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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

IPD: Curse or Blessing?

Social media debates...

Read an interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday, followed by two blogposts. The first one was from Antony McPhee, the response came from Liz O'Sullivan. Both put severe questionmarks at the use of IPD.

I must say I wholeheartidly disagree with their statements. And, for the sake of a nice debate, I will try to counter their statements in this blog. Keep in mind though: even when disagreeing with everything a person says or writes, I do so while fully respecting their opinion. This is just my opinion, and it's different. Not better or worse. I very much liked to read their blogs, I found them both well written with properly formulated arguments. I just see things differently, without adding ANY judgement to that...

To start in alphabetical order, with Antony McPhee...
I'm not debating the intents and purposes of the AIA document Andy discusses. I see them somewhat more on the positive side, but that's probably why we have a different opinion. The main question in Andy's blog is: why should architects work with IPD?
Is it money? IPD isn't profitable for architects. Why shouldn't it be? BIM requires an investment from architects in the early stages of design, that much is true. And they are only compensated when the architect is also responsible for construction documents. That's where they're supposed to pay off... But traditional contracts do not by definition ensure the architects involvement in this stage. IPD does, everyone is in it from beginning to end.
Is it influence? The architects influence of the design process decreases. The architects influence may be smaller yes. Is that a problem? Where I come from we have a saying: if you're liable, you get to make the descisions. Period. So I don't see why the architect would give up on influence over architectural matters. As for all other matters: how many architects are walking this earth that NEVER had to alter their design and make it suboptimal, basically cause they found out it was too expensive? It happens all the time. Upside with IPD: it happens while you're sitting at the table, doing your thing. Not AFTER you finished a worldclass design. In my opinion, budgetcuts during design, opposed to fumbling after it's finished, lead to a better endresult 99% of the time.
Is it control? Architects will lose the control of the model. I don't get this argument. Either you're controlling the model (WITH all encompassing liabilities and responsibilities) or you're not. That's something you define in your contract and never look back at. No change there except the fact that a more integrated workflow will ask more capabilities from the people managing it. Architects SHOULD ask themselves whether they want that or not. It's not something you do on the side, not even with smaller, less demanding projects.
Is it market share? The need for architects will diminish when using IPD. Also not getting this... A contractor by definition wants to fill the world with grey boxes? An owner by definition doesn't give a crap about estheatics? Not in my book. Sure, some don't. But those are the same as the ones delivering grey, non-architectural boxes now. Let's not kid ourselves: even in the time of pencils on paper butt-ugly architecture was around. It will always be...
Is it industry leadership? Why should architects push this if others aren't interested? Well, I guess they shouldn't. In Holland, much like Australia (and probably the US too), the vast majority of owners and contractors don't even give a crap about BIM, let alone IPD. But they will NOT be the ones asking for it. IPD requires some serious investments from both contractors and owners too. So let's just assume that if an owner specifically asks for IPD, and commits himself to the investments in time and perhaps even increased design costs, they mean business.
Is it benevolence? Should architect push something that will eventually only benefit owners?
Yes, they should.
Did I miss the memo stating architects no longer provide a service and therefor BY DEFINITION do what's in the best interest of the owner, their client?
Is it fear? Fear of being left behind, fear of being irrelevant.
You bet! And it is the owners proper right to find someone who will bring his project to the best end possible. If architects refuse to embrace IPD, chances are that in a not to distant future, they will lose  a significant portion of the market. Is that a bad thing? No, it's called innovation. It happens all around you, why should architects be different?

Now Liz agrees with him in a lot of ways. Which off course in return means I disagree with her too in a lot of ways... Not wanting to repeat myself I'll just restrict this to her "unique" comments:

Architects can get the same input and quality when it comes to actual construction elsewhere. No they can't. It's been proven time and time again. A cost estimator looks at a design as is and calculates what it should approximately cost. I rarely see cost estimators putting alternative methods of construction on the table. That's not their job. Besides that, he/she has no knowledge about the contractor, their strong points, weak points, and preferred methods (which will be cheaper). A vast majority of construction changes are based on this fact: not that the design is wrong, it just doesn't "fit" the contractor or the preferred methods of construction.

