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


Creating an effective Request For Proposal (RFP), if done well, does two things: It asks the right questions and gives the necessary information to prospective architectural and building firms, resulting in a better contract. For veteran Greg Neal, director of the Chavez Community Center of Santa Fe, N.M., an effective RFP in the hunt for an architect should contain six basic ingredients:

1. Feasibility study that should include a community-specific survey of wants, needs and willingness to pay

2. Initial site selection

3. Identification of functional space needs

4. Sample draft contract

5. List of evaluation criteria with names of evaluation committee members

6. Target budget and the amount not to exceed

If making an RFP to find a builder, this list remains the same but requires the additional list of recommended bidders. This list is usually the cooperative effort by the owner and designer.

The RFP can be written by legal staff, parks and recreation staff, financial and purchasing staff, or a community may have a boilerplate RFP with standard language where changes are made according to the project, scope of services or compensation amount.

An RFP looks quite different, however, if intended to attract the architectural and construction attentions of a Design-Build firm. Unlike more common scenarios where the intent of the RFP is to attract, among other things, the most appealing artistic rendering by architectural firms, the RFP for a D-B firm is intended to gather information from firms that is more about their D-B philosophy and how it impacts their results instead of about producing a finished pencil-to-drafting-paper product (since that doesn't come until much later in the collaborative process).

According to Craig Chapman, head facilities section for U.S. Navy MWR division in Millington, Tenn., information in the RFP for an D-B firm needs to ascertain the following:

1. The firm's professional opinion of the D-B process/methodology

2. Its experience designing projects similar in scope, type and complexity

3. Its experience in preparing performance RFPs for D-B

4. Its experience as the design partner or designer on actual D-B projects

5. The process used for design quality control and constructability review

6. The ability to prepare functional performance statements (noting the function of each space in the facility project), adjacency matrices (method of determining which functional space operates most efficiently in relation to other functional spaces in the project) and bubble diagrams (rough, geometric constructs to visually guide the process) without including concept or advanced designs

7. How many projects of this kind and using these methods have been done

8. Who the project manager will be and how does his or her experience relate in D-B

9. List of references for their D-B projects, their building partners (if not part of the team) and clients for whom they've prepared performance RFPs

10. Description of the D-B process they are familiar with to complete projects

11. List of awards won by the team corporately and individually

12. Description of the organization, lines of authority and responsibility and planned method of quality control throughout the process

13. Résumés of key individuals, including designer of record, project manager, superintendent, and construction quality-control chief. Provide the organizational chart for the quality-control network

14. The project management plan including proposed schedule and method of controlling the schedule

If the D-B firm is a good one, the outcome for a final design has the potential of offering much more than the owner thought possible.

"The advantage is greater creativity," Chapman explains. "You can get more solutions because the design-build team can offer more than what we asked for."