Integration—Revisited

September 30, 2016

By: Matthew C. Lamont, AIA LEED-AP, Senior Vice President, National Practice Lead,  Architecture & Building Engineering

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Matthew C. Lamont, AIA LEED-AP
We’ve all heard the term ‘Integrated Design,’ and in some instances, participated on a team labelled as having integrated capabilities. This is not a new concept for many of us. Indeed, long before Environmental Building News published the seminal article on Integrated Design by Nadav Malin in its November 2004 issue, the famed architect Louis Kahn was known to refer to his engineering colleagues as equal partners while working alongside them. Kahn understood the adverse effects of what happens when design occurs in a vacuum, and when components of the design team cease to function integrally with each other. Today, some 50 years later, design and engineering professionals are still learning those lessons—sometimes the hard way—of what occurs in the absence of integration. 
 
Integration Methodology
CRS, the widely recognized architecture and planning firm from the 1960s, whose design process became one of the main staples still taught in schools of architecture across the U.S., also adhered to an integrated methodology. Its process revolved around ‘squatters’ sessions’, when all project stakeholders were present and had the opportunity to contribute to the forward progress of the project. 
 
From Malin, in an integrated process, the team works as a collective to understand and develop all aspects of the design, rather than the ‘sequential, relay-race model’ so commonly used in the architecture and engineering industries. He continues, “The best ideas often emerge when participants cross the usual boundaries, because their views are not as limited by familiarity with the way things are usually done.” The Salk Institute, voted in 2004 as the top biomedical research facility in the world, was designed by Kahn in 1962, and was the product of integrated design. 
 
The Last Mile: The final leg in the communications network
For a few moments, let’s step back and consider things from a higher plane and different angle. The telecommunications industry coined a term a while back known as “the last mile.” This term refers to the final leg in the communications network that delivers telecommunications services to retail end-users, or customers. This last link typically constitutes the speed bottleneck in the delivery of services. In the world of the internet, much if not all of what is transmitted today passes through miles of buried fiber-optic conduits, overhead utility poles, and telecommunications networks which often are owned by a myriad of different service providers.
 
For example, an ISP may advertise download speeds of one gigabyte per second. That speed may, in fact, experience a speed bottle neck when encountering this last mile, or when interfacing with a different network where it has no ownership or control, or when encountering this ‘pipeline’ that does not have the capacity or bandwidth required to deliver that one Gb speed. Like this telecommunications analogy, our ability to quickly disseminate and share data in design/bid/build scenarios often faces similar bottlenecks and is limited by a lack of integration, continuity and leverage in the delivery model. 
 
Integration
We’ve all likely experienced this too, when the capacity of a particular sub-consultant acts as the speed bottleneck in the delivery of our services. Lacking continuity, and integration, in a delivery model is what often leads to adverse impact in the quality of our services. Speed suffers, and quality suffers. In today’s world, with the speed at which projects take shape and are built, design and construction no longer can be approached as ‘a la carte’ activities, independent of each other.
 
The sharing of ideas and information between designer and builder must occur at regular intervals, and long before construction staking begins. We’ve begun seeing the positive effects of this concept most notably with Design-Build, Construction Manager-at-Risk, and Task Order Contracting methods of delivery. However, the talent leverage of these alternative delivery teams usually is limited to design and construction and stops there.  Now, what if that leverage extended to other phases in the life of a project? 
 
Continuity
When we speak of the continuity of information, created, shared and altered during the course of a project, or during the life-cycle of a building, the chain-of-custody of that information is equally important. Again, continuity and integration remain key at all times. Taking this a step further, let us now consider what happens when the leverage of talent and integration of information extend beyond design and construction. 
 
The September-October, 2016 issue of Engineering Inc. magazine contains an interesting read titled, ‘The Smart Revolution,’ highlighting the advances in technology and data management and how these concepts are transforming the idea of ‘Smart Cities’ from conception to reality. The Smart Cities movement leverages information collection into actionable intelligence, enabling us to understand user preferences and patterns of use in transportation systems or building components, and how each of us interacts with the built environment.
 
City planners who employ this concept draw upon information collected at multiple times, from planning and design to post-occupancy evaluation. They effectively leverage information, knowledge and understanding throughout an entire project life-cycle. The end-product is a better understanding of how the built environment performs and ages over time, giving us the blueprint for how to more proactively design in the future.
 
Leverage
Equally important is how this information is collected, processed, disseminated, and preserved. When integration and chain-of-custody lack in a delivery model, the process is reduced to its lowest common denominator. Speed and quality suffer. Information is lost in translation and, consequently, becomes less valuable to us. Conversely, when we leverage information chain-of-custody through an integrated process, and accordingly, take ownership and control of the distribution of that information from cradle to grave, we effectively remove the speed bottleneck, and we cross the last mile. 
 
To come full circle, take a large, complex university campus as an example.  What if the information collected during a campus circulation study was combined with the building modeling of each structure on campus, and that compilation was expanded to include the campus utility infrastructure? The opportunities are limitless. 
 
Returning now to our opening premise, consider this as a closing thought:    
 
What if that integrated process, offered to a client, from information collection and asset modeling, to master planning and life-cycle cost analysis, to design and construction monitoring, to commissioning and post-construction services . . . was all available under one roof?