It is a scenario that is all too familiar to the myriad consultants that are part of an architectural project team: You're asked to join the project once the basic design concept has already been established and everything is under way. With the design and budget set, there is little room to participate and feel like your contribution is anything other than a stopgap measure to fill in the empty spaces between point A and point B. Now, we all know that depending on the project, there might not be a need to enlist every specialty consultant at the very beginning. But certain core areas, such as lighting, will help to create a better project if they are brought into the mix as early as possible.
The problem stems from an antiquated design process and document delivery system in which design is compartmentalized between the realm of the architect and the realms of the various consultants. This system casts off consultants as second-class design citizens instead of seeing them as the specialists they are and celebrating them for the specific body of knowledge and expertise that they can bring to the table. Furthermore, it creates a hierarchy, valuing some consultants over others.
But there are signs that the old ways are changing, and that the marginalization of the consultant might come to an end. In our fast-paced world, where project schedules are being consolidated into ever-tighter time frames, designers are beginning to think differently about the structure of the project team, and they are coming up with new and better ways to share information.
"The antiquated design process and document delivery system ... casts off consultants as second-class design citizens instead of seeing them as the specialists they are and celebrating them for the specific body of knowledge and expertise that they can bring to the table."
Clients are also demanding a more complex set of project deliverables. The long, slow economic recovery that we have been living through no longer allows enough time for different specialties to work independently of one another. Instead, design has never been more of a team effort. One tool that is helping to enable better communication and coordination is Building Information Modeling (BIM). With this software, all team members can work on an uploaded set of drawings in real time, and potential conflicts can be more readily uncovered.
While technological tools are one option to create a more cohesive project delivery, another is the way a firm is organized. The sluggish economy has created an environment ripe for mergers and acquisitions. One of the advantages of partaking in this is that architecture and engineering firms can acquire or otherwise add their own in-house design specialties, such as a lighting division. Having all of these design specialities under one roof, literally or figuratively, allows for greater and more frequent communication.
Still, building trust among colleagues does not happen overnight. More than likely, it is the result of an architect and lighting designer working together on several projects, learning each other's expectations and how one another thinks and designs.
The success of a project and a project team starts by establishing clear definitions of roles and responsibilities. It might even include knowing when to walk away from a project if need be. (Yes, even in this economy.)
Looking at the projects in this issue—our ninth-annual Light & Architecture Design Awards—it is clear that the success of the designs started with a successfully integrated project team.
Design is about collaboration, and collaboration requires mutual respect between all of the team members. If the structure of the design process continues to relegate consultants to a secondary design role, more than just the future of the profession is at stake—so is the very process by which we design and build.