The concept of delegated design is not new. Architects have passed some design responsibility to contractors for a long time. A classic example is structural steel connections. The steel fabricator designs the connections for the full load carrying capacity of the member the connection supports. The result of this delegated design is highly predictable because of the design standards that apply.
But delegated design is extending beyond this traditional role to include more building elements and sometimes the entire building envelope where the results are not so predictable. The subject is the focus of the Philadelphia Chapter CSI second annual Seminar Day later this month.
Design Delivery Methods
So how will the increasingly complex and complicated building envelopes be delivered in the future? We are seeing an increasing use of design-build and design-assist approaches. Both methods pose some questions:
Will it be the contractor's responsibility to interpret the design intent portrayed on the drawings and described in the specifications to meet the architect's intent?
Will the architect maintain aesthetic control, only, passing the technical control to the contractor?
Controlling the Process
Delegated design specifications must go beyond the traditional set of material, product, and performance requirements. What level of participation is required of the contractor? What documentation must the contractor provide? Now the specifications must specify a process to ensure the architect receives adequate information from the contractor at the right time to show compliance with the design intent and to enable the remaining design to be completed.
The contractor cannot be involved to the degree necessary without an agreement to be paid for pre-construction design services. This will require a signed agreement between the Owner and the Construction Manager, General Contractor, Specialty Subcontractor, or possibly all three, to provide design services.
It's Risk Management
What happens when the architect believes the project will proceed with a delegated design approach and the Owner-Contractor agreements are not executed in time? Must the architect then complete the design using a traditional approach? Or can the architect successfully claim the Owner is causing a delay?
Either way, the design completion will be delayed. And the delay will be a liability to the architect's fee and may damage his reputation with the Owner.
How much design should architects pass to contractors, if any at all?