If any idea is being heralded as a game-changer for architectural practice, it’s integrated project delivery, or IPD. Those three letters, to enthusiasts, symbolize a future in which barriers between project team members are broken down, communication flows freely, and clashes and conflicts are obsolete (thanks to advances in BIM technology). For others, though, IPD—a collaborative process potentially involving owner, architect, general contractor, engineers, and subcontractors—seems like a Shangri-La vision whose implementation must be a very long way off.

But as more architects are discovering, getting started with IPD does not require an all-or-nothing commitment. It can be possible, and beneficial, to test-drive an IPD-style workflow with one or two collaborators, even if all parties aren’t on board.

EYP Architecture & Engineering, a midsized firm based in Albany, N.Y., was an early adopter of BIM and is following suit with IPD, feeling its way through a process that’s still nascent in the United States. At the core of IPD, stresses EYP principal John Tobin, is trust. Accordingly, EYP has been looking for partners with whom it could build trust by sharing as much information, and productive conversation, as possible.

The firm lucked out when design/construction services company Barton Malow was hired as the construction manager-at-risk on a project that EYP designed, a new 90,000-square-foot student center on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). Barton Malow has ample experience with BIM and now uses it in every project, says senior project manager Tyler Schmahl. Schmahl remembers that when Barton Malow signed on for the NOVA project, he and his colleagues noticed right away that EYP had designed the building in 3D. He called EYP’s senior project director, principal Eric Kern; explained that his team was using BIM, too; and they agreed that EYP would share its model with Barton Malow. “This is, I believe, our first project where the architects have given us their model,” Schmahl notes.

Barton Malow and EYP began working together near the end of the project’s design development phase and carried on through CDs. The combined team met to review the design for constructability and to do cost estimating. “It became really obvious we could use the model to do better quantities,” Kern recalls. “It got to the point where we were using the model during meetings and doing takeoffs.” Throughout, the architects listened to and incorporated suggestions about how to make certain details more cost-effective (for instance, the design team changed the bracing of the window mullions on the CM’s advice).

Some architects will be raising a skeptical eyebrow at this point: Is IPD just a way for builders to push architects around? Kern says it’s not: As an example of reciprocity, he cites a series of retaining walls along one side of the building (which is being built into a 30-foot hill). “They requested that we modify them; through the 3D model, we were able to explain why it was the way it was. It helped us justify the design so they could better understand it.” Architects need to trust that everyone has the same goal, says Schmahl. “This isn’t a tool for the CM or the general contractor to find change orders—it’s a way for us to eliminate change orders. If you get everything squared away up front, it should fit like a glove.”

Construction on the project began this summer, and will last through the fall of 2010, so the jury’s still out on whether this “partial IPD” approach will speed up the construction schedule, detect clashes, and prevent change orders. Schmahl and Kern are bullish on the last two, but Kern has doubts about the first. (“The schedule is already fairly aggressive,” he says.) Meanwhile, the collaboration process hasn’t stopped. There’s a BIM workstation on the jobsite, in the trailer, where team members gather for weekly meetings. The CM will layer subcontractors’ 3D models—mechanical, electrical, sprinkler system—onto the architectural one to create a collaborative model. And these trade models will be shared with the architects, too. The enhanced model no longer belongs to the architects, strictly speaking: “It sort of becomes [the CM’s] animal” once they’re adding to it, says EYP’s Tobin.

Some architects might worry about the model falling into ownership limbo; certainly, their lawyers and insurers do. EYP and Barton Malow drafted a special agreement regarding the sharing of the models for the NOVA project, but in general, Tobin says, contracts and insurance policies lag behind the industry’s desire for a new process, one that could streamline many of the inefficiencies of traditional project delivery.

“We often don’t have the owners involved on these projects, because the contracts aren’t quite ready, and they’re not sure how to deal with it in terms of their insurance,” Tobin says. “We need to develop threads [of IPD] by working with other parties, even if it’s not full IPD. It’s really our solution to the fact that the contracts and insurance need to catch up, so owners can sit at the table.”

What Is Integrated Project Delivery? The AIA and the AIA California Council, who together have published multiple resources on IPD, offer the following working definition:

“Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a project delivery approach that integrates people, systems, business structures, and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.

IPD principles can be applied to a variety of contractual arrangements and IPD teams can include members well beyond the basic triad of owner, architect, and contractor. In all cases, integrated projects are uniquely distinguished by highly effective collaboration among the owner, the prime designer, and the prime constructor, commencing at early design and continuing through to project handover.”

The basic principles of IPD are:

1. Mutual Respect and Trust
2. Mutual Benefit and Reward
3. Collaborative Innovation and Decision Making
4. Early Involvement of Key Participants
5. Early Goal Definition
6. Intensified Planning
7. Open Communication
8. Appropriate Technology
9. Organization and Leadership