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Integrated Design Process Seminar Video & Live Q&A

Integrated Design Process: Collaborate for a Successful Build or Renovation

Seminar Transcript:

Bob Deeks: All right, well thank you everyone for coming tonight. Of course. We are here to go over what the integrated design process is and really, you know, how do you collaborate for a successful new build or renovation. So just a quick agenda, I’m gonna give you a brief introduction. We’re gonna go into what is an integrated design, some familiar examples of successful and some unsuccessful projects. I think you’ll see some photos there that are quite recognizable. You know, how do these two approaches between a traditional approach and an integrated approach differ? And how do you include, you know, who, who do you include in your team for successful IDP? And then I’ve got a case study of a project that we did here in Whistler that is a great example of a project that I don’t actually think that could have been built if it wasn’t done through this integrated design process. And then we got some times from questions, and then of course we’ve got a bar at the back so everybody can hang out a little bit and chat afterwards.

All right, so just a brief introduction for me. You know, I’m the president of RDC Find Homes. We’ve been in business here in Whistler since 1993. We are, I think, the most award-winning local builder. We’ve got 17 Provincial Home Builder awards, and that doesn’t include all the finals that we’ve been to. Three national awards. We’ve been included twice in the list of the top 20 most influential builders in British Columbia. And we’ve been a two time winner of the Whistler Chamber Awards for Sustainability and including business person of the year. I am still currently a member of Codes Canada. I sit on the standing committee for energy efficiency and also have been sharing a number of the task groups for some of the code changes that you’ll see coming up in the next six to 12 months. I am also the co vice-chair of the BC Energy Step Code Council and a past president of the Home Builders Association, and both past chair for technical research nationally and the Net Zero Council.

So can anybody, anybody tell me what this building is? Yes. Anybody know what this is famous for? Beyond its award-winning architecture. The roof structure, the roof structure. Does anybody know the history of this building? So, this was a project that was originally envisioned in the late 1940s. The local government of the province in wherever Sydney’s located in, envisioned a place that would be a central place for theater and opera. There would be a signature structure for Sydney. And then in late 1950s, they sent out a design competition. And a young architect from Norway, I believe, won the competition with a very, very basic sketch. And then there was an enormous amount of pressure to get the project moving because they were worried that support for the project could get undermined and canceled. And so they actually rushed into concrete work without actually finalizing the final roof design. And so this was a project that was originally envisioned to start in the late 1950s, like 1959, and be done around 1963, a four year project, and had a budget of about $6 million at that time. Ultimately, they didn’t finish the project until 1973 and it cost over $21 million. So I think it was about five times over budget, 500% over budget. It ruined the reputation of the original architect. And, and yeah, it was, was, was a classic disaster in that there was no real prior preparation before they started construction. So it was the furthest, furthest thing from an integrated process.

Anybody recognized this one? No. This is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain. And this is in stark contrast to the project that we just looked at. And so this project was envisioned in the late 1980s by the Spanish government. They had a design competition. Frank Gary won the design competition and as soon as he got involved, he started to follow an integrated process. So first off, he came out to look at the site that the Spanish government had originally chosen, and they were actually trying to reuse an old Brownfield site. He very, very quickly in under, he, he, he was very good at questioning, you know, what they were looking for in this signature museum. And he quickly made them understand that their goals were not well aligned with the location that they, they had originally chosen. And so then he worked with them to pick this alternative site. And then he went through a very, very thorough integrated process, both with his client, the engineers, and the architects, to eventually land on this. It was finished on time and it was finished on budget. And as you can see from the architecture, this is also a very complicated, unusual structure and not dissimilar from the Opera House in Sydney. And is a great example of if you follow this engaged process, you can have predictable successful outcomes.