Example & my take on things:

I'm working with a few of the largest dutch firms in various disciplines to come to an IPD Protocol. Architect and GC have done previous projects. When I asked why they wanted to go to IPD, one of their answers was:
"We recently did a traditional project. Once the design was finished and the GC's bid was accepted we had to do all kinds of changes. Nothing architecturally important, but one eye-catcher was that we lowered the level-to-level height with 8cm. Why? Cause then the entire facade could be prefabricated. Initial design didn't fit in the subcontractors workshop, nor did it meat traffic regulations. With this change we saved a LOT of money".

This for me is the essence of IPD. The architect never made any mistakes. The contractor is not out to destroy the design. This could not have been prevented in any way UNLESS you already know who the GC will be and use their specific knowledge about construction. In fact, with the money saved some previously architectural budget cuts could be restored. But at a cost. It wiped out most of the architects profits (which they were compensated for by the GC) and a substantial part of the GC's profits (which they still did cause it made the building better and helped them stay within construction budget). And those expenses could have been saved when the GC had been participating from the start.

In my humble opinion, every IPD contract should have a few parts (besides the legal and technical mumbo-jumbo):
1. Define the design question, both in quantity (Square Footage, cost of ownership, and so on) as is quality (LEED certification, Facility Management demands)
2. Define budget from earliest of design until the building is delivered to it's owner. Construction funds AND design fees. Define what happens with profits and losses.
3. Define who does what, where, when and how. And which part of the total fee is involved. If you're granted a task, you are primary liable and therefor have a right to veto. But you're also bound by budgets and design specifications.
4. Give and take. ALL participants are responsible for the endresult as a whole. That means you cannot have your way
And that's that. In my, probably overly naive, point of view this should be enough. Yes, maybe as an architect you will be marginalised. But it will be done in the contract, before you even start working. To put it in simple terms: if you get screwed, at least it's all in writing and you were there when it happened. But in most cases GC's are very aware of the fact they need an architect to make the building rise above mediocracy. And owners are happy to spend their full budget to get the best possible design. Most of the times I participated in IPD projects any and all design changes in favor of the GC were done in harmony and the profits re-invested in making the design better.
If that's not a win-win-win I don't know what is...


  1. Hi, Martijn,
    I found your post!
    Here's my favorite part of it: "Yes, maybe as an architect you will be marginalised. But it will be done in the contract, before you even start working. To put it in simple terms: if you get screwed, at least it's all in writing and you were there when it happened."
    Martijn, this is what happens all the time; architects are there, they sign the contracts, but sometimes they don't know what they mean. I want people to read their contracts, and know what they're getting into, and not sign them if they don't understand them.

    1. That is very mucht true.. I can only support that statement. Unfortunately it happens all too often architects (but engineers and contractors too) sign off on something they don't understand.

      But that doesn't make IPD a bad thing. Or scary. Or wrong.
      It just means, that just like when you're buying a new mobile phone, you need to carefully review the specifics and decide whether it suits your needs.

  2. To clarify my position - I support IPD. I know by experience that traditional practices based on drawings are not suited to a BIM approach. What I question is when that process starts in the life of a project.
    I see problems when IPD starts at initial procurement. Clients rarely have definitive briefs, and even when they think they do, architects can bring new insights they have not thought of, or have the expertise to assess. Construction specialists and fine grained cost advice just hinders this process by replacing considering the big picture with endless minute detail.
    A lot of discussion around IPD assumes architects are just another type of engineer - solving well defined specific problems. But (good) architects are more like philosophers, they ask the questions no-one else has asked.
    Thanks for referring to my blog, but my father is Andy McPhee (also an architect), my name is Antony McPhee.

  3. Sorry about the mix-up, to both you and your father... ;-) I fixed it.

    I understand your point of view. But I don't agree with it. And maybe that's because I'm lucky in my choice of projects, or because we have a different situation here in Holland, but my experience isn't that glooming.

    IF the project is carried out as it should be, the contractor/engineers working on it keep their input on a fairly conceptual level too during the first few phases of a project. Fine graned advice is out of the question.
    But that doesn't mean a GC/engineer has nothing to add in these stages.

    I will be the first to acknowledge however that it takes a strong backbone to withstand "pushing and pulling" from the techies. That much is certainly true. As an architect you will need to learn on how to stand your ground. And maybe that is not something any architect can do. In those cases, an independant project manager might be needed to keep everybody in check....

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