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Inclusion of Specialty Consultants: Value Over Cost

Kath Williams,

Assembling a team to design and construct a high performance building often leads to owners/institutions making the final selection based on one element-price. Architects and engineers often present they have qualifications in all aspects including, building conservation, urban design and planning, art, green building, etc. However a building specialty consultant brings in value, writes Kath Williams, LEED Fellow & President Kath Williams + Associates, Inc. Dr. Williams is an inductee into the India Green Building Hall of Fame.

It is often seen that even though the project team includes specialty consultants in energy, acoustics, daylight, and rating systems, when it comes to the final negotiation on fees and scope of work, they become the purview of a basic design team. This is often labeled “efficiency,” however, the results become the product of the basic experience and training of the members of the team. To go beyond what an architect or engineer knows requires research, which either receives no compensation or has to be hidden in the base fee so something else suffers.

This is where consultants bring value. Experience must be earned over time as it is coupled with education, training, and research, which is past, present, and continuous for a specialty consultant.

What often is a simple response from a consultant would take architects days, weeks, months of timeconsuming research. That cost is passed on to the project and to deny that is a misrepresentation.

In a recent design meeting on a complex global project, the owner asked an up-and-coming “signature” architect to design the “greenest” building in the country. The architect’s response? “No problem, I had an excellent sustainable architecture class in college.” He failed to mention, that was 15 years ago and he had no experience since that course. The green building consultancy was dismissed from the project team because “he could do it” and of course, it would save money..

Over the past several decades where green building consultancies have grown, numerous owners and contractors have commented that specialty consultancy services were invaluable. Artists, biomimicry specialists, community activists, acoustical engineers, learning environment designers, native landscape architects, and green building/living building consultants all have contributed depth and higher standards to conventional design. Adding these people to any team does add to first cost. There is ample data to prove that.

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