Spec­i­fy­ing for projects

Dubai-based ar­chi­tects gather for a round­table to dis­cuss spec­i­fy­ing for projects

Middle East Architect - - INSIGHT: ROUNDTABLE - Writ­ten by Rima Alsammarae Im­ages cour­tesy of Ra­jesh Raghav

At a re­cent round­table held by Mid­dle East Ar­chi­tect, Dubai-based ar­chi­tects came to­gether to dis­cuss the na­ture of spec­i­fy­ing prod­ucts, such as sur­face ma­te­ri­als and glass, for their projects in the re­gion.

Those who at­tended in­cluded Ben­jamin Piper, part­ner and de­sign prin­ci­pal at Killa De­sign; To­bias Honey, as­so­ciate de­sign di­rec­tor at VX Stu­dio and Leila M Asl, founder and di­rec­tor of bma stu­dio. The three agreed that gen­eral chal­lenges in spec­i­fy­ing for projects in­clude de­vel­op­ers often opt­ing to work with sup­pli­ers they have a past with, which af­fects the end qual­ity of build­ings, as well as a lack of proper com­mu­ni­ca­tion from sup­pli­ers. The ar­chi­tects fur­ther noted that in­creased com­mu­ni­ca­tion from sup­pli­ers would help di­ver­sify and dis­tin­guish ar­chi­tec­tural work in the GCC.

“One of the re­cent trends that we have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is that clients are more in­ter­ested in per­for­mance­based clas­si­fi­ca­tion,” started Piper. “So, let’s say in the past, it was tra­di­tional to men­tion spe­cific prod­ucts or per­haps a range of prod­ucts that were pre-ap­proved by the ar­chi­tec­tural de­signer. The con­cern there for some of the clients was that they’re not get­ting the best pos­si­ble prices, or the widest range of po­ten­tial prod­ucts… On the one hand, it could be seen as the open­ing up of wider pos­si­bil­i­ties for prod­ucts to be used within a spe­cific project, but often times, it’s the con­sul­tant that has a real, pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence of those prod­ucts, and for them to give the best pos­si­ble ad­vice, it often in­volves be­ing quite spe­cific in what prod­ucts are spec­i­fied,

be­cause they have in­sider knowl­edge of how those prod­ucts per­form over time.”

Piper added that this often cre­ates a trade-off be­tween be­ing very spe­cific in one spec­i­fi­ca­tion, which pro­tects the qual­ity and gives the ar­chi­tect the re­spon­si­bil­ity of that choice, and be­ing more generic in the spec­i­fi­ca­tion, al­low­ing the free mar­ket to com­pete and ef­fec­tively al­low the client to find the best price.

“What tends to hap­pen is that you might be spe­cific about a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct or spec­ify a sys­tem, which is most ap­pro­pri­ate for the job, but the clients have their own re­la­tion­ships al­ready es­tab­lished with some sup­pli­ers,” added Honey. “This sort of cuts the de­signer out in some ways, and you might ac­tu­ally dis­agree with the prod­ucts that have been spec­i­fied be­cause they com­pro­mise the de­sign.”

The ar­chi­tects added that clients in the GCC are more in­volved in projects than clients else­where, who tend to look at the over­all pack­age value sup­plied by the ar­chi­tects and de­ter­mine whether or not it’s ac­cept­able. In the GCC, clients are far more hands-on and de­tail ori­ented.

“In 90 per­cent of my projects in the GCC, clients tend to be in­volved in ev­ery de­tail,” said Asl. “And re­gard­less of their tech­ni­cal knowl­edge, they ask to see ev­ery­thing and var­i­ous sam­ples from dif­fer­ent sup­pli­ers. I think trust plays a big part in it.”

“There’s more of a clearly de­fined le­gal frame­work in other de­vel­oped mar­kets,” added Piper. “From the client’s point of view, the con­sul­tant bears a some­what am­bigu­ous re­spon­si­bil­ity, so they may pay a bit of a premium to al­low the ar­chi­tect to spec­ify, and if some­thing goes wrong, it’s pretty clear who’s re­spon­si­ble. In this mar­ket, it’s blurry in terms of how that de­ci­sion-mak­ing takes place.”

“Some­times you hit this wall where you don’t want to rec­om­mend some­thing you don’t be­lieve in, but the client wants you to be­cause they feel un­com­fort­able tak­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity, and in the end, the project man­ager will often take some kind of ex­ec­u­tive role, and that’s some­what un­usual,” he added.

The ar­chi­tects noted that such de­ci­sions often neg­a­tively af­fect the re­sult­ing qual­ity of the build­ing, from con­stant leaks in walls and ceil­ings due to cheap prod­uct ma­te­ri­als to high elec­tric­ity and wa­ter costs for the op­er­a­tor.

“Peo­ple here see what’s done in the US or Aus­tralia, or even China, and they think ‘wow, that is fan­tas­tic,’ but here in the GCC, it still lacks qual­ity, and there has to be a rea­son why a lot of these de­tails aren’t de­liv­ered in the end,” said Honey.

So how can ar­chi­tects in­flu­ence de­ci­sion-mak­ing in terms of spec­i­fi­ca­tion for projects? Firstly, there needs to be bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween sup­pli­ers and ar­chi­tect firms.

“Sup­pli­ers should be send­ing ar­chi­tects emails with BIM mod­els in them,” said Piper. “And they should in­clude all of the spec­i­fi­ca­tions, from pric­ing to what­ever meta data you want. It’s con­ve­nient for us, and it takes the path of least re­sis­tance. There’s so much com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage to any sup­plier that does that, be­cause then we can eas­ily in­cor­po­rate their prod­ucts into our de­sign pro­pos­als.”

Honey added, “Even prior to BIM, dur­ing the ren­der­ing stage, if a client ab­so­lutely falls in love with the vi­sion, and wants the street lamps or what have you and you know who ac­tu­ally has these mod­els then there’s a huge in­cen­tive to just spec­ify that par­tic­u­lar prod­uct, be­cause it saves ev­ery­one time.”

Piper, Honey and Asl also said that mak­ing in­tro­duc­tions be­tween sup­pli­ers and clients at the right time has pre­vi­ously gone a long way.

“When you know some­one who has a spe­cific prod­uct, often times, mak­ing a sim­ple in­tro­duc­tion works,” said Honey.

“There’s a very crit­i­cal point in de­sign where it’s just a vi­sion, and you get your high level de­ci­sion-mak­ers ba­si­cally ap­prov­ing it,” said Piper. “Now after that point, you ei­ther have to then match that de­sign some­how and if the prod­ucts men­tioned are am­bigu­ous then you leave it open ended. If you can show the ac­tual el­e­ment ex­ists in the real world, and show it used, and that gets ap­proved by the de­ci­sion-maker, that prod­uct is most likely go­ing to get spec­i­fied.”

Left to right: To­bias Honey, Leila M Asl and Ben­jamin Piper

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