A Whole Systems Approach: Integrated Building Design

What if I told you there was a potentially smarter, better, and faster way to build a new library—a process that could maximize innovation and deliver on long-term sustainability goals? Sounds pretty good, right?

What if the same process could possibly decrease the cost of your project? Integrated Building Design is such a process.

As library leaders we have a responsibility to make the most of any building project. For many, it is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have an impact on the library’s physical space. It is a singular opportunity to address long-standing concerns and hopes for the future, and it is an amazing chance to solidify the library’s place in the community.

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THE RESULTS Using IBD principles, Judson University's ventilated library in Elgin, IL, came to life with PSA-Dewberry's design and a UK architect who specializes in natural ventilation working in conjuncion. Photo c/o PSA-Dewberry (architect of record) + Short & Associates (design architect).

Those library leaders who think out of the box during their construction projects (e.g., Darien Library’s customer service–focused design or DOK’s library concept center in the Netherlands) have been rewarded with increased visibility and, more important, greater viability in their communities. However, this drive for maximum benefit is tempered by our charge to use every dollar wisely. We are beholden to our taxpayers and donors to stretch the dollars they place in our trust as far as we can.

That stewardship of the public and private dollar is resulting in a steep rise in the number of libraries that are looking for long-term performance issues to be addressed through their building projects as well as through operational solutions—consider, for instance, the Chrisney Branch Library, IN, the first net-zero energy library building in the United States. Literally every day there is a news story about the grand reopening of a library that has sustainable design features—energy conservation, water conservation, healthy materials used in construction (see Facebook.com/SustainableLibraries).

Libraries have caught on quickly to the “green wave” sweeping the construction industry, not because it is a fad but because it makes sense. It makes sense because a green approach lets you reduce operating costs, which creates savings that last long after the punch list is completed.

Nonetheless, the drive for library innovation and sustainable design adds to the complexity of a project. It puts a lot of pressure on library leaders to verbalize, coordinate, and deliver projects with big impact, especially in this time of economic hardship. Luckily, we are not expected to do this alone. We work in partnership with design professionals, engineering professionals, consultants, construction firms, and tradespeople who translate our vision to the physical form. This is nothing short of a monumental, sometimes miraculous effort for many libraries and a fairly intimidating one for the uninitiated.

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Collaboration that optimizes solutions

Integrated Building Design (IBD), also known as Integrative Building Design and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), sounds fairly simple, as it takes one of those things you learned in elementary school and applies it to our grown-up life: when you work together with others, you can accomplish more than you can alone.

I like the IBD definition from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) best, but it goes on a little long so I’ve boiled it down:

IBD is a collaborative process, resulting in optimized solutions from an engaged team that is committed to the process from start to finish.

IBD breaks down silos in the traditional building process and brings the experts to the table from the very beginning of the project to look at the project from a “whole systems” perspective. A “whole systems” approach or “systems thinking” assumes that individual parts/roles are better understood in relation to others. So, with IBD all the players involved are asked to work together rather than on their own, from the inception of the project. This can better engage everyone in the library’s goals, and in one another’s goals, which can ratchet up commitment to the project—to getting it done cost efficiently without compromising the library’s vision—and spur earlier, more comprehensive problem-solving.

“We believe strongly in the collaborative approach to a project as an effective way to optimize and integrate the efforts and abilities of the owner and all the other team members,” says Victor Canseco of Sandpebble Builders in Southampton, NY, builders of the Westhampton Free Library, an LJ New Landmark Libraries honorable mention. “This integration becomes a prerequisite on high-performance building projects where the traditional linear method has been shown to be very ineffective. In addition, this approach has proven to be very successful in eliminating the vast majority of surprises that often appear.”

While collaboration and integrated design can and do happen in the traditional building process as well, IBD establishes a framework that increases the likelihood that collaboration will happen. That is worth it: when project costs are in the millions, we can’t leave optimization to chance, and while nothing is guaranteed by implementing IBD, it is an accepted practice that produces results.

“IBD is really good for complicated projects—technically and from a scheduling and budgeting standpoint—and really, there are not many projects that don’t have these issues,” says Amanda Aspenson, a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) AP and designer with architectural firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd.

It’s a process that, while relatively unpracticed, is increasingly likely to become the norm. For instance, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) —“responsible for meeting the space requirements of federal agencies”—now requires an integrative team approach on its projects. “This move by the GSA is one of the most positive signs that IBD will become the standard,” says Aspenson.

How this teamwork works

At the very least IBD sets the building owner (for us, the library), the architect, and the construction manager at the table together from the very start. Larger teams that also include building stakeholders (such as staff and trustees), consultants (like a library planner, LEED AP, or IT specialist), and tradespeople (electrician, plumber, and HVAC installer) can make for a richer, more comprehensive process. (See Figure 2.)

