How to Integrate Design

From ASLA Dirt recently at the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities conference in Philadelphia, the intricacies of practicing integrated design reveal that even in the USA it is difficult to justify and implement the required processes to actually make integrated design work. On a current project in Cape Town involving banking and life insurance clients and and extensive team led by an architectural firm I find it frustrating that many of the decisions taken are for image and appearance of either the client or the architectural form, rather than the impact on the city at street level or the environment  we all share, this despite the “green”credentials of the clients and the Greenstar rating they are aiming for.

According to integrated design process is supposed to “… break(s) down silos between professions and brings multiple designers, expert consultants, contractors, and product manufacturers together to mesh design requirements together at the beginning of a project and then co-implement the project throughout the process. Integrated design processes enable “systems thinking” and create projects that hit multiple benefits at once.”

However as most of us who have been part of an  integrated design  process have experienced,  as Jose Alminana, FASLA, Andropogon, said there are two levels of barriers preventing more widespread use of integrated design processes: individual and external. At the individual or professional level, education is the obstacle. Designers and manufacturers have areas of expertise and some are “narrowly focused.” Others, like landscape architects, argued Alminana, have an “integrative perspective” and traits more apt to bringing together diverse experts to achieve sustainable designs. External factors include budget limitations or an unimaginative client.

Still, many forward-thinking landscape architects and architects who could be practicing this way but aren’t because “that’s doing something outside the norm.” “Delegated design is what’s practiced today, not integrated design. However, we have a moral imperative to practice this.” Steve Moddemeyer, Principal, Collins Woerman, agreed, arguing that “we need to look across silos.”

Along with discussing problems with the barriers to integral design of municipal by laws and lack of understanding of what value there is in accommodating the “public Good’ and environmental concerns there is also the clients point of view : Schwendinger thinks that there is a general lack of understanding about integrated design projects: “They cost less but the perception is that they are more expensive. The perception of cost is out of line with actual cost.” However, Aliminana thinks that integrated design processes do actually cost more. “Delegated design is about absolutely mimimal investment so being integrative does cost more.

There are other aspects of integrated design with cost implications: An audience member from William McDonough + Partners remarked that the ever-increasing specialization of consultants made integrated design expensive. With 20 consultants on a project, a client may not understand why so many need to be involved to make a systems-based project work. Another from KieranTimberlake added that “consultants have to be pushed a lot. There has to be someone there to make them accountable.”

Yocca also added that “there’s the time value of money.” Some clients don’t want to “start the meter” until they are almost at the construction phase, which shows how little the design process up front is valued. To remedy this kind of problem, Shwendinger called for ”flattening the process” from the get-go, and bringing in the client so they can “see all the players as an integral part of the process.”

Despite the difficulties in relationships, split responsibilities , fee sharing, it is an essential prerequisite of an improved city scape and more sustainable and resilient city.

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