the traditional Design-Bid-Build delivery method (DBB)—the architect and builder are hired independently and need to be evaluated accordingly. Their roles are distinct, and the building process is a more linear one in which either an owner or GC takes completed designs to a builder and subcontractors.

In the case of hiring a CM, where the CM works closely with the architect to give them input on constructability, it is critical to have a good working relationship or "fit" between the CM and architect. In the case of a Design-Build delivery method (D-B), the architect and engineer and builder (sometimes the builder is partnered separately) come under one contract and function as a team where the design is not created at the beginning but is a multitasking process informed by the engineer's knowledge of constructability. Knowing how long the D-B team has functioned together, then, becomes important delivery-method-specific information.


Bruce Mather, executive director for facility management of Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., has never met a delivery method he didn't like. He's tried them all in his 20-plus years in the industry and has learned that the project determines the method.

"Each project has to be evaluated on its own," agrees Kathleen Jones, senior project manger with Aramark Facility Services at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. "However, the industry is definitely moving toward Design-Build or Construction Management at Risk."

These two cost-effective delivery methods are not surprisingly gaining ground as the economy has put a strain on cash flow. The collaborative efforts involving all parties in the design phase allow construction to begin before the final design details are finished, thereby cutting down on completion time and cost.

"Before adopting this process [Design-Build], we experienced average time lines on the order of 43 months," says Craig Chapman, head facilities section for U.S. Navy MWR division in Millington, Tenn. "Using D-B, we are achieving an average of about 17 months."

Whether looking into these relative newcomers to the delivery method scene or just wanting to find out more about all delivery methods, visit www.cmaanet.org and www.dbia.org.