Design-assist contracting is a construction management method to improve efficiency. It is most commonly used when a fabrication or building method requires a unique set of trade skills. Design-assist contracting is best suited for design-build or construction management at risk (CM@R) projects in which the architect and owner work with tradespeople to develop a budget and project schedule for a unique material or construction application, such as reproducing historic windows or finishing plaster walls.
THE STATUS QUO
Building materials, technologies, and construction techniques continue to change and become more complex, often leaving tradespeople and manufacturers the keepers of information. As a result, the construction industry has many experts and consultants to help architects and builders transcend the intricacies of building with unfamiliar products. The current process, however, can repeat steps and produce inefficiencies. Design-assist contracting can be more streamlined and effective when project aspects require high levels of specialty.
THE DESIGN-ASSIST PROCESS
There are four steps in design-assist contracting:
1. Formulate a budget.
2. The architect, owner, and contractor meet to review the project and determine aspects that are design-assist candidates. This list should include all complex building situations, critical project elements, or areas where a subcontractor or tradesperson is better versed on the subject than any member of the core team.
3. Issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) and request for proposals (RFP) for each of the specific design-assist project portions. When issuing the RFP and RFQ, be sure to include the project budget and scope of services required.
4. Identify a short list of subcontractors from the RFQ and RFP submissions. Ask those on the short list to develop a project management plan that includes their won budget and scheduling.
Finally, choose a trade subcontractor for each design-assist portion of the project. With the trade subcontractor now part of the team, the architect and the tradesperson can work together to finalize specifications. This process helps the architect develop documents that can be used for as-built documents and documents for other trade subcontractors to use if the design-assist project affects their work.
As more information is learned, the owner may need to make critical decisions regarding the cost and the commitment of the trade subcontractor. This may include some budget modifications.
Before proceeding with design-assist contracting, the owner must clearly define the scope of the project and design priorities and communicate these to the design and construction team.
Design-assist contracting has been successfully used for
· Exterior enclosure systems that are stone and highly detailed
· Terra cotta, both old and new
· Historic lighting restoration and replication
· Custom windows for new or historic applications
· Decorative finishes, painting, fabrics, and plaster
· Custom furniture
By using the methods described above, the owner, architect, and contractor should be able to deliver a project on schedule, with fewer requests for information and fewer changes.