Document Detail

Title: RR241-11 - Optimizing Construction Input in Front End Planning
Publication Date: 3/1/2009
Product Type: Research Report
Status: Reference
Pages: 143
Gokhale, Vanderbilt Univ.; Hastak, Purdue Univ.; Oh, Purdue Univ.
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The 321,000-sf, 11-story, Seattle Central Library in downtown Seattle, is arguably the most striking and imaginative piece of architecture since the Space Needle. Dutch architect Rem Koolhass notes that it is one of the most complex buildings he has ever done. The project has won many awards for planning, design, and construction, including: The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) 2005 Platinum Award for excellence in engineering; 2005 Gold Award by ACEC for the technology systems; 2005 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Award for Outstanding Architecture; and a Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for incorporating design elements that demonstrate environmental stewardship. What many may not know is that the $159 million, steel and glass, project is consciously economical – at $273 a square foot, the building is half the cost of San Francisco’s public library which had $480 per sf (Seattle Central Library, 2005).

A key element to the project success is attributed to the early involvement by the Owner of a Consultant to gain construction expertise during pre-project planning, that helped guide key decisions in optimizing design approach, and utilization of leading construction practices such as pre-assembly and modularization.

Front End Planning (FEP) or Pre-project planning (PPP) is the process of developing sufficient strategic information for Owners to address risk and to commit resources to maximize the chances for a successful project. In “Optimizing Owner/Contractor Core Competencies for Capital Programs,” Anderson et al. recommend that performance of pre-project planning is an owner responsibility and cannot be completely delegated, although consultants and other expertise may be required to supplement the owner’s staff as in the case of the Seattle Central Library (Anderson et al., 2001).

In the White Paper (WP) issued in August 2004, the Architectural/Construction/ Engineering Productivity Committee of the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) concluded that the difficulties experienced in typical projects are artifacts of a design and construction process fraught by lack of cooperation and poor information integration (CURT, 2004). The WP suggests that:

  • Current project organization, is characterized by operational silos between design, construction, and ownership, and is a barrier to collaboration, because each participant optimizes for its own interest rather than that of the overall project.
  • Current contract models, based on traditional practices, institutionalize non-collaborative approaches, perpetuating standards that do not value collaboration.


It appears therefore that while on one hand there is mounting evidence that integration of construction expertise in FEP results in improvement in a project’s FEL, ultimately driving the project’s performance, on the other hand there continue to exist operational silos that prevent true integration of construction expertise in projects. Thus the central questions that need addressing are:

  • What is optimum level of construction expertise (contractors &/or consultant) required in FEP for the owner?
  • What is a reliable metric to measure the quantity/quality of construction expertise during FEP?
  • What are the project organization/contracting strategies needed to facilitate the involvement of the construction expertise in a project?
  • What best practices exist that can help breakdown the silos/barriers between the engineering and construction functions?
  • Are there best-in-class, projects where a greater involvement of construction expertise in FEP resulted in significant improvements in the construction and commissioning of projects?
  • What are the lessons learned from these projects, i.e., what are the key questions and activities that the project leadership needs to focus on, in order to maximize the project performance?
  • What is the cost impact of the involvement of construction expertise on early project spending, and on the overall project spending?