Driven by a dramatically compressed schedule and strict budget, Arizona State University moved beyond traditional contracting methods to take the technologically complex 223,000-sf Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from design to build to occupancy in the space of just 22 months.
According to Steven Nielsen, assistant vice president for real estate development for ASU, the precepts and values of integrated project delivery (IPD) guided owner, designers, and contractors. This facilitated a parallel, rather than serial, process of design and construction.
“The university typically bases its contracts on the construction-manager-at-risk model, but here we had the right partners who came to the table and told us that, with our set budget and inviolable completion date, the only way to get this project done was by adopting IPD,” says Nielsen. “They educated us on how to make it work, and we were very successful.”
Rather than remaining in the organizational silos that have long kept owners, designers, and contractors in an uneasy relationship as each sought to protect their respective interests, all the players collaborated to forge a true partnership built on mutual trust and shared risk.
The process started with the March 2006 passage of a bond measure for revitalizing downtown Phoenix, with a brand-new ASU campus as the linchpin of the redevelopment plan. The bond proceeds included $54 million for the Cronkite building, which is six stories tall with retail shops on the street level.
The project officially kicked off on October 15, 2006, as the design-build team of HDR Architecture of Phoenix, Steven Ehrlich Architects of Culver City, Calif., and Sundt Construction of Tempe, Ariz., gathered for the first planning session in a converted space in the back of HDR offices. Less than two years later, on August 25, 2008, students filed into the completed structure for the first day of class.
A Unique Scenario
The technologically complex Cronkite facility, which includes a heavy–duty communications infrastructure and a public broadcasting studio on the top floor, is the product of a deal struck between the university and the city of Phoenix.
“These dynamics created a unique scenario in which the city is the owner while we are the end user—essentially, two separate government agencies each playing a different role,” says Nielsen.
The city’s biggest priorities were cost and schedule, while ASU’s were high delivery standards (“brand protection,” as Nielsen puts it) and the opening date. There could be no compromise in program, and the building had to be done before the fall 2008 semester started.
“One of the most difficult challenges for a government owner is to truly partner, because in doing so you have to step up and make decisions, or, in other words, take on risk,” he says.
In this instance the city knew its risks were cost overruns and schedule delays, which are perhaps easier to deal with because they are quantifiable, Nielsen observes. Assured that ASU would have both budget and schedule under a microscope, city representatives accepted the principles of collaboration and shared risk in order to produce a very specific outcome.
“The owners, design team, and contractors actually had the same objectives, shaped by the finite budget and schedule,” says Nielsen “We were all determined to work together, united by the same ideas.”
Co-location in the Big Room
One of the first IPD tenets the Cronkite project team implemented was co-locating team members in a “Big Room” from day one. Having building owners, architects, engineers, and subcontractors sitting together in the large construction office promoted understanding of the mission, accelerated the flow of work, and eliminated waste. It also flattened the organization by fostering a culture of learning that allowed consensus to rule.
“The basic premise is that design is nothing more than decision-making informed by expertise,” Nielsen says. “Using the Big Room makes that expertise immediately available, creating the ability for everyone to make better, more informed decisions in the best interests of the project, thus saving a considerable amount of time.”
It helped that ASU was able to rely on partners with whom it had previous experience, even though they hadn’t worked together under the IPD mantle. The group from HDR was what Nielsen calls a “well-seasoned” team with 40 years of practice in the area. HDR and the contractor, Sundt, are both employee-owned companies with strong Midwestern values that fostered mutual trust. As they selected subcontractors, they looked for partners with the same types of competencies and values.
“You are not buying a commodity, you are forming a long-term relationship of equals,” says Nielsen. “It is very fundamental to have the right team, one you are comfortable with, that you trust and respect. If you can get that comfort level high enough, you will also avoid trying to shift risk.”
The owner’s role in effecting that agreement is critical, and visibility in the Big Room was a compelling factor.
“It was not acceptable to say, ‘I’m going to go back and check with the administration,’ and not resolve an issue for another two weeks. The owner has to be at the table, willing and able to make decisions, and thus avoid future finger pointing.”
Using BIM to Complete Shop Drawings
BIM (building information modeling) was instrumental in the rapid pace of progress, enabling the completion of shop drawings before construction.