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This team approach has a number of benefits. When all the stakeholders start at the same point, they are able to understand project goals and priorities early on, from ambiance, aesthetics, and acoustics to services, sustainability, and technology. Team members can identify areas of needed education, perhaps allowing for a team member who has not worked on a sustainable, or “green,” project before to learn more about a technology that could help achieve a project goal. The approach can also help build respect among stakeholders who have not worked together previously, giving them the chance to grasp the project expectations and how their area of work impacts the job of another team player.

“The earlier you involve the guy building the building, the smoother the process will go,” says David Moore, senior project architect at McMillan Pazdan Smith, based in Greenville, SC.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) definition for this process states that by “harnessing the talents and insights of all participants” three goals are achieved:

  • An increase in value to the owner
  • Reduction of waste
  • Maximized efficiency

“True integrated design relies on input from many players in every step of the design process,” says Rick McCarthy, a principal architect with PSA-Dewberry. “Fundamental decisions regarding the design of the building are made as a group, not unilaterally by the architect. The client, the engineers, the building operations staff, and building users are folded into the process from the beginning. The architect’s personal design talent and philosophy are still reflected in the design of the building but the design better incorporates the input of many stakeholders.”

Just sitting at the table together isn’t enough. There must be buy-in to the IBD process from the leadership of three main groups: the building owner (library), the design professionals, and the construction professionals. “Collaboration is a mind-set that cannot be coerced,” says Canseco, “the key to a collaborative approach is that no one person dominates.”

The National Institute of Building Sciences has identified three principles all parties must adhere to during an IBD-­organized project:

  • Clear and continuous communication
  • Rigorous attention to detail
  • Active collaboration among all team members throughout all phases of the project

“IBD is not a ‘golden ticket,’ it is not the be all and end all,” says Aspenson, “but people are recognizing that something needs to change.”

Good early decisions pay off

Have you ever experienced a building that had a feature that didn’t make sense or didn’t work the way it should? Consider a building where the library’s goal is to achieve the sustainable feature of daylighting, reliance on natural light rather than artificial. Now imagine an architect inexperienced in sustainable design who maximized the number of windows on the southern exposure of the building but chose the wrong window glazing, which achieved the stated goal of more natural light but also resulted in allowing a lot of heat gain given the amount of sunlight beating down on all those improperly glazed windows.

Add into the mix an air-conditioning system designed for a standard building in that climate rather than one with a higher cooling load. The result? An uncomfortable space that is too bright and too warm, grumpy staff, and patrons who avoid the space. Top it off with cost inefficiencies in the HVAC system. The exact opposite of what anyone would hope for in a ­building.

Now imagine that during the design phase of the project a lighting expert is in on the decision-making as is a mechanical engineer and the contractor who would install the windows. Those three experts, working in tandem at the design phase, could make different decisions earlier in the process to avoid the catastrophe described above. When decisions are made early, changes in the design are still affordable. When they are made later, during the construction phase, they are much more costly.

As the project progresses, the cost to make changes to the design and material choices increases.

Figure 3 is adapted from a 2001 publication developed for the federal government called Greening Federal Facilities, which also states that “the earlier design integration becomes a part of the process, the more successful the results will be. Conversely, if a building is designed ‘as usual’ and then green technologies are applied to it as an afterthought, the results will probably be poorly integrated into the overall building design objectives, and the greening strategies will likely be expensive to implement.”

ljx110902webaldrich8(Original Import)This same thinking applies not solely to green strategies but to many other practices involved in a building project—from landscaping to technology implementation and in some cases even building material choices.

Funding strategy required

Funding a building project is no small feat and is a challenge for a library with or without IBD as a strategic decision. IBD forces a library to plan ahead and configure the funding scheme for the project to satisfy the front-loaded nature of IBD. If more expertise is needed early on, funds must be in place to start that process in a different way than in a more traditionally run project. It may mean fine-tuning a Request for Proposal (RFP) to solicit design and construction professionals willing to come in early on a project and to undertake some financial risks themselves. Check out ConsensusDOCS.org for sample language and contracts that can help you craft an RFP that makes it clear you are seeking a team interested in and committed to a collaborative process. Its “300 Series” is devoted to IBD/Collaborative documents.

Redefining relationships

Another challenge is coordination or “Integrated People Delivery.” A report released by the AIA, AIA Minnesota, School of Architecture–University of Minnesota in February 2011, “IPD Case Studies,” identifies seven contractual principles as critical to the success of an IBD process:

  • Key participants bound together as equals
  • Shared financial risk and reward based on project outcome
  • Liability waivers between key participants
  • Fiscal transparency between key participants
  • Early involvement of key participants
  • Jointly developed project target criteria
  • Collaborative decision-making

This may look quite different from what architects and construction management firms without IBD experience are accustomed to.

