Integrating design and construction within a firm can help architects generate expertise, revenue, and credibility. Gregg Pasquarelli, principal at SHoP Architects, says that an in-house construction unit does all these thingsand results in better buildings.

Integrating design and construction within a firm can help architects generate expertise, revenue, and credibility. Gregg Pasquarelli, principal at SHoP Architects, says that an in-house construction unit does all these thingsand results in better buildings.

Credit: Sioux Nesi

Since 1996, New York–based SHoP Architects has honed its reputation as a firm pushing the boundaries of how technology can deliver better design. In 2007, the 65-plus-person firm moved in another new direction by establishing SHoP Construction, an integrated design/build unit responsible for building-enclosure consulting, engineering, and construction. Headed by SHoP Architects principal Jonathan Mallie, AIA, SHoP Construction aims to break down barriers between architects, owners, and contractors. Gregg Pasquarelli, 46, AIA, a founding principal at SHoP Architects, spoke with Architect about bringing design and construction together under one roof.

Go build something.
The design-bid-build process just isn’t the way to go, according to Pasquarelli. An architect makes a series of images of what a building should look like as the owner brings in a construction manager—putting the design out of the hands of the architect at an early stage. While the architect stands on the sidelines, the design may be compromised, becoming something less than what the architect intended. “It’s better to engage the process of construction,” Pasquarelli says. “Don’t reject it.”

Think systems.
It’s not about the image of a building but the system of architecture around it—including everything from the political to the financial, the technological to the actual construction. “All these things coming together is what makes architecture work,” Pasquarelli says. “That’s why it is important to take the concept of integrated delivery to the next level.”

Evolve internally.
An existing construction-management firm can be difficult to integrate with designers. Buying such a firm can create an “us versus them mentality.” Instead, look to the people inside your firm who understand your culture, design, and buildings. It has to be natural, so start with them, Pasquarelli says, and then hire other staff with different skills and grow from there. Bringing on board people with a broad range of skills—from field construction to software management to façade engineering—helps to foster an in-house collaborative discussion with the architectural design team.

Integrate but separate.
Design and construction units at SHoP are integrated “intellectually and spiritually,” Pasquarelli says, but they are maintained as completely separate legal and financial entities. Though housed in the same office with SHoP Architects, SHoP Construction is a different company, which helps mitigate risk when they work on projects for other firms. “We keep a firewall between the units so they can work effectively on these projects,” Pasquarelli says.

Impress clients.
Integrating design and construction generates real credibility with clients. A good example, Pasquarelli says, is SHoP’s complex design for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The project called for 12,000 uniquely shaped pieces of preweathered steel plate for the façade to be built in a cost-effective way. If SHoP Construction were not involved, Pasquarelli says, “the project would have been value-engineered and lost a lot of its beauty.”

Stay small.
“Don’t strive to become a Bovis or a Turner,” Pasquarelli says. SHoP Construction has a staff of 26; keeping it a boutique, high-concept, and high-execution entity is the goal. The company can handle smaller jobs (under $10 million) on their own, but for bigger projects, they partner with construction companies. There’s no competing with large construction companies, Pasquarelli says, but you can show them how to get better buildings built.

Earn money.
Whether it’s furniture, graphic design, or app-based design tools, specialization adds another revenue source that helps diversify the income stream. Construction is another service that the firm can offer a client.

Go beyond the image.
Working directly with construction adds another level of expertise and expands what architects can do. “If we are just left generating images of what buildings look like, then we are in trouble,” Pasquarelli says. “We see architecture as a way of getting involved in all elements of what makes a building a building.”