And then I’ve just got a few more pictures. Eiffel Tower. And while this presentation is not about prefabrication, interestingly the Sydney Opera House, the only way they were able to build it is they actually prefabricated all the roof panels. And so prefabrication was in the end a successful, I would come from them there. This was a project, the original budget for this was envisioned at six and a half million dollars. The architecture team who eventually designed and built it, they actually did it for one and a half million dollars. The location is right beside the river San. The reason behind that was they created a prefabrication facility up river. They were able to barge all these huge prefabricated components to the edge of the site and lift them all into place. And so it was a project. This project was delivered on time and on budget, empire State Building. Does anybody know how long it took them to build the tallest building in the world? At the time this was built six, it was 11 months. And so again, an architect who spent an enormous amount of planning time, they modularized and designed every single component of the building before they started construction. Understanding that when they built this, they were using relatively new technology for this steel structure. And so much like the Eiffel Tower, they were developing new technology to build these new structures. And they were successful because of that integrated design process that they went through intensively before they started construction. And incredible in today’s world, I mean, I don’t think we see high rises like this built in this type of timeline today.

And then anybody recognize this? Yeah, Hoover Dam, this is the Hoover Dam. So this was built during the depression in the 1930s in the United States. This project, there was an enormous amount of innovation in terms of how they built this. And it came in under budget in one year early. And again, it was a project, the lead engineer was very, very focused on getting all of his design completed before they started. Construction was very, very well planned out, stuck to their original schedule. And they built something that was the largest dam in the world and they did it on top. They, they did it ahead of schedule. Nobody believed actually that they would actually get it built. And he surprised ’em all by not only building it, but bringing it in a year ahead of schedule.

Alright, so integrated design process. So, you know, this is, in many ways it’s a philosophy as much as it is a process, as you know, we know in trying to engage people, you have to get people to buy into this. They have to see the end benefit to make this, this investment in time upfront. We all have clients who are in a rush to get started. And, and in this way, you know, the one, there’s a cost of this, but we have to slow the process down upfront to speed it up at the back. And this is definitely, this is a, a slow down to speed up philosophy here. It is really important that we do this. You know, we have inclusion of all the stakeholders and you know, we have done, I don’t, it’s not a project that I’m gonna showcase tonight, but we did a project that we did, I think a very effective integrated process for about half of the project, got somewhat complacent. Client was in a hurry. And then we, you know, as the builder kind of got dropped out of the back end of the interior design scope. And that project took a lot longer and cost a lot more than we had envisioned at the beginning. And one of the lessons for me was if you’re gonna do an integrated process, you have to do the whole thing. You can’t just do a portion of it. You know, part of this idea is this is a collaboration of all the people who are gonna work on the project and you can draw on their collective knowledge for innovation.

And so as we look at the Eiffel Tower and the Hoover Dam and the Eiffel and, and the Empire State Building, those are great examples of innovation that came from within the team that were critical to the overall success of those projects. Of course, on the table today, you hear this every day in the media is the cost of housing. And so whether we’re doing a development of multifamily or high-end residential or an affordable renovation, cost optimization for every single client is top of mind. I have never had a client no matter what the budget that wasn’t concerned about cost. And so by putting the collective minds together around a table, it gives you an opportunity to work off each other, create those synergies that ultimately result in a better price. And then this is all about strong relationship building because we know that once we get into construction, whether it’s our relationships with our client, our relationships with our trades or suppliers, nothing ever goes the way that you expect it to. There’s always gonna be a little bit of conflict. But through this process, you build these strong relationships that create trust and communication that get you over these hurdles when things happen that you didn’t expect.

So this is just a diagram of traditional construction, right? The design team operates in a silo. They develop all their drawings, they tender it out and you know, it’s a very linear process. It’s very siloed. You have a client hires an architect. Architect hires an engineer, they submit for a building permit, they tender this out, they hire the lowest bid, and then they rely on the contractor who supplied the lowest possible cost to try and solve all the problems, engage the trades on a fixed price, and somehow some way deliver to a client on the expectation of cost and schedule and quality. It doesn’t work very well. So an integrated process is, you can see that while the design, you know, there is a lot more front design at the beginning. The construction team is involved at the very, very beginning. And the design team is involved to the very end of the project. On a traditional build, sometimes the design team is no longer available, there’s no budget left, the client doesn’t wanna pay them any more money. And so then you’re relying on the construction team to try and somehow solve all these design issues that they actually never budgeted for in the first place. And so in this way we have this collaborative process where everybody’s working together and everybody can rely on each other from the very beginning to the very end.

