Prime residential architecture – the problems with M&E project variations and how to eliminate them
Shannon ChurchMarketing Executive
In the construction industry, the traditional and most common approach involves clients and their design teams employing a services consultant to create an outline design for the integration of the client’s M&E requirements into the architect’s design. There are, however, numerous issues with this approach.
The No.1 reported frustration is the difference between what the architect and client visualised at design stage, and the end result that is delivered. The key reason for this is the lack of clear communication of that vision to those who will be responsible for its delivery. Very rarely are the specialist contractors, who will be taking on both design and installation responsibility at Stages 4 & 5, around the table at the very start to hear exactly what the architect and client have in mind. Instead, the vision is translated from those design meetings by a services consultant, which inevitably causes a lack of clarity. Furthermore, on over 90% of construction projects, the services consultant is only contracted to develop an outline design (i.e. to Stage 3) which omits the clarity of detail essential to delivering a well-designed and coordinated project. In prime residential projects where interior finishes, ceiling heights, joinery, and concealed plant access points form an essential part of the aesthetics and ambience of the property, leaving the detailed design to stage 4 or 5 is far too late. The solution to this is to choose your specialist contractors early in the design stage and involve them in client-design team meetings to give them as much input as possible into the vision to achieve the desired result, with the MEP consultant just responsible for inputting into and coordinating the separate designs done by each contractor. This enables a flawlessly cohesive interior unspoiled by unsightly installations.
Another challenge is the cost differences that occur between contractors apparently pricing to the same drawings and specification. When a services consultant’s outline design is sent out for competitive tender, a lot of elements within the design are open to interpretation. This is the most common cause for variations in contractor pricing, and emphasises why quotes obtained using this method are not directly comparable.
Consultant specifications frequently include equipment that’s either not the most appropriate for the project, or extremely expensive compared to other equivalent products available – this is partly because they are only exposed to the equipment manufacturer’s marketing, book data and list pricing, as opposed to being familiar with actual costs and the long-term reliability and serviceability of that equipment. The specialist contractors who are awarded the project then almost inevitably submit cost variations for more suitable products. This is where, through involving specialist contractors early in the design process, the best combination of their product knowledge and experience can be combined with the consultant’s ability to coordinate all of the services, resulting in minimal variations and an optimum solution from earliest design stages.
Perhaps the most mystifying detail is that MEP consultants charge significant fees for their design, while 99% of the time all design responsibility is passed directly down to the contractor who installs the system. This wastes both money and time as well as creating a flawed accountability system, in that the very party who has been paid to design the system then disclaims all design responsibility, and passes it onto the contractor. All of this can be avoided by making sure that design responsibility is held by the same party who carries out the work.