In the typical process, Nielsen explains, the architects and engineers draw up their plans, and then in the field the subcontractor does the shop drawings with a different system, the result of which is wasted time and effort.
“The A&E team collaborated with subcontractors to produce system designs and engineering which made the transition to BIM shop drawing models much easier. Using BIM, they were able to produce the shop drawings very quickly,” says Nielsen. “The coordination of architectural and engineering drawings is necessary and valuable for all projects, but the virtual 3-D shop drawings from the subcontractors combined with architectural models are priceless. This approach comes close to guaranteeing that all systems will fit flawlessly when assembled in the field.”
No Value Engineering, No Change Orders
The co-location and parallel work flow also eliminated the painful (and time-consuming) practice of value engineering and contributed to the landmark accomplishment of zero change orders.
“Because the schedule was so compressed, instead of going through design, then bid, and then finding out we were over budget and had to make cuts, the architect would draw up plans and hand them to the appropriate subcontractor. The sub would say, ‘We can do this more efficiently. Let’s make this adjustment and we’ll stay within budget,’” Nielsen relates.
A cost model informed by databases from all players enabled the team to come up with target values for each component of the design. Collaboration among all team members allowed them to reach those targets, often through a blend of options.
For example, the allocation for the building skin was $40 per sf, which, Nielsen admits, was “not very much,” especially given the desire for a curtain wall system with a price of $60 per sf. The subcontractor came up with a solution of alternating materials, using a combination of metal panels and masonry.
“It required discipline between the architect and the contractor to determine where to put the lesser-cost metal panels versus the masonry panels to offset the higher cost and get us to the target by averaging prices,” says Nielsen. “A combination of changing technologies and the subcontractors’ expertise--they know what works fastest and best--working in conjunction with the architects, allowed us to make such decisions early, on the front end of this project.”
Several other lean techniques also accelerated progress, lowered costs, and contributed to the lack of change orders. Among them were more extensive shop fabrication and pull planning, with its associated just-in-time delivery, which required less storage space onsite and reduced the opportunity for materials to become damaged.
Nielsen notes that the one aspect of the project that could have benefitted from more attention was a longer-term view of the building’s future, factoring the sustainability of operations and maintenance into design and engineering decisions.
“We had separate capital and operations budgets, so there was no opportunity to shift funds to the capital side when we could demonstrate that a higher priced piece of original equipment, for example, might be a better investment,” Nielsen says. “To make this incredibly lean, you would want that flexibility.”
Nielsen emphasizes that the project contracts offered no incentives, other than the challenges of getting a good job done right—thus exploding the myth that financial rewards are always necessary to inspire top-notch performance.
Much of this thinking is the direct result of the owner’s posture toward risk.
“Uncertainty is risk, and owners like to off-load risk as much as they can,” he explains. “Traditionally, owners, designers, and contractors play a shell game of shifting risk, contractually. Any time there is uncertainty in a project, someone is adding cost to protect against that risk. The owners have the upper hand because we initiate the contract, and it’s our ball and playing field.
“If you shift the risk to the architect, he will overdesign. If you shift it to the contractor, he will make sure the cost estimate reflects that risk. The whole concept of IPD is that by partnering we don’t shift risk, we share it. By collaborating we eliminate uncertainties, especially with regard to program, functionality, cost, schedule, and quality. We reduce risk for each other, and then everyone wins.”
Given the Cronkite building’s rapid and successful completion, Nielsen is enthusiastic about using IPD for other ASU projects, such as the Interdisciplinary Science Building, currently under construction. However, he is concerned about whether the process will be repeatable for the university. The notions of paying for services and looking for lowest cost are deeply ingrained and hard to dislodge, he points out.
“The lean approach requires a much more proactive partner, and you have to trust that it will produce a better project. For Cronkite, we all had a friendship and an understanding that we would do the right thing because a successful project was good for everyone and bad for all of us if we weren’t able to achieve it. We know the tools are there,” he concludes.
By Nicole Zaro Stahl
This report is based on a presentation by Nielsen at Tradeline’s 2010 conference Lean Processes for Capital Projects & Facilities Management.
HDR Architecture, Phoenix
Steven Ehrlich Architects (SEA), Culver City, Calif.
Sundt Construction, Tempe, Ariz.