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Defining Constructability in Construction Project Management

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What factors would you consider when planning a construction project?

Budget, schedule, and quality are commonly taken into account. Of equal importance to some clients are architectural design, functional program, and energy efficiency. Constructability, however, is an important benchmark and tool in construction project management that is little-known to industry laymen.

So, what is constructability?

Typically evaluated throughout the preconstruction phase, constructability (or buildability) is the measure of ease efficiency, and eco-friendliness with which a building can be constructed. A project’s standard to which the aforementioned objectives are achieved, depends on the team’s knowledge and experience in planning, design, procurement, and field operations.

Ease of construction

A key tenet of constructability, ease of construction can be defined as the degree to which a building’s design facilitates construction field operations. This criterion encompasses several benchmarks that ultimately help deliver the project with maximum efficiency, on budget, and on time. These include:
  •  favorable site logistics and improved access for workers, materials, and equipment
  •  site layout that facilitates the intended construction methods
  •  efficient construction methods that likewise interface with site logistics and the construction schedule
  •  design that enables construction in unfavorable weather conditions
The first step to achieving these goals is getting the entire project team on board with the constructability program. Constructability is often misunderstood, dismissed by skeptics, or taken for granted by various project stakeholders. To counter this barrier, it should be discussed and formally adopted into the execution plan.

Secondly, the right expertise must be introduced during the project’s planning and design phases. While design professionals may be well-versed in their respective disciplines, their personnel seldom have sufficient field experience to understand the impact of the design on actual construction means and methods. This absence of hands-on construction knowledge during the design process often translates into unbuildable structures, missed schedules, and blown budgets. The gap between design and construction should be bridged as early as possible by involving experienced field personnel to comment on the design.

To enhance the ease of operations, construction methods should be seen as a determining factor in the design. Construction professionals should be included in the selection of materials, as they know best which methods will be required for their installation.

Further, construction personnel should analyze the site layout, and provide feedback to the design team. A field perspective is incredibly valuable in designing a construction-friendly site that facilitates the movement of staff, materials, and equipment, and allows various construction activities to proceed smoothly. This is notably important for:
  •  sites with tight access
  •  high elevations
  •  steep grades
  •  renovation projects in functioning buildings

Cost efficiency

Cost-efficiency is yet another aspect of constructability that demands consideration during planning and design. Ideally, a project should meet all of its design and code requirements while incurring the lowest possible material, labor, and equipment costs. Achieving this balance entails meaningful collaboration between the design team and operations staff in pursuit of the most efficient processes and technologies.

While innovations are countless and ever-changing, modular construction has evolved as one of the key constructability boosters. The method allows economical, off-site production and assembly of various building elements, which can be installed quicker and require less labor. The viability of the modular construction approach should be assessed during a project’s design phase.

Standardization is another credible strategy for enhancing constructability. The design team should strive to homogenize building elements and materials and thus allow for repetition during construction, which will, in turn, expedite installation. Simplifying the design and standardizing its geometry can have a similarly beneficial outcome.

Apart from modular construction and standardization, project teams should consider other innovative alternatives to the accepted construction methods and materials.

Finally, cost estimates should be produced at various design stages to keep the project aligned with its budgetary expectations.

Environmental accountability

The construction industry is a major polluter and energy consumer. The industry’s colossal use of natural resources is in large part responsible for their rapid depletion around the globe. By 2025, global construction activities are expected to generate 2.2 billion tons of waste annually; this is on top of the 39% of global carbon emissions produced by the industry.

Reducing waste, energy use, and improving sustainability is the third pillar of constructability. By adopting a buildability program, project teams commit to keeping a sharp lookout for ways to build greener. In California, our stringent energy and environmental codes, as well as the public acceptance of sustainable practices, make it easier to achieve these goals. That said, there is always room for improvement.

Barriers to constructability

Construction is a conservative industry, where innovations are often seen as a risk. While more construction managers are getting on board with constructability programs, the following barriers still exist:
  •  shortage of people with the right expertise
  •  lack of contractor involvement in the design, notably on Design-Bid-Build (DBB) projects
  •  architects prioritizing the company’s design rather than the project’s goals
  •  lack of awareness of advancing construction technologies
  •  mutually dismissive attitude between design and construction personnel
  •  design team’s unawareness of environmental implications of certain construction activities
  •  disregard for the environmental impact of construction activities by field personnel
Despite the stubborn nature of these obstacles, the push for cost-efficiency is a strong motivator. Because of this, constructability is gaining wider acceptance as a benchmark and an important construction project management tool.
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