Building A Winning Design Team

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Design Team
An important part of the design process is knowing when and whom to ask for help. The “when” part is easy, as the design firm/consultant should ascertain which other professional services are needed for the project and assemble the team early in the design process. Initial meetings with key consultants provide greater opportunity for everyone to be in agreement on realistic needs vs. desires. As the design team guides you through this programming process, they are able to address pertinent project issues and establish the project schedule and milestone dates.

Determining whom to ask for help is a little more difficult. Selection of a design team should be determined by several important criteria: the size and complexity of the project; matching skills to the project’s needs; and experience on similar projects. If a firm does not have expertise in an area for which it finds itself responsible, it must consider teaming up with a firm that has that expertise. If it is a firm with whom it has not worked on previous projects, its references should be checked before bringing it on board.

For you and the rest of the design team, the quality and accuracy of what is produced is more important than “how you look.” Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses; be honest with yourself. If you need help, be smart enough to get it.

Communication skills are the most crucial quality when choosing team members. Most firms can draft and sketch, and probably use CAD and other computer tools. But, how are they at speaking plainly and clearly, without technical jargon? Do they understand how to ascertain your needs, set up priorities, and write a clear, concise programming document? Are they flexible about budgets? Are they firm in standing up for what they think is really important, yet reasonable when the situation demands flexibility? Do they document meetings and recommendations well?

The Players
With every construction project, there is a project team made up of designers, engineers, contractors, suppliers, and most importantly, the church and its congregation. To function efficiently and cost-effectively, each design team member must recognize his/her area of expertise and the important characteristics that each of the other players possesses. Each player has a sphere of influence and responsibility that overlaps the other players. Every project and each player has a chain of command and communication. For every project task, each player has a specific involvement and input. The job of every team member is to help the church build a facility that will support the ministry and serve its needs. The team is assembled to develop ideas and solve project problems. A service mentality helps to successfully visualize and communicate ideas in the context of the other team members and the larger overall project perspective. Following is a brief glimpse at the integral players in a successful design:

Church: You are the most important part of the design team and also bear most of the responsibility for the success or failure of a project. You provide the project’s purpose, direction, and funding.

Architects: They are often brought on board for new construction and for projects that will entail significant renovation of an existing structure. The most traditional form of project organization is where the architect acts as a single point of design responsibility. For sound critical spaces, such as a sanctuary, video and audio broadcast control rooms, you must place significant trust in the architect. It is important to communicate effectively, and frequently with the architect since he/she may not perceive the unique requirements of this special space. The team leader is responsible for communications between you and other design team members. He/she should set up dates for working meetings well in advance, distribute schedules and lead times for consultants’ drawings and specs, and distribute meeting minutes to members of the design team. An effective leader will ask for clarification if anyone doesn’t understand what or why another team member is doing something.

Acoustical Consultants/Specialty Designers: They bring project-specific help that is essential to the design and construction of a sound-critical or sensitive space. On small projects and renovations, this type of consultant may lead the process as he/she brings experience in areas where the remainder of the design team may not have the necessary depth of knowledge. The consultant should be experienced in working directly with architects, engineers, and contractors and be able to identify when your interests are not being met. An excellent source to discover a qualified acoustical design professional in your area would be through the NCAC (National Council of Acoustical Consultants; contact

Engineers: For the most part, engineers have their own specific counterparts in the construction process. Mechanical engineers who are responsible for determining the heat loads for the space and designing an appropriate HVAC system will converse with the mechanical contractor. Likewise, the electrical engineer, who will provide clean power to the space, will be working with the electrical contractor. Structural engineers, on the other hand, must coordinate their work with the rest of the design team, much like the architect and the acoustical consultant.

Sound Contractors and Technical Systems Integrators: Often serve as the supplier and contractor as well. They are responsible for identifying the heat load information of the technical systems for the HVAC engineers, determining power loads for the electrical engineers, helping with room configuration, and performing the technical systems design. Equipment manufacturers/reps are sometimes involved with the design of the technical systems and are frequently called on to provide support and information to the team. Keep in mind that specialty millwork design and fabrication is another area that will require coordination with the rest of the team. The furniture must hold and display the equipment in a manner both aesthetically and ergonomically acceptable to the owner and architect. Other considerations to be addressed include adequate cooling, clean power, provisions for wire management, access to controls and security.

General Contractors: A church project usually includes assembling multiple disciplines under one umbrella of responsibility. A General Contractor (GC) may be employed to contract, coordinate and oversee all of the work of the subcontractors on a project.

The Process
You’ve selected your team, and now you’re ready to begin. What’s next? There are many ways to divide the overall design and construction process into manageable phases. The typical work divisions for most of our projects are listed in the sidebar, “Six Phases of a Project.” All kidding aside, it is useful to break up a project’s workflow into manageable phases that are appropriate for the size, scope and duration of the particular effort required.

The project objectives are determined through a series of interviews with you and your team to clearly articulate the ministry’s direction and mission, ascertain needs, requirements, level of quality, budget plans, schedule, wants, likes, etc. This information is included as project goals in the Programming Document, and it is recommended that you or your representatives approve it.

Reasonable criteria are then set based on the program requirements for each area of the design. These criteria become part of the design guidelines, and ultimately direct the rest of the project.

Design development consists of research/engineering, progress drawings, preliminary specifications, progress meetings, and product selection. Contract documents include working drawings and specifications indicating the scope of work, products, and execution of the project. The project is then put to bid, with the design team having already provided preliminary estimates during the design phase. These estimates are useful for reviewing bids, discussing cost adjustments, contractor qualifications, and other questions that may come up during this phase.

Regardless of how the project is contracted, certain procedures must be established during pre-construction meetings. If changes are implemented at this stage, addenda must be developed and issued as part of the construction documents. During construction, consultants should help with coordination meetings, submittal reviews, provide technical judgments, or help respond to requests for variance or substitution. Contractors often go to consultants for clarification or help in finding out where to obtain specified items. Submittals, change orders, document revisions, RFI’s (Request for Information), and bulletins are addressed by the design and construction team. Construction observation and progress meetings assure that the project is kept on track and to help work out job site conflicts with the design intent.

As construction nears completion, the various consultants will provide field testing for compliance with specified performance of the room and will punchlist construction items that were incomplete, overlooked, or incorrectly executed. The technical systems will be checked out, adjusted, and demonstrated to you. Your satisfaction is largely determined as everyone packs up and leaves the project in your hands.

Project Success
As you can see, enhancing the acoustical performance of your facility is no simple task. However, success is more easily achieved if the process is handled properly from conception. If you are considering extensive acoustical renovations to your facility, remember that your first and most critical step is to hire a team of qualified professionals with superior communications skills that will engage you and your team in the entire design and construction process. The success of a project will be determined by how well all team members are able to view the project from each other’s perspective and communicate needs to each other in a clear, effective manner.