Last edited 23 Jul 2016

Design coordination

Design is the process of creating a solution to a project brief and then preparing instructions allowing that solution to be constructed. Building design is typically a multi-disciplinary process, involving a number of different designers, such as architects, engineers and so on, working together to create a single, holistic solution.

Problems can occur where there is missing information, poorly communicated information, inconsistencies between documentation, poor resource allocation, poor decision making due to inadequate information, and so on. These difficulties have become more prevalent as buildings have become more technical, the range of products and materials has increased, standards and regulations have become stricter, and there are a greater number of specialist designers.

Design coordination is a broad term describing the integration of designs prepared by different members of the project team to create a single, unified set of information that can be constructed without clashes between components. Effective design coordination can help to reduce costs, delays and disruption that can be caused by problems on site and the need for remedial or abortive works and redesign.

In its broadest sense, design coordination can simply mean ensuring that designers understand what they are responsible for, and in particular who is responsible for the interfaces and junctions between different design packages. In a more specific sense, design coordination can refer to the actual process of ensuring that design solutions can be integrated, in particular, mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) designs, which, as they permeate through the entire building are frequently the source of coordination problems. This is particularly true for complex buildings such as hospitals where there may be a great number of building services that need to be installed in relatively confined spaces.

Clashes may be ‘hard clashes’ for example where the route for pipework runs through a steel beam. They may also be ‘soft clashes’ which can be the result of construction tolerances, too little space to install or maintain a component of the building, lack of consideration of health and safety requirements, too many workers being programmed to carry out works in the same space at the same time and so on.

There are a number of procedures that can be adopted and appointments made to help minimise clashes and ensure proper co-ordination.

Typically, where there is a multi-disciplinary design team, a lead designer will be appointed whose role includes integrating different aspects of the design and their interfaces into the overall design. Amongst other things, this may involve:

For more information see Lead designer.

Where there are a number of different specialist contractors or suppliers involved in the later stages of the design, in particular during the technical design stage, a design coordinator may be appointed to oversee coordination and integration those designs.

In some cases, a design manager may be appointed. Historically, design managers emerged in contractor organisations as they started undertaking a portion of design which involved their specialist sub-contractors. However, it has come to be used in a wider sense, describing a manager with an enabling and coordinating role, but who does not act as a designer themselves.

For more information, see Design manager.

The process of actually verifying design co-ordination still sometimes relies on manual techniques for cross-checking information, with transparent drawings overlaid to identify potential conflicts. Computer aided drawing (CAD) can replicate this process on screen, allowing drawings prepared by different designers to be compared.

Building information modelling (BIM) involves creating and managing digital information for the design, construction and operation of built assets. BIM can help ensure that collaborative practices are adopted and standard methods and procedures used and that designers are contractually obliged to provide specific information at specific stages of a project.

One of the benefits of adopting BIM is the potential for better avoidance of clashes, that is, it can help ensure there is spatial co-ordination between the different components. In 2007, the Avanti programme suggested that BIM could result in a 75-80% saving in the effort required to achieve design co-ordination.

However, BIM Level 2 allows designers to work on separate ‘federated’ models that are only brought together to create a single, complete model of the building at key stages. The building information model may also be broken down into volumes to allow more than one person to work on project models simultaneously, or to ensure that file sizes are manageable. This increases the likelihood of poor co-ordination.

Clash avoidance and clash detection must therefore be carried out as an integral part of the entire BIM process, from defining standard methods and procedures and establishing a BIM volume strategy, through specialist design and the creation of a virtual construction model and should continue during the construction phase itself as models are updated with as-constructed information.

Clash detection software can identify clashes between individual BIM models and generate clash reports. However, this should not be relied upon as a fail-safe check, and should not be used to justify poor design co-ordination processes.

For more information, see Clash avoidance.

An information manager may be appointed to ensure that BIM information follows the agreed protocol and that the data is secure. However, they are not a BIM coordinator and have no design responsibility and no responsibility for clash detection or model coordination.

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