Feature Article

Integrated Design Meets the Real World

Proponents of integrated design say that it results in higher-performing buildings at lower costs than the conventional design process. But real world obstacles can derail or limit integration. We offer tips from experts to keep things on track.

May 1, 2010

The integrated project team behind Manassas Park Elementary School influenced site selection and used computer modeling to maximize daylighting. The building won an AIA COTE Top Ten award (see Awards & Competitions).

Photo: VMDO Architects and Prakesh Patel

What happens when project teams buck the conventional, linear design and construction process in favor of an integrated approach? According to proponents of integrated design, they produce buildings with higher environmental performance at lower costs. Integrated design gets more design team members around the table, inviting collaboration across disciplines and spurring innovation. Although this process may appear to require more design time and cost more, proponents say that it merely shifts design costs to the front end of the process, saving time in construction documents. Examples abound of integrating a building’s systems cost-effectively—like downsizing the mechanical system in response to envelope upgrades.

In 2004, EBN wrote in some depth on integrated design (see EBN Nov. 2004), but with new collaboration technologies on the market and six years of practice to learn from, we thought it was time for an update. We contacted several experts who work with integrated design often and asked what was working, what wasn’t, and what tricks of the trade they’d be willing to share. We were also curious whether new software and communication tools have evolved to the point where they can really support the process. What we found was that, by and large, humans—not technology—are the drivers of the integrated design process. As Chris Garvin, AIA, of Cook + Fox, puts it, “The fundamental tools are long-term relationships between team members. The technical tools are secondary.”