By Beth Herman
You may remember it: the Age of Aquarius. Reflected in the musical "Hair," debuting off-Broadway in 1967 and seen in revival in 2009, controversial as it was "Hair" trumpeted principles of peace and understanding and a one-world community where people made love, not war. In short, they supported one another and worked toward mutual goals. They all got along.
When principals at global general contracting firm Balfour Beatty considered a change in their Fairfax, Va. North Region headquarters in 2009, a move to a different structure in Fairfax at 11325 Random Hills Road precipitated both a redesign of the firm’s aesthetic and consequently one of its office culture. Eschewing the more traditional enclosed office concept, which they’d had at about 150 s.f. apiece in their former space, the 112-member strong Balfour Beatty opted for a 26,000 s.f. environment–2,000 s.f. smaller than the old space– that is nearly 100 percent open office concept, with work station configurations that can accommodate increased staff and foster sharing and cooperation. To help achieve their building goals, and in concert with FOX Architects, Balfour Beatty decided to raise the bar on sharing and cooperation by also employing an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) system. Espoused by AIA and AGC since 2007 and characterized by shared information, goals, risks and rewards, all very much in tandem with Balfour Beatty’s own internal policy, the end result was a reduction in duplication, waste and cost, and the streamlining of communication, design, construction and other processes.
The Woodstock of Design
With entities that include architects, designers, general contractors (in this case Balfour Beatty was both general contractor and client), electrical and mechanical engineers, as well as the client itself in tow, IPD’s objective is to create a cohesive team that facilitates programming, budget, scheduling, performance and all other project-related issues – right out of the starting gate. “We work collaboratively to produce a better project,” said FOX Principal Bob Fox, noting that because team members have an equally vested interest much earlier in the process, relationships are immediately positive and collegial. “Contracts are oriented that way too,” Fox said, citing an inherent agreement not to sue one another. “Everyone is responsible to the project, not to the client. Clients themselves even report to what’s considered an executive committee,” he said.
Balfour Beatty Corporate Vice President for National Integration Mark Konchar said overall the projects the company enjoys the most involve team-based delivery. “Those are the ones that give our folks the opportunity to learn and share new ideas,” he affirmed. “We felt like some of the things we were preaching, as well as learning the business around–topics like IPD–we might as well begin to practice them on our own projects,” he explained, adding that one always hopes the client drives the process, and in this case they were the client, so they “took the opportunity to try and set the tone.”
Talking ‘Bout a Revolution
According to Nicole Antil, FOX project designer on the Balfour Beatty project, among significant changes in working with IPD are the levels of attainable proficiency and scaling down of waste/duplication of efforts. Citing key and increasing use of cutting edge three-dimensional BIM (Building Information Modeling) software vs. two-dimensional CAD in commercial projects of this ilk, Antil said the way FOX worked with subcontractors under the IPD umbrella became far more efficient. With millwork a major component in the design process, and being general contractors, instead of using systems furniture Balfour Beatty wanted to build its own for workstations. “The entire process of designing, documenting and ultimately building those workstations was different than normal,” Antil said, with many typical steps eliminated. Using BIM, and because of the IPD network established early on, FOX was able to get immediate feedback and provide the results to a millworker, also part of the team, who quickly generated shop drawings from the 3-D model.
“They are a very forward-thinking company, always looking for better ways to run their business and sensing the advantages an open space concept would mean to a more collaborative workplace,” Fox said of Balfour Beatty. In the same vein, the general contracting firm was also courageous enough to offer itself as “guinea pigs” in the IPD process to create and execute its space, according to Fox. Knowing exceptional results would require the highest level of cooperation, trust and cohesion among individual members of the architecture, design, building and engineering team, which also consisted of Engineered Systems Alliance of Va., or ESA, for MEP design and construction services, Fox added, “I think they saw this as a trend for how projects will be done in the future.” IPD, he observed, marks the end of the exhaustive hard-bidding process for individual consultants.
To set the tone for the project, at the initial IPD meeting Balfour Beatty introduced a list of “space testaments,” or what they genuinely wanted their space to achieve. Included in these were dictums that the space “foster collaboration and support and sufficient flow of communication,” as well as “support technologies the firm uses with the flexibility to adapt to future technologies,” and “be an environmentally sustainable environment, contributing to the health and contentment of each employee.” To that end, the firm is pursuing LEED Gold certification with daylight harvesting, regionally sourced materials, recycling programs, innovative waste water technologies, low-VOC paint, coating and flooring, occupancy sensors and more. LEED Innovation and Design pilot credits 5 and 6 promote IPD to attain sustainability goals.
Turn On, Tune In, Collaborate
If you look at a project today relative to 15 or 20 years ago, Fox said, the complexity is significantly higher, citing security consultants, food service consultants, audio-visual consultants, IT consultants and more. Managing the breadth, scope and amount of relative information is not something an individual or a single firm can do. “Just the materials and finishes–today there are probably 40-50,000 building materials to be considered,” he said, adding the only way to grasp it is for all the experts to sit down in real time, assembling the project. “IPD defines how to manage vast quantities of information,” he added.
Calling the project a “learning laboratory,” Konchar said it allowed teammates to have a “different kind of discussion. It demanded a different kind of behavior, not just at the leadership level but throughout the project team. We were learning about what we would repeat and what we wouldn’t,” he said, adding it was “great to go through it with partners who were so open and collaborative along the way.”
Said Fox, “My AHA moment on this project was when we all sat around the table and the attorney asked each one of us what we wanted to get out of it.” Referencing conventional contract negotiations which can be fractious and undermine the process at best, Fox reaffirmed the IPD process focuses largely on relationships. “I felt like I had my brain turned inside out thinking about it,” he affirmed.