Building design and construction is complex, time consuming, and expensive. Buildings require a huge amount of materials and resources to create, and gobs of energy to operate. Complexity, time, and expense have steadily increased over the decades. 

Building design and construction is complex, time consuming, and expensive. Buildings require a huge amount of materials and resources to create, and gobs of energy to operate. Complexity, time, and expense have steadily increased over the decades. Recent comparisons made between the building industry and non-building-related industries conclude that the building industry is lagging well behind other non-building industries with regard to productivity gains. Paul Teicholz, professor emeritus in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, published a paper in 2004 that shows a 0.59 percent annual decline in building construction productivity compared to a 1.77 percent per year increase for non-farm industries between 1964 and 2003. His findings have created a lot of commotion within the construction industry as it struggles to understand why it lags so far behind and what can be done about it.

Some in the industry have dismissed Teicholz’s findings as wildly inaccurate and akin to comparing an apple to an orange. It is pointed out that his data pool, from the automobile and the oil and gas industry, among others, cannot be directly compared to the construction industry in any measurable way. Non-construction industry activities are well-controlled, highly automated, and easily measured and documented. The construction industry is a polar opposite. A 2008 paper “Measuring and Improving the Productivity of the U.S. Construction Industry” finds that the magnitude of the productivity problem in the construction industry is largely unknown and concludes that:

“The debate about whether construction productivity is declining, holding its own, or increasing can not be easily resolved, because there are no industry-level measures of productivity for either the construction industry as a whole or its components (i.e., commercial, industrial, public works, and residential). Such measures do exist for manufacturing, and they are routinely disseminated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Despite the uncertainty about what is really happening within the construction industry, a majority enthusiastically support the idea that it is grossly inefficient and in need of immediate correction. The industry had focused on project delivery methods as a major contributor to the inefficiency. The theory goes that the method most used by the industry, design-bid-build, sets up an adversarial relationship between the owner, architect, and contractor that leads to increases in cost and time and an ever-present threat of litigation. It has been suggested that adopting a more integrated approach will result in a more harmonious, equal risk distribution situation that improves efficiency and performance. Delivery methods, such as design-build, partnering, integrated project delivery, and performance-based contracting are examples of alternatives to traditional design-bid-build.


So what project delivery method will result in the greenest building? Is there one that is clearly superior to the others in maximizing a building’s sustainability? In a traditional design-bid-build scenario, an architect is hired directly by an owner and designs to the owner’s program requirements. If sustainability is one of the requirements, the architect is responsible to incorporate accordingly. The owner bids (or negotiates) a price from a contractor to build from the documents prepared by the architect. DBB requires that each party subscribe to a very strict set of rules in performance of their respective tasks. The architect designs and produces the documents, the contractor builds to the documents, and the owner pays the bills. Engaging in any activity outside of the contractual duties and obligations incurs risk that none of the parties can afford to take on.

In a design-build scenario, the owner hires a single entity to design and build to its programmatic requirements. This removes some element of risk and theoretically increases efficiency and reduces cost and time. Typically, the contractor and architect are joined together to become the design-build entity. Because the contractor and architect are partners, risk of litigation between them is mostly eliminated. There is, however, still a potential for litigation between the design-builder and the owner.

Some argue that greener buildings can be built using DB over DBB, but a recent research paper “Sustainable, High Performance Projects and Project Delivery Methods a State-of-Practice Report” cites studies that conclude that the DB method is no more capable of delivering sustainable objectives than traditional DBB. It goes on to say:

“Other studies found mixed results when comparing the project delivery methods as related to high performance construction. In one study comparing project delivery methods to high performance project success, DB was found to have attributes strongly associated with success but it was concluded that a relationship between DB and green design did not explicitly emerge.”


A new type of delivery method promises to remove all risk among the parties, increase efficiency, reduce cost and time, and make more sustainable buildings. This method is referred to as integrated project delivery. An AIA document, “Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide,” highlights the following main benefits of IDP:

Facilities managers, end users, contractors and suppliers are all involved at the start of the design process.

Processes are outcome-driven and decisions are not made solely on a first cost basis.

All communications throughout the process are clear, concise, open, transparent and trusting.

Designers fully understand the ramifications of their decisions at the time the decisions are made.

Risk and reward are value-based and appropriately balanced among all team members over the life of a project.

The industry delivers a higher quality and sustainable built environment.

The document identifies sustainability as a key area of opportunity for improvement over traditional delivery methods and suggests that:

“Metrics can be established for lifecycle goals for all aspects of a project. Ratings criteria such as Green Globes, LEED or SB Tool may be melded into the overall goals and incremental steps monitored throughout the design and delivery process. The opportunity also exists to set goals for carbon footprint and incorporation of alternative energies.”

Evidently, the AIA is so convinced that IDP will be a widely used alternative to DBB, it developed an entire suite of documents specifically written for IDP. Two sets of IPD documents are available from the AIA. The first is a transitional approach to IPD, with a lot of content similar to DBB, but with some IPD elements thrown in. The backbone of this series of documents is A295–General Conditions of the Contract for Integrated Project Delivery. One of the main differences between A295 and its DBB-equivalent A201, is that the entire team (owner, architect, consultants, contractor and subcontractors) is engaged and participatory throughout the design process. Four design phases are established in the document: “Conceptualization,” “Criteria Design,” “Detailed Design,” and “Implementation Documents.”

In each of these phases, the entire team works together in collaboration as the project develops. Once construction begins, the relationship among the parties reverts to a more traditional DBB approach, and most of the language in this group of IPD documents is taken from A201. It is anticipated that because of the highly integrated design process problems inherent during construction of a traditional DBB method are largely eliminated.

A second IPD document from the AIA, C195–Standard Form Single Purpose Entity Agreement for Integrated Project Delivery, represents the Full Monty of IPD agreements. Document C195 envisions that the owner, architect, and contractor will be a single entity, and will be separate “members” of the newly formed “company.” Other “members,” such as the mechanical contractor, the elevator consultant, the acoustical consultant, etc., may be added along the way as the “company” decides.


Is a more sustainable building guaranteed simply by using an integrated project delivery method, as the AIA suggests in its IPD Guide? Probably not. There is no specific reference in any of the AIA IPD documents to sustainability or any of the other IPD documents that I have read. The idea is that because of the required early collaboration among team members, sustainable building features stand a better chance of succeeding than in the traditional DBB alternative. And this may be true, but with any delivery method chosen, sustainable criteria must be established, and the owner must agree to pay for it. W&C