3. The Design and Construction Process
3.1 Design and Construction as an Integrated System
In the planning of facilities, it is important to recognize the close relationship between design and construction. These processes can best be viewed as an integrated system. Broadly speaking, design is a process of creating the description of a new facility, usually represented by detailed plans and specifications; construction planning is a process of identifying activities and resources required to make the design a physical reality. Hence, construction is the implementation of a design envisioned by architects and engineers. In both design and construction, numerous operational tasks must be performed with a variety of precedence and other relationships among the different tasks.
Several characteristics are unique to the planning of constructed facilities and should be kept in mind even at the very early stage of the project life cycle. These include the following:
In an integrated system, the planning for both design and construction can proceed almost simultaneously, examining various alternatives which are desirable from both viewpoints and thus eliminating the necessity of extensive revisions under the guise of value engineering. Furthermore, the review of designs with regard to their constructibility can be carried out as the project progresses from planning to design. For example, if the sequence of assembly of a structure and the critical loadings on the partially assembled structure during construction are carefully considered as a part of the overall structural design, the impacts of the design on construction falsework and on assembly details can be anticipated. However, if the design professionals are expected to assume such responsibilities, they must be rewarded for sharing the risks as well as for undertaking these additional tasks. Similarly, when construction contractors are expected to take over the responsibilities of engineers, such as devising a very elaborate scheme to erect an unconventional structure, they too must be rewarded accordingly. As long as the owner does not assume the responsibility for resolving this risk-reward dilemma, the concept of a truly integrated system for design and construction cannot be realized.
It is interesting to note that European owners are generally more open to new technologies and to share risks with designers and contractors. In particular, they are more willing to accept responsibilities for the unforeseen subsurface conditions in geotechnical engineering. Consequently, the designers and contractors are also more willing to introduce new techniques in order to reduce the time and cost of construction. In European practice, owners typically present contractors with a conceptual design, and contractors prepare detailed designs, which are checked by the owner's engineers. Those detailed designs may be alternate designs, and specialty contractors may also prepare detailed alternate designs.
Example 3-1: Responsibility for Shop Drawings
The willingness to assume responsibilities does not come easily from any party in the current litigious climate of the construction industry in the United States. On the other hand, if owner, architect, engineer, contractor and other groups that represent parts of the industry do not jointly fix the responsibilities of various tasks to appropriate parties, the standards of practice will eventually be set by court decisions. In an attempt to provide a guide to the entire spectrum of participants in a construction project, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a Manual of Professional Practice entitled Quality in the Constructed Project in 1990. This manual is intended to help bring a turn around of the fragmentation of activities in the design and construction process.
Shop drawings represent the assembly details for erecting a structure which should reflect the intent and rationale of the original structural design. They are prepared by the construction contractor and reviewed by the design professional. However, since the responsibility for preparing shop drawings was traditionally assigned to construction contractors, design professionals took the view that the review process was advisory and assumed no responsibility for their accuracy. This justification was ruled unacceptable by a court in connection with the walkway failure at the Hyatt Hotel in Kansas City in 1985. In preparing the ASCE Manual of Professional Practice for Quality in the Constructed Project, the responsibilities for preparation of shop drawings proved to be the most difficult to develop. The reason for this situation is not difficult to fathom since the responsibilities for the task are diffused, and all parties must agree to the new responsibilities assigned to each in the recommended risk-reward relations shown in Table 3-1.
Traditionally, the owner is not involved in the preparation and review of shop drawings, and perhaps is even unaware of any potential problems. In the recommended practice, the owner is required to take responsibility for providing adequate time and funding, including approval of scheduling, in order to allow the design professionals and construction contractors to perform satisfactorily.
Table 3-1 Recommended Responsibility for Shop Drawings
Example 3-2:Model Metro Project in Milan, Italy
Under Italian law, unforeseen subsurface conditions are the owner's responsibility, not the contractor's. This is a striking difference from U.S. construction practice where changed conditions clauses and claims and the adequacy of prebid site investigations are points of contention. In effect, the Italian law means that the owner assumes those risks. But under the same law, a contractor may elect to assume the risks in order to lower the bid price and thereby beat the competition.
According to the Technical Director of Rodio, the Milan-based contractor which is heavily involved in the grouting job for tunneling in the Model Metro project in Milan, Italy, there are two typical contractual arrangements for specialized subcontractor firms such as theirs. One is to work on a unit price basis with no responsibility for the design. The other is what he calls the "nominated subcontractor" or turnkey method: prequalified subcontractors offer their own designs and guarantee the price, quality, quantities, and, if they wish, the risks of unforeseen conditions.
At the beginning of the Milan metro project, the Rodio contract ratio was 50/50 unit price and turnkey. The firm convinced the metro owners that they would save money with the turnkey approach, and the ratio became 80% turnkey. What's more, in the work packages where Rodio worked with other grouting specialists, those subcontractors paid Rodio a fee to assume all risks for unforeseen conditions.
Under these circumstances, it was critical that the firm should know the subsurface conditions as precisely as possible, which was a major reason why the firm developed a computerized electronic sensing program to predict stratigraphy and thus control grout mixes, pressures and, most important, quantities.
