Here’s where, and three reasons why.

To continue my discussion on engineer-led design projects from last month, I have two pharmaceutical clients who believe in this concept. If you listen to these two customers, they will tell you engineers should be “taking the hint” and then “taking the lead” on several types of capital projects. Personally, I am comfortable with this role and routinely lead mechanical- and electrical-driven projects with minimal architectural  input.

I believe the building owners for certain types of building programs will find better value and a better product when the lead engineer takes ownership of the job.

So let’s start with Reason 1, involving the most obvious engineer-led project applications: projects where more than 50% of the construction cost is mechanical, electrical, and/or low voltage telecommunication. Where do you find these types of building program opportunities? The top four are infrastructure (central plants, emergency generators, etc.), energy retrocommissioning of existing buildings, facility assessments of building(s), and data centers (mission critical).

I believe these four tasks are pretty obvious because of the “E to A” ratio. What may not be as obvious is when it comes to building renovations and, more specifically, the types of renovations. For this list, I draw upon my clients’ reasoning as to why they prefer the E-A design team format over the A-E design team format. Reason 1 is when a construction budget benchmark of 50% or more is mechanical and electrical, with the lesser portion of the project walls, ceilings, and floor.

Reason 2 is that this concept is focused on building renovations and not a new building or addition to an existing building. For those architects who read this column, I’m simply agreeing with my clients who fit into the following building industry applications and have a strong emphasis/need for mechanical and electrical systems, such as pharmaceutical building renovation programs where mechanical also includes process systems; health care building renovations programs where the systems include HVAC, plumbing, fire protection, electrical power and lighting, and low-voltage systems; and industry and high-tech renovations where process systems may include special exhaust systems, too.

Reason 3 for E-A led projects is the need to service, maintain, and efficiently operate these systems on a regular basis. This third reason is probably the true sustainable reason for engineer-led projects, but the flaw in this point is that up to this point, most design engineers have not been sensitive to facility management and their needs. Our main contribution to this oversight is for us to simply blame the architect for not giving us enough space to service equipment.

A good example of this lack of sensitivity can be seen when the engineers, the architects, and specification writers who write the contract specification requirements for O&M manuals, don’t take the time to research what the client’s facility management group uses or needs.

Instead, the specification is simply taken from their office’s Division 1 standard spec and, more often than not, doesn’t get coordinated with the engineer’s standard Division 15 and 16 standard specifications. I guess you could say it’s a “lose-lose” situation. If the design engineer were responsible for the Division 1 specification, he would know what the project closeout requirements are. He could also eliminate the need to specify O&M requirements in Division 15 and 16 or, worse than that, specification of different O&M requirements. The operation, service, and maintenance specification would be placed in only one section of the contract documents, so that nothing fell through the cracks as it pertains to efficient support for these systems on a regular basis.

With an E-A design process, the engineer would be responsible for facilitating and keeping meeting minutes on facility management project requirements early in the design phase. He would work with the architect to develop the owner’s building program requirements. When considering the endusers, it is important to recognize that facility management is part of the enduser team. Think about it: if the project entails investing more than 50% of the construction cost into mechanical and electrical systems, and those systems are going to come with an annual O&M cost, then why wouldn’t you want facility input at the start of a job?

 It is important to note that each of my clients appreciate the value of architecture but see the ongoing demands of the infrastructure and equipment requiring more time, material, and labor vs. the more general annual custodial requirements associated with the building architecture. So, if you don’t have a business plan that includes engineer-led projects as the major portion of your work, I guess being a follower and not a leader is a good second choice. ES

For more online publications,