D and C – a model of collaboration and learning

September 21, 2023 | General

How can architects maintain their authority in the design process? Brian Booth first posed that question as an architectural student at UTS more than 35 years ago.

Fast forward to 2023, and Paynter Dixon’s Executive Design Manager brings a seasoned perspective.

“Previous generations of architects were involved in the building process from the ground up, but the architect’s influence and proximity to the client began to change as project managers and quantity surveyors emerged as client representatives,” says Brian.

The client dynamic has shifted with time, and perhaps knowledge as well.

“Early in my career I worked for an architectural office which included quantity surveyors, structural engineers and commercial estimators. The environment deepened my understanding of design from the perspective of buildability, cost, documentation and compliance.”

According to Brian, when the Building Code of Australia (BCA) was introduced in 1988, it fell onto architects to understand the detail and implications for design. Today we have BCA consultants who serve an important role, but has the convenience of outsourcing to specialist providers also led to complacency?

“I am concerned by the standard and consistency of knowledge across the design profession, especially in this complex landscape of regulation.”

In recent years, the introduction of the Design and Building Practitioners Act has dialed up compliance. Registered design practitioners are obliged to prepare regulated designs and make design compliance declarations.

“There is a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of practitioners.”

A model of collaboration

Brian is a passionate advocate of the Design and Construct model, which Paynter Dixon has championed for decades. Under the role of head contractor, the company oversees project delivery from design and documentation to development consent and the physical build.

The model is powered by a diverse inhouse team of architects, design managers, interior designers, engineers, commercial estimators and project managers.

“A major benefit of this model is that all expertise is brought to the table at concept design – project management, construction and external consultants.”

The emphasis on collaboration from the get-go leads to shared knowledge, problem solving and a more harmonious way of working.

Architects and design practitioners in the process can leverage this collective expertise ‘at the table’ to strengthen the design solution – and in terms of professional development – expand their technical knowledge. Paynter Dixon’s Design Managers are also in the driving seat with the client, ensuring design development stays on brief and addresses fundamental issues up front.

Brian distinguishes the ‘D and C’ model from hard dollar tendering which is focused entirely on cost. An architect is engaged to document design ahead of tendering, with commercial contractors invited to submit their lowest price to complete the project.

“Hard tendering hinges on the architect correctly documenting design. However, the process can become problematic as the appointed builder and contractors find fault in the documentation, whether there are missing elements or buildability issues. It becomes far more adversarial as contract and pricing variations are negotiated. Indeed, some contractors rely on significant variations for their profit variation.”

Brian though points out that not all D and C is conducted to a high standard.

“There can be a flawed approach where stakeholders are preoccupied with taking short cuts. Documentation is not thorough, and building codes are not followed. It’s crucial for D and C contractors to be fully across the standards, rules and regulations in detail, whether it’s waterproofing, fire safety, structural stability, accessibility and so on.”

“You need everyone to be in the process, and you need them to have expertise.”

“The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is true of design and construction. Hard tendering will see builders or contractors squeeze their profit margins to win the work.”

This flows downstream as subcontractors are in turn squeezed on their profit margin. The whole process is cheapened in a way which impacts the work and falls short of the quality outcome desired by the client.

Paynter Dixon’s unwavering commitment to quality and safety is reflected in an integrated quality management system which is independently certified. Integrity matters. “We don’t cut corners, but that ultimately leads to better long-term outcomes for all involved – clients, delivery partners and our own people.”

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