3.2 Innovation and Technological Feasibility
The planning for a construction project begins with the generation of concepts for a facility which will meet market demands and owner needs. Innovative concepts in design are highly valued not for their own sake but for their contributions to reducing costs and to the improvement of aesthetics, comfort or convenience as embodied in a well-designed facility. However, the constructor as well as the design professionals must have an appreciation and full understanding of the technological complexities often associated with innovative designs in order to provide a safe and sound facility. Since these concepts are often preliminary or tentative, screening studies are carried out to determine the overall technological viability and economic attractiveness without pursuing these concepts in great detail. Because of the ambiguity of the objectives and the uncertainty of external events, screening studies call for uninhibited innovation in creating new concepts and judicious judgment in selecting the appropriate ones for further consideration.
One of the most important aspects of design innovation is the necessity of communication in the design/construction partnership. In the case of bridge design, it can be illustrated by the following quotation from Lin and Gerwick concerning bridge construction:
The great pioneering steel bridges of the United States were built by an open or covert alliance between designers and constructors. The turnkey approach of designer-constructor has developed and built our chemical plants, refineries, steel plants, and nuclear power plants. It is time to ask, seriously, whether we may not have adopted a restrictive approach by divorcing engineering and construction in the field of bridge construction.
If a contractor-engineer, by some stroke of genius, were to present to design engineers today a wonderful new scheme for long span prestressed concrete bridges that made them far cheaper, he would have to make these ideas available to all other constructors, even limiting or watering them down so as to "get a group of truly competitive bidders." The engineer would have to make sure that he found other contractors to bid against the ingenious innovator.
If an engineer should, by a similar stroke of genius, hit on such a unique and brilliant scheme, he would have to worry, wondering if the low bidder would be one who had any concept of what he was trying to accomplish or was in any way qualified for high class technical work.
Innovative design concepts must be tested for technological feasibility. Three levels of technology are of special concern: technological requirements for operation or production, design resources and construction technology. The first refers to the new technologies that may be introduced in a facility which is used for a certain type of production such as chemical processing or nuclear power generation. The second refers to the design capabilities that are available to the designers, such as new computational methods or new materials. The third refers to new technologies which can be adopted to construct the facility, such as new equipment or new construction methods.
A new facility may involve complex new technology for operation in hostile environments such as severe climate or restricted accessibility. Large projects with unprecedented demands for resources such as labor supply, material and infrastructure may also call for careful technological feasibility studies. Major elements in a feasibility study on production technology should include, but are not limited to, the following:
An example of innovative design for operation and production is the use of entropy concepts for the design of integrated chemical processes. Simple calculations can be used to indicate the minimum energy requirements and the least number of heat exchange units to achieve desired objectives. The result is a new incentive and criterion for designers to achieve more effective designs. Numerous applications of the new methodology has shown its efficacy in reducing both energy costs and construction expenditures. This is a case in which innovative design is not a matter of trading-off operating and capital costs, but better designs can simultaneously achieve improvements in both objectives.
The choice of construction technology and method involves both strategic and tactical decisions about appropriate technologies and the best sequencing of operations. For example, the extent to which prefabricated facility components will be used represents a strategic construction decision. In turn, prefabrication of components might be accomplished off-site in existing manufacturing facilities or a temporary, on-site fabrication plant might be used. Another example of a strategic decision is whether to install mechanical equipment in place early in the construction process or at an intermediate stage. Strategic decisions of this sort should be integrated with the process of facility design in many cases. At the tactical level, detailed decisions about how to accomplish particular tasks are required, and such decisions can often be made in the field.
Construction planning should be a major concern in the development of facility designs, in the preparation of cost estimates, and in forming bids by contractors. Unfortunately, planning for the construction of a facility is often treated as an after thought by design professionals. This contrasts with manufacturing practices in which the assembly of devices is a major concern in design. Design to insure ease of assembly or construction should be a major concern of engineers and architects. As the Business Roundtable noted, "All too often chances to cut schedule time and costs are lost because construction operates as a production process separated by a chasm from financial planning, scheduling, and engineering or architectural design. Too many engineers, separated from field experience, are not up to date about how to build what they design, or how to design so structures and equipment can be erected most efficiently."
Example 3-3: Innovative use of structural frames for buildings
The structural design of skyscrapers offers an example of innovation in overcoming the barrier of high costs for tall buildings by making use of new design capabilities. A revolutionary concept in skyscraper design was introduced in the 1960's by Fazlur Khan who argued that, for a building of a given height, there is an appropriate structural system which would produce the most efficient use of the material.
Before 1965, most skyscrapers were steel rigid frames. However, Fazlur Khan believed that it was uneconomical to construct all office buildings of rigid frames, and proposed an array of appropriate structural systems for steel buildings of specified heights as shown in Figure 3-1. By choosing an appropriate structural system, an engineer can use structural materials more efficiently. For example, the 60-story Chase Manhattan Building in New York used about 60 pounds per square foot of steel in its rigid frame structure, while the 100-story John Hancock Center in Chicago used only 30 pounds per square foot for a trusted tube system. At the time the Chase Manhattan Building was constructed, no bracing was used to stiffen the core of a rigid frame building because design engineers did not have the computing tools to do the complex mathematical analysis associated with core bracing.