“IBD is a philosophy,” says Aspenson, “not just contract language but a new way of working together.”

ljx110902webaldrich5(Original Import)The fantastic results (see “Is it worth it?” on right) that can occur thanks to IBD require coordination. Working together takes facilitation and organization. Without open-minded professionals who are willing to take some risks and truly give IBD a shot, the library probably cannot foster the IBD team building on its own. Much of the literature recently published related to IBD gives hope that the use of IBD is on the rise among professionals such as architects, construction managers, and LEED APs. However, finding experienced professionals remains a challenge. Experience with IBD can be a marketing advantage in securing both private and public sector jobs, and the library should seek it out through the RFP process. If you don’t ask, you won’t find it. Just by asking, you will be promoting this process as a best practice and raising the awareness among area building professionals that this is something they need experience in.

“Integrated design principals have been used in Europe for decades,” says McCarthy. “North American architects and engineers are only now beginning to appreciate this approach to building design. Most American designers have never played a part in an integrated design project. When this is the case, an experienced consultant can be brought in to guide the process.”

Coping with competitive bidding

Another glaring challenge to IBD in some states is the nature of local government procurement laws or competitive bidding requirements. In New York, for example, public projects must issue separate construction contracts for projects totaling over $500,000. This means subcontractors—plumbing, electrical, and HVAC—bid on the job separately. Depending on which part of the state you are in, the winning contractors may or may not have worked together before and they certainly would not be coming in on the project toward the beginning since you cannot issue bid documents until you have a design, and you cannot have a design without an architect.

In response to this kind of catch-22, Canseco suggests the use of an owner advocate, in his case, a construction management firm. “[An] owner advocate provides the constructability input during design phase,” he says. “This is in lieu of participation in design phase by each of the trades since statutes and case law prevents someone who participated in the design from bidding on the work.”

In Georgia, libraries can contract with a construction manager early in the process through the “CM at-Risk” delivery method when local government procurement laws prevent the builder from otherwise being involved early in the process. The CM (construction manager) at-risk commits to deliver the project within a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) and then can act as an advisor to the owner through the development and design phases of the project. However, without a contract in place that takes into account the seven principles identified in the IPD Case Studies this can create an imbalance of power between the CM and the architect.

In many states, competitive bidding laws are nullified if a project can prove that only a specific individual can carry out the work in question. Moore shared this success story at the Library Journal Design Institute in Greenville, SC, last year: “In the case of (Greenville Public Library), they were able to hire outside of the local government procurement laws by making the case that because of extenuating circumstances—to bring the project in on a time line dictated by the funding agency—a design/build firm was a necessity.”

The authors of the AIA IPD Case Studies put it very well: “the messiness of the real world continues to shape our understanding of integration and collaboration.” The examples mentioned above convey that it is possible to achieve a team unit, but you have to want it to happen and plan for it.

Embracing how we plan

Planning by the library is the most critical step in any building project—large or small, IBD or not.

As a moderator at two of last year’s LJ Design Institutes, I asked each participating architect to identify the most important aspect to a successful project. They all had the same answer: the attitude of the owner. That means, in this case, the library leaders.

“They must have a vision for what they want to achieve,” said Moore. “They need to understand and articulate the why, not just the what.”

For example, it is not enough to say you want a LEED-certified building. You must be able to communicate why this is important to the community, to library operations, and to the future of the organization. It is not enough to say you want more room for technology. You must be able to explain the role technology plays, what it means to the patron experience, staff workflows, and the future.

Taking the time to identify community and library priorities and suss out the most advantageous, effective, and efficient aspects of your vision will help your design and build team understand where you want them to take you. This understanding can be threaded throughout decision-making in everything from site selection to the finishing touches for the building.

IBD may require a sea change for many of the players involved, and the IBD process may be more challenging than the traditional process. It will certainly fail if you as the building owner are not invested in creating the best possible library for your community. It is likely to succeed if library leaders are committed at a core level to the idea that their building project is essential to the people of the community, that to get it done it will take many, many hands, and that central to the success of the project is IBD. Such wholehearted buy-in will set the tone for the professionals that you subsequently hire and foster the culture to make it work.

In one critical way, this is not such a stretch for librarians. As Aspenson notes, “libraries are already about community, about people, so IBD is a natural match.”


American Institute of Architects Design and Construction Delivery Process, (U.S. General Services Administration) "Engage the Integrated Design Process" (Whole Building Design Guide, National Institute of Building Sciences) Greening Federal Facilities: An Energy, Environmental, and Economic Resource Guide for Federal Facility Managers and Designers (U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Federal Energy Management, 2001) IPD Case Studies (AIA, AIA Minnesota, School of Architecture-University of Minnesota, 2011) Marian Keeler & Bill Burke's Fundamentals of Integrated Design for Sustainable Building (Wiley, 2009) 7group & Bill Read's The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building (Wiley, 2009) Sustainable Libraries news feed Gerould Wilhelm's "A Doctrine of Sustainability"

Author Information
Rebekkah Smith Aldrich (Rebekkah@SustainableLibraries.org), a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker, is Coordinator for Library Growth & Sustainability at the Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY
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