Design and build is on the rise in Dubai

Design and build contracts are becoming a popular option in the UAE. CW asked Nick Hirsteiner, an architect at Convrgnt Value Engineering, how they can enhance the relationship between the client and contractor.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  July 9, 2005

Design and build is on the rise in Dubai|~|Nick1200.jpg|~|Nick Hirsteiner, architect, Convrgnt Value Engineering: “D&B contracts place a higher risk with the contractor, whilst ensuring that the construction process generally runs much smoother, as they are in control.”|~|As an architect, what is your impression of Dubai?

When I first came to Dubai in 1997, my impression was that a number of singular projects started to take off at once and at different locations — hotspots that did not seem to be part of an overall development plan in terms of urban design and planning. Since then, this has changed and we now see large-scale developments that have successfully reconfigured and allowed the city to grow in a controlled direction.

My overall impression is that things move in the right direction, and fast at that. My concern is that upgrading the infrastructure and traffic management seems to lag behind the actual construction activity.

Do you think there is room for architectural design in Dubai to improve and mature?

There will always be scope for design to develop and mature, and especially so in a fairly new city like Dubai. Things here move fast and new designs are ‘tried out’ rather quickly, although I would add that this huge appetite for novelty often compromises reflection and stands in the way of the development of an indigenous contextual local style.

When planning a building anywhere in the world, one should give primary consideration to the climate, the historical and socio-cultural context.

Dubai does not so much ape other cities, but tries to bring all other cities together in one place. We have Frankfurt and London here, as well as downtown Karachi and Beverly Hills, and land-reclamation — or rather creation — is not
a new thing, from Venice to Hong Kong.

I would like to see a local style emerge for the 21st century that is unique to the history and culture of this country. In particular, it seems a shame that the old centre of town along the Creek is being marginalised and does not play a role in the city anymore. It is a unique environment and it would be nice to be able to re-create the sense of a city centre, although that would necessitate drastic measures in terms of urban planning.

Are design and build elements within con-tracts becoming more popular?

Design and build contracts and contractor’s design input
in traditional contracts are definitely on the rise. There can’t be qualms about the fact that architects and designers have to produce buildable and feasible designs.

In fact, I would say that for the majority of all projects, design is an add-on value element to construction, and not the primary objective.

The contractor plays a pivotal role in the construction process and is becoming more of a team player. If they are becoming more involved in the design process, then this can produce results much quicker and cheaper than the traditional procurement route.

This move from the antagonistic relationship of a traditional contract scenario to a project- focused team effort is positive. On the other hand, it means that all parties involved must buy into this and stay on line.

If the design is agreed, and the contractor is committed to an agreed level of quality, then this form of contract can take a lot of worries off clients’ shoulders. It places a higher risk with the contractor, whilst ensuring that the construction process generally runs much smoother, as they are more in control.

What are the benefits of this type of contract?

Less changes, more scope for value engineering, less disruptive construction process leading to a shorter time — all
of this eliminates redundant time periods which result in saving costs for the benefit of the developer.

What effect do you think a design and build contract has on the way in which the project develops?

The contractor is either involved right from the start, or at least very early on in the design process. Provided they do not mind paying a bit more, nothing keeps the client from still going to an independent consultant for a concept design and hands that over to the contractor.

The main issue in traditional contract settings is that a lot of time is spent on developing design, more often than not right up to tender, only to be found to be far too expensive four to five months later.

Cost consultants involved during pre-tender activities often cannot get the right picture, as other factors that cannot always be foreseen come into play in contractors’ bids — such as availability of personnel or materials, specialist contractors or their own cash-flow.

Does it mean the final price that the job is completed for is any different than it would be under a lump sum contract?

There is room for changes and alterations in a D&B contract scenario. There is often an agreed GMP (guaranteed maximum price), which is different from a lump sum.

Whilst there can be an agreed maximum price, this does not mean that a contractor will not complete a project for less than that. In fact, there can be negotiated incentives for contractors to try to come in cheaper and quicker than what the contract foresees.

What are the implications for design and build quality?

There must be rigorous quality benchmarking from the outset. This either means the client chooses a contractor based on their known and guaranteed ability to provide the desired level of quality, or there are mutually agreed references which define the client’s perception of the end result.

Does design and build enhance the levels of co-operation between client and contractor?

D&B in a way seeks to eliminate the need for constant co-operation. This is seemingly a negative thing, but in reality, co-operation in a traditional building contract scenario usually means antagonistic in-fighting between client, consultants
and contractors over necessary or unnecessary changes and
associated costs.

However, since the D&B (coupled with GMP) model includes a participative approach by all parties, the resultant proactive and creative efforts remove the pitfalls of traditional contract procurement route.

Are design and build contracts used elsewhere in the world, and how successful have they been?

In the UK and Europe, D&B contracts are widely used but differ from local contracts. Clients will normally employ
a design team of consultants to produce a tender set of information (the design intent) and the contractor takes over after tender.

This can be negotiated by competitive tender and/or
a single or two-stage tender process, the latter whereby the contractor is chosen at an early design stage and continues to have an input in the process until a contract sum is agreed.

Are there any issues for both the contractor and the developer that must be looked out for when using design and build contracts?

It is imperative that all parties understand the developer’s intent at the outset. A conscious effort to express and interpret this critical element will eliminate grey areas and ensure success. In order to achieve this, the contractor’s level of experience is paramount.

The elements of intent, design, engineering and procurement process on time and within budget are the key issues that can make or break a good D&B contract. This
can only be achieved by a strong will to bring together all components, strung together with a good plan.

Are design and build contracts particularly well suited to certain types of project?

They are suitable for all projects, except those that are fully designed and/or where time is not of the essence. Fully designed works scopes can be measured and priced in full before beginning construction.

However, this lies on the premise that the developer is prepared to go through the cycle of brief, concept, revision, preliminary budget, design development, final budget, tender, evaluation and negotiation leading to an award.
All of these steps require due time and can stretch over many months.||**||

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