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Firms turn to collaboration on design projects

When legislation passed by state lawmakers in October allowed casinos to build on solid ground, offering developers opportunities to rebuild larger, resort-type facilities, Jackson-based Dale and