Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Project Sequencing

The most common problem I run into in architecture and construction is that the scheduled duration of a project is inadequate. While experience has given me the ability to overcome this problem in most cases, saving a project schedule inevitably comes at the expense of either quality, creativity, or project cost.

The main aspects of quality that suffer when a project does not have adequate time are materials. Almost all common building materials, unless already in stock and available, take 4 to 6 weeks to make. If specialty finishes or items are needed for their fabrication, then it can take 8 to 12 weeks. To break this down, use carpet as an example:

If a construction schedule is less than 4 weeks, carpet selection is limited to in stock items only.
If the schedule is extended to 6 weeks, 'standard' and 'quick ship' items now become available, even possibly if they are not currently in stock because the manufacturer already has the necessary yarn
However any higher end carpet will require a minimum 8 to 12 weeks in order to aquire the yarn, ship it to the carpet factory, make the carpet, and ship it to the construction site.

Now consider in the carpet scenario that the same thing is occurring in regards to cabinets, doors, furniture, and a host of other items. These items cannot all be installed simultaneously. Once this is taken into consideration, it becomes clear that, unless finish materials are identified and order prior to the start of construction, most tenant improvement type projects will require a minimum 12 to 14 week schedule for construction.

The limiting factors for creativity are two-fold. An abbreviated construction schedule limits the material choices available to a project. Also, the sequence of events that are needed to design properly are often forced to be abbreviated or eliminated altogether. The following stages of events and rough time lines should be taken into account:

Programming - May be done in house prior to hiring an architect, or done over a period of several days or weeks (depending on size) with an architect
Field Survey - one to three days typically for projects that are limited to interior scope
Schematic Design - This phase is highly variable. Depending upon the ability to reconcile a clients programmatic and stylistic needs within the framework of the building that has been selected, it can vary from 1 week to 1-2 months. However, for most small to mid-size projects accomodating 2 weeks for the planning of this should be sufficient.
Design Development and Code Analysis - This phase is mostly determined by the size and age of a building, and should range from 2-4 weeks. However on smaller projects this can commonly be condensed to one week.
Contract Documents - The final phase of architectural work prior to permitting is the creation of all drawings, details, and specifications for construction, as well as all information related to accessibility and life safety necessary for permitting. This work requires several weeks in most cases.

With all of this work taken into account, the design phase of a tenant improvement project should include 4 weeks for small projects, and 12-16 weeks for larger and more complex ones. When this process is shortened, proper programming usually has not taken place and the project specifications are left more generalized. Under extreme shortening of the process, an initial set may be required for permitting purposes only, with the knowledge that some construction details are not fully resolved. This of course leads to the last area of sacrifice.

Cost gets impacted in three ways primarily.

Incomplete designs are bid to contractors, which result in modifications along the way that result in change orders to the construction contract.

The construction schedule does not have adequate time to allow for proper sequencing of events which results in overtime costs for construction labor

General Contractors are not given adequate time to investigate possible hidden deficiencies within a building, resulting in added costs to remedy those unforeseen conditions.

The variations of problems and requirements are endless, and ultimately every project must make sacrifices somewhere along the way. However having an experienced architect involved as early in the process as possible will help tremendously to navigate through these issues. A good architect can also overcome most of the scheduling hurdles thrown their way, but if the process is shortened, both the client and architect should discuss what sacrifices it will entail prior to starting work.

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