Figure 3-1: Proposed Structural System fir Steel Buildings
(Reprinted with permission from Civil Engineering, May 1983)
3.3 Innovation and Economic Feasibility
Innovation is often regarded as the engine which can introduce construction economies and advance labor productivity. This is obviously true for certain types of innovations in industrial production technologies, design capabilities, and construction equipment and methods. However, there are also limitations due to the economic infeasibility of such innovations, particularly in the segments of construction industry which are more fragmented and permit ease of entry, as in the construction of residential housing.
Market demand and firm size play an important role in this regard. If a builder is to construct a larger number of similar units of buildings, the cost per unit may be reduced. This relationship between the market demand and the total cost of production may be illustrated schematically as in Figure 3-2. An initial threshold or fixed cost F is incurred to allow any production. Beyond this threshold cost, total cost increases faster than the units of output but at a decreasing rate. At each point on this total cost curve, the average cost is represented by the slope of a line from the origin to the point on the curve. At a point H, the average cost per unit is at a minimum. Beyond H to the right, the total cost again increases faster than the units of output and at an increasing rate. When the rate of change of the average cost slope is decreasing or constant as between 0 and H on the curve, the range between 0 and H is said to be increasing return to scale; when the rate of change of the average cost slope is increasing as beyond H to the right, the region is said to be decreasing return to scale. Thus, if fewer than h units are constructed, the unit price will be higher than that of exactly h units. On the other hand, the unit price will increase again if more than h units are constructed.
Figure 3-2: Market Demand and Total Cost Relationship
Nowhere is the effect of market demand and total cost more evident than in residential housing. The housing segment in the last few decades accepted many innovative technical improvements in building materials which were promoted by material suppliers. Since material suppliers provide products to a large number of homebuilders and others, they are in a better position to exploit production economies of scale and to support new product development. However, homebuilders themselves have not been as successful in making the most fundamental form of innovation which encompasses changes in the technological process of homebuilding by shifting the mixture of labor and material inputs, such as substituting large scale off-site prefabrication for on-site assembly.
There are several major barriers to innovation in the technological process of homebuilding, including demand instability, industrial fragmentation, and building codes. Since market demand for new homes follows demographic trends and other socio-economic conditions, the variation in home building has been anything but regular. The profitability of the homebuilding industry has closely matched aggregate output levels. Since entry and exist from the industry are relatively easy, it is not uncommon during periods of slack demand to find builders leaving the market or suspending their operations until better times. The inconsistent levels of retained earnings over a period of years, even among the more established builders, are likely to discourage support for research and development efforts which are required to nurture innovation. Furthermore, because the homebuilding industry is fragmented with a vast majority of homebuilders active only in local regions, the typical homebuilder finds it excessively expensive to experiment with new designs. The potential costs of a failure or even a moderately successful innovation would outweigh the expected benefits of all but the most successful innovations. Variation in local building codes has also caused inefficiencies although repeated attempts have been made to standardize building codes.
In addition to the scale economies visible within a sector of the construction market, there are also possibilities for scale economies in individual facility. For example, the relationship between the size of a building (expressed in square feet) and the input labor (expressed in laborhours per square foot) varies for different types and sizes of buildings. As shown in Figure 3-3, these relationships for several types of buildings exhibit different characteristics. The labor hours per square foot decline as the size of facility increases for houses, public housing and public buildings. However, the labor hours per square foot almost remains constant for all sizes of school buildings and increases as the size of a hospital facility increases.
Figure 3-3: Illustrative Relationships between Building Size and Input Labor by Types of Building
(Reprinted with permission from P.J. Cassimatis, Economics of the Construction Industry, The National Industry Conference Board, SEB, No. 111, 1969, p.53)
Example 3-4: Use of new materials
In recent years, an almost entirely new set of materials is emerging for construction, largely from the aerospace and electronics industries. These materials were developed from new knowledge about the structure and properties of materials as well as new techniques for altering existing materials. Additives to traditional materials such as concrete and steel are particularly prominent. For example, it has been known for some time that polymers would increase concrete strength, water resistance and ability to insulate when they are added to the cement. However, their use has been limited by their costs since they have had to replace as much as 10 percent of the cement to be effective. However, Swedish researchers have helped reduce costs by using polymer microspheres 8 millionths of an inch across, which occupy less than 1 percent of the cement. Concretes made with these microspheres meet even the strict standards for offshore structures in the North Sea. Research on micro-additives will probably produce useful concretes for repairing road and bridges as well.
Example 3-5: Green Buildings
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is intended to promote voluntary improvements in design and construction practices. In the rating system, buildings receive points for a variety of aspects, including reduced energy use, greater use of daylight rather than artificial lights, recycling construction waste, rainfall runoff reduction, availability of public transit access, etc. If a building accumulates a sufficient number of points, it may be certified by the Green Building Alliance as a "green building." While some of these aspects may increase construction costs, many reduce operating costs or make buildings more attractive. Green building approaches are spreading to industrial plants and other types of construction.