The relationship between contractor and architect is often known for its adversarial tone. However, imagine if you can, a construction project in which change orders are non-existent and the developer’s budget and schedules are met. Thomas Schoeman, president of JMA Architecture Studios, believes such projects will usher Nevada’s building industry into the future, thanks to the increasing use of the design/build process.
Design/build projects hearken back to the days of the master builder, when one entity was responsible for an entire project. During the 19th century, projects became more complex. At the same time, as court rulings created a distinction that held architects liable only where negligence was proven, whereas contractors were held to strict liability, the design/bid/build system came into widespread use.
During the design/bid/build process, the architectural firm designs a project and submits “as complete a set of drawings as it possibly can,” according to Schoeman. Yet, he admits he has never seen a perfect set of drawings on a complex building. Contractors then bid to build the project to the specifications of the drawings, and generally the low bidder wins. According to Schoeman, the construction company awarded the contract is often the low bidder because someone on its team, either from its own company or from a subcontractor, has left something on the table due to a miscalculation or oversight.
The contractor is often not on the same page as the architect, said Schoeman. His job is to bring the job in under budget, even although that may mean some elements of design must be changed or removed. “So, you are starting out the process on an adversarial basis,” he explained. “While that is great for attorneys, it is terrible for architects, terrible for contractors and terrible for the owners.”
The gap between design’s optimism and construction’s hard numbers is usually made up out of the owner’s pocket. As an example, Schoeman pointed out the federal government’s past use of the design/bid/build process to construct prisons. “The government’s average additional cost of a project after bid was 30 percent. This means, on a $100 million project, it spent another $30 million resolving those gap issues,” said Schoeman. “That led everyone to say there has to be a better way to do this. That better way appears to be design/build.”
Under the design/build arrangement, the architect and contractor are under a single contract with the owner. Schoeman insisted the government’s switch to design/build for its prison projects is testament to the success of the approach. “Now it spends zero additional dollars. It is getting projects built for the amount of their funding.” The design/build concept creates a team approach to the building process between the owner or developer, the architect and the construction firm. This partnership provides financial dividends for all parties.
JMA has completed several hybrid design/build projects in conjunction with Martin-Harris Construction. Frank Martin, president of Martin-Harris, noted that in these cases, there were two separate contracts, but both companies had direct responsibility to the owner. The two firms have an 18-year relationship, and to-date have completed 104 projects via the design/build process. Martin noted that some of the builders the two firms have worked with – such as American Nevada Corporation and the Howard Hughes Corporation – are “by far some of the more sophisticated builders in the state of Nevada.”
Schoeman added that 95 percent of JMA’s commercial work today involves a team relationship between the architect and contractor. “We don’t go through the bid process. It isn’t worth it for us, the contractor or the owner,” he declared. “Design/build is the right way to deliver a project.”
Schoeman also realizes, however, that concern for his client is only part of the architect’s responsibility. Nevada residents and their environment will also benefit from an architectural model known as sustainable design.
“Sustainable design embraces the concept that we are going to create environmentally responsible buildings,” related Schoeman. The early use of this concept was to create energy-conserving buildings. However, today it encompasses not only the design of the building itself, but also the impact all the systems and materials utilized in the building will have on the environment.
Choice of building products, such as selecting carpets made of natural wool and dyed with natural pigments, as well as utilizing native products wherever possible, can be beneficial to the environment. “If I am selecting stone for a building, I have choices,” said Schoeman. “I can choose Italian stone that is quarried in Italy or I can choose stone from Colorado. From an energy perspective, transporting stone from Europe for a project to Southern Nevada requires more energy.”
Schoeman also endorses the idea that buildings no longer have to be energy consumers. “Buildings can and should be energy producers,” he emphasizes. “If we include green energy systems in the building design, we should be able to design a building that is self-sustaining.” JMA currently has a 25,000-square-foot building under design for United Blood Services that includes a photovoltaic (solar cell) system to provide the total energy needs of the structure. JMA has also designed a system for the Health Sciences Building at UNLV using the same technology, which in this case will provide 50 percent of the energy needed to operate the building.
As the oldest and largest architecture firm in Nevada, founded in 1945, JMA’s roots in the past do not prevent it from enthusiastically embracing the future. New technologies are also bringing exciting architectural changes to Nevada. In the past, energy-efficient plans were designated “passive designs”. Buildings were created, not for human comfort, but to eliminate the cold or heat radiating from the outdoors. Energy efficiency was often accomplished by reducing the number of windows to reduce heat gain. “Daylighting as an element in a building is absolutely essential,” said Schoeman, “yet we put people in dark boxes. In the last five to 10 years, the glazing industry has come up with new surfaces and types of glass that allow you to create a window system that brings in light but not heat.” JMA’s own offices include a 30-foot wall made entirely of glass that daylights the drafting room.
Other new materials – such as lighter concretes, better light fixtures and technical systems that manage lighting – are bringing buildings “closer to being living, breathing things. We, as people, are smart enough to get out of the cold when we need to. Can we teach a building to be smart enough to close the door when it needs to? Technology’s answer is ‘yes’,” said Schoeman.
Another issue where technology is key to future designs is in the arena of safety. In light of recent terrorism concerns, for instance, Schoeman stated that site security, such as parking restrictions, can be an appropriate response. The second line of security is then the building itself. “We have seen technical evolution in controlling access to buildings.” Some systems that are currently popular include eye scans, electronic scans and card access. Such security systems can also be designed to assist in the every-day operations within a building. The Clark County School District is currently considering some of these systems, and perhaps the day is not far off when teachers will no longer need to take attendance, as kids will check themselves into class with a card, palm print or fingerprint.
As technologies evolve, and the construction community becomes more aware of how people fit into the building equation, the work of architects will continue to be key to Nevada’s growth. “Architecturally, what we are looking to accomplish is buildings that are appropriate to their location, for all the right reasons,” said Schoeman. “The goal is environmentally appropriate, timeless design