And so when we’re looking at an integrated process, of course when we looked at the previous linear siloed, we come down here, we want, you know, imagine this is a table, everybody’s around the table, I put the client in the middle and then everybody else around this table has equal authority. The traditional way sometimes is the architect has all authority and you do as you as as, as they say. In this case, you know, everybody has equal input. So your electrician, your HVAC contractor, the interior designer, the builder, planning and engineering, the engine, the structural engineer, everybody has an opportunity to bring an opinion to the table for that cost optimization, that innovation to ultimately deliver, deliver what in in the end is going to be a better product at a better price. So, you know, what are these key differentiators? So in the integrated process, as we said, it’s the inclusion of all the stakeholder holders don’t leave people out. Not every partner in the team needs to be present for every single meeting. But there will be big room meetings where you wanna have your electrician, your plumber, your HVAC contractor, the interior designer, the architect, the engineer. You may even bring somebody in from the municipality from a planning standpoint so that you really understand if you’re designing something that could have some constraints around bylaws and building code I. And energy is invested at the very, very beginning. And I have a slide a little bit later on that will highlight this. There is an investment upfront which sometimes can scare people. You know, we get pushback from clients who are concerned that they’ve spent a lot of money and there’s nothing in the ground. And that’s one thing that you know you have to work effectively with your clients to get over is we need to make this investment upfront so we’re successful in the back end. And then the decision making is made by the, the greater team.

And so nobody is making a decision that doesn’t include key stakeholders because the decision that’s made by the interior designer can very negatively impact your heating and cooling design. And we see this all the time where you have these beautiful houses where the interior design and the architect drove the entire interior finish and the mechanical contractor was left to try and fit likely the most important feature of the house into these cramped small spaces. You know, you guys were talking I think a little bit in the beginning of it, mechanical room space. I haven’t had a project yet where the mechanical room hasn’t been under intense pressure to be made smaller. And so if we’re looking for an optimized system in terms of creating warm and comfy clients in the wintertime and cool calm clients in the summertime, then we need to have a centralized system that distributes heating and cooling evenly throughout the entire house and is calibrated in a way that every room in the house has the same optimized temperature. But if you don’t include your HVAC contractor and the design at the very early stage so it can get integrated into your interior design, you’re always gonna end up with these compromises where you have rooms that are freezing cold and you have rooms that are really, really hot.

And people, I mean it amazes me what people will put up with in very, very expensive houses. And so, you know, this is an iterative process when we looked at that circular table shape where everybody is around as opposed to the linear process that we saw in that diagram where everything’s in a silo and cost optimization is key in every discussion that is had. And so cost is always on the table and the team is always looking for opportunities to optimize, you know, their collective cost structure. And it’s also in an integrated process. It’s an ongoing process. You know, typically you a traditional process, you have a bid, you win the bid, you build the house and you leave and you never come back unless there’s some real warranty issue in an integrated process. You’re building these strong relationships with your clients and your trades and you’re there on that client’s journey for as long as they own that house. And you have built these strong relationships with your trades and through, you know, this optimized process, everybody has made money, the client’s happy because it came in on budget and it was delivered on schedule. All your trades are happy because they had an opportunity to optimize this and they made their margin. And so at the end of the project, because everybody’s happy, if there’s a problem, they’re all gonna come rushing back very, very quickly because you know, they had these strong relationships and they don’t wanna damage them. You know, conventional design, as we said, it only involves the members of the expanded team when necessary. Yes, there is less time and less energy put into the upfront process which makes people feel great ’cause they can rush into construction. But as you know, as a builder and the builders in the room know that that time savings upfront bites you at the back end.

And so just a picture of, you know, what that team might look like, right? You have the, our client’s in the middle, there’s the builder there. Phase one is a design, Karina design interior designer. You’ve got capital home energy, that would be your energy advisor. We’ll talk a little bit who, who that is later, you know, you, you might on a complicated project bring in a mechanical engineer to really make sure that your heating and cooling system is properly designed. You have your structural engineer in Shelton engineering and then you have the municipality recognizing that if it’s a simple project you may not need very much engagement with your planning and building department. But if it’s a complicated project, which is what we’re gonna look at, you know, they become very, very important in these early phases so that you don’t end up with a permit application that they won’t approve because that gets very expensive ’cause you’ve gotta go back to the drawing board and do it all over again. And so my philosophy is, is that for every dollar that you spend in pre-construction, I guarantee you you will save at least $2 in construction. And so that upfront investment becomes very, very valuable because when you’re talking of tens of thousands of dollars, you’re talking exponential savings through the construction process.

So this is an example of a project that we built. I think we started design in in around 2017, went to permit in 2018, started construction toward in the fall of 2018 and finished around 2022. So this is a render of what the final design was approved working with stark architects here. And this is a rough massing model that we did at the very beginning. And so some of the constraints on this is that, as you’ll see in the next slide, the elevation from where the back tires of the truck is up to the roof of the house is over 65 feet. When we look at these lines here, as we’ll see, well actually I don’t have a picture of it, but the house is designed to the minimum side yard setbacks because the house was, the lot was incredibly narrow at the front and widened at the top. And so it created enormous complexity in terms of how do we actually build the house because once the bottom of the house is in place, we can’t actually get equipment around the sides because we would be on the neighboring property. The steep slope also had, you know, enormous complications. And then we had a house sitting on this side over here and in doing the excavation we were gonna actually undermine the foundations of the existing house. And so this cross section really just shows you, you know, you’re at 722 meters here and then down at the bottom we’re 704 meters and that’s not even at the, the base road elevation. So incredibly challenging. And then with the ROW’s rules around roof height, if we had to design a house that actually fit on the lot and maximize the opportunity for the gross floor area calculation, we ended up with a roof height calculation that was over double what the allowable roof height calculation was. And so we worked very, very carefully with the planning and billing department to come up with a design that they would agree to. And they looked at the bylaws and said, okay, you know, this lot could have an auxiliary building and so we’ll consider this as an auxiliary building. And so it has one roof height calculation and then we’ll consider the main house as a secondary building and its roof height calculation will then come down to the average grade, which is the lowest place for the house. And one of the things that we actually were able to do with them was typically if this was an auxiliary, if these were two buildings, they would’ve had to have had two separate foundation walls. But because we understood the constraints that we were dealing with, we were able to negotiate with the ROW and we were able to build both structures off one central retaining wall.

And you can imagine, you know, this retaining wall goes up three stories. This is a very expensive piece of concrete. And if we’d had to do this twice, literally we would’ve had one wall here and we would’ve had another wall there. But because we had this engaged process with the ar OW from the very, very early stages of the project, we were able to come to this optimized design that literally saved thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. And so, you know, for me, I actually think that if this had not been executed through an inter an integrated design process, the likelihood somebody might have looked at this lot and said it was unbillable. Another component part of this, as you’ll see in the next photo is at the early design stage we hired a mechanical contractor and we executed all the mechanical design for this. So as you look at this, there are no drop ceilings here. This, this is the, this is the underside of the roof trusses. And we were able to do that because we understood what the mechanical requirements and limitations were. We were able to design in a proper mechanical room, you know, on the lower floor here and ended up with a really optimized mechanical design that has worked very, very well at a, at a very good price. Of course, one of the other key partners in today’s world with step code requirements in British Columbia is we need to meet an energy requirement within the building code. And so I can’t emphasize how important it is to bring your energy advisor into the earliest stages of your concept design because while the step code can be relatively easy to meet in certain circumstances, if you design a house that has a lot of articulation, a lot of corners and jugs and jogs and has a lot of windows facing north has very, very tall ceilings, you could actually end up with a design that you cannot comply. That will not comply. Particularly as we get to the higher levels of the step code, step four and step five. And so bringing your energy advisor in at a concept stage so you understand what you might need to make that compliant envelope is really, really important. And this is just an example of, you know, the final rating.

So this is a 6,000 square foot house. Granted it is built in, built into the hillside. It’s ’cause this is the report from the house we were just looking at, but it only, it has a, a modeled energy use of, of 42 giga joules. So for a house of this side that has a very, very small amount of energy use. So just, you know, a little more context, this is the lot prior to any construction. It, it almost doesn’t look like there’s a lot there. You know, that could be, you know, the house on the, on my left and the house on my right could simply be two lots that met in the middle. And so some context, you know, that’s the lot with the trees taken off of this gives you some context of how high this was. So you know, somebody standing down here in the excavator way, way, way up in the air and then there’s a shot of concrete works. And so through that integrated design process, the team quickly started to understand that we would be unable to build the concrete from the bottom up because the concrete at the bottom would limit the machine’s ability to get around and do backfill.

We couldn’t get a pump truck that was big enough if we didn’t have access into the bottom of the lot to pour concrete on the top walls. There were all kinds of constraints like this. And so we worked very, very carefully with our geotechnical engineer, our excavation contractor and the structural engineer to design the structure so that it could be built from the top to the bottom. And this was a very, very carefully coordinated exercise. There was a neighbor who was a civil engineer who ran a big civil engineering firm. His business was building bridges before he retired. He told me two things. He said, this project is more complicated than most of the bridges we ever built. And I actually start thought when you started this that it couldn’t be built and I thought you were doomed failure. And so that’s why I highlighted this particular project because for me it really was a great example of how that integrated process could create a successful project in a situation where somebody might have shown up and said, actually I don’t think you can build, you know, if you had gone through that traditional process designed in a silo and then gone to get a planning and billing department approval, you absolutely would’ve been sent back to the drawing board and had to redo it. And had you had a completed design and then gone out to tender and somebody hadn’t really clearly understand the constraints they were dealing with and had put a fixed price bid on this that some, yeah, the outcome likely would not have been good for anybody. ’cause you can always find somebody who will offer a low price, right? And there’s the completed project at the end. And so I’ve just, I’ve got a few other slides here just that are also reflective of an integrated process.

This is a project we finished a year ago. Again, we had a very thoughtful and detailed process with the homeowner to develop a new home. They had a very, very tight budget. They were adamant that they could not go over budget. And so, you know, the design is somewhat simple looking, but this was entirely based on one. They were looking for a very modern contemporary house and they were very, very focused on their retirement and having something that was affordable. This was on the last phase of wedgewood up at the top. I don’t think we were necessarily the first house to go on the ground, but this was the first house that was finished in that new subdivision. And so that upfront time where we weren’t the first in the ground, we were by far and away the first to complete well advance of any of the other houses. And yeah, it was done in I think around nine months and it came in exactly on budget. This is another great example of the integrated design process. You can see the sort of a-frame structure on the bottom. That was the original house. This was the, the finished structure. This was actually a renovation. The client came to us early days and he wanted a new house and he wanted to be in his house for Christmas of 2022. And so we started this discussion in the spring of 2021 and we knew that we couldn’t start construction until January based on our permit wait times. And so it basically gave us about 11 months to do the project. And so having that engaged conversation, you know, he understood, we understood what he wanted, we were able to tell him what his limitations were.

Interestingly, the house that you see next door, so we, we finished this at about the same time as this house was finished. This house I think started in September of the previous year and we finished about the same amount of time, well we finished on the same date just before Christmas of 2022. And so yeah, with this, this project was finished in 11 months. It started in January with demolition. We prefabricated all the wood framing components, all the timber frame was also all prefabricated. You know, one of the fascinating things for me was the creativity that the team brought to the prefabrication process because they knew they were under such a tight timeline. And so one of the first experiences we had, all these roof sections were all prefabricated on the ground. It saved an enormous amount of time that work was done. While other work was ongoing. This, this roof went on in about four hours and then we worked with a great timber frame outfit out of Squamish. They prefabricated all of these components.

My team had originally considered doing the install within the RDC team and they had scheduled a week to assemble all those components by working with the team that did the original timber frameworks, they actually assembled all this in one day. And so, again, great example of that collaborative relationship looking to optimize the process and picking the people who are best suited to do the work. Alright, and that’s that got done a little bit early questions. Yeah.

Live Seminar Q&A

Live Q&A Transcript:

Bob Deeks: And that’s that. Got done a little bit early. Questions?

“Why don’t other builders use the integrated design process?”

Bob Deeks: So yeah, I mean, the industry has been very, very entrenched in this idea of design tender piccolo price because people, it’s easy for them upfront. They get the price they’re looking for, and it creates a lot of confidence. Starting out. This process requires that you hire a builder either first or at the same time you to hire architect. And so as a client, you have to do some research to pick somebody who you can trust and you can build a strong relationship with. I mean, to some degree it’s like getting involved in a marriage or you’re literally hiring somebody to be on your team. And so that process to hire the right person can be time consuming and probably a little bit frustrating. And there’s some unknown there because you’re kind of stepping into the void. You’re hiring Axle, or you’re hiring RDC to do a very, very involved project and you don’t necessarily know what the outcome will be.

One of the ways that people can get over that is really follow up with references, and then there’s an upfront cost because we don’t do this for free. I mean, we’re talking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of staff time to get to a place where we have all the mechanical design, all the energy design, all the interior design, all the budgeting and pricing and scheduling completed. And really what we’re doing is we’re doing a big portion of the project management upfront before we start construction. But it goes back to the comment I had where people get frustrated that they’ve spent all this money, but they don’t have anything in the ground. And we’ve actually lost clients because we didn’t do a good enough job of explaining to them how the process worked, how long it was going to take, and what the cost was.

“Does the integrated process become more natural as you find the right teams to work with, and is this why other builders don’t use it?”

So, great question because if we look at our electrical contractor, we look at the designers, we look at capital home energy, they have to understand that one, their fee proposal likely needs to be a little bit higher because they’re going to invest more time upfront that from your trades, you have to find trades that see the value in this, and we’ll make time away from the tools to come into a room and we pay them to do this. We don’t ask them to do it for free. But again, that adds to the cost to the client. And so the easy button for clients is, I’m just going to go hire the guy over there because they saw his sight sign and he gave me the price that meets my expectation. And everybody hopes for the best. We’ll figure it out as we go.

“Do builders have a hard time finding teams to work with in the integrated design process?”

That’s right. And so part of the differentiator is between a builder who always is trying to compete on price. And so the sharpest tool in their toolbox is coming in with a low price, and then they’re going to go and try and find the lowest cost trades and lowest cost materials. And because that’s an easy, if I competed on price and I, no, Marion, what’s your budget? My budget’s a million dollars. I’m like, yeah, I can do that for a million dollars. The likelihood is it can’t, but I know that I’ll get you into a place where you have no choice. And when the money’s starting to run out, I’ll change order it. You’ll end up paying and we hear these stories all the time.

Although I would say that the quality builders in Whistler, more of them probably follow this process than you might think. I would say in the city, if you’re bringing city builder up, and we do see this where our clients will go and get, they’ll try and tender it out and the lowest price will come from somebody in the city.

“Who leads the meetings in the integrated design process?”

So there’s two ways. I mean, typically we own the organization, so RDC would step in as the facilitator on some projects. The architect may bring in somebody who’s a professional at facilitating something like this. The more complicated the project with the bigger budget, it may make sense to hire a facilitator to go through this process. So it depends on the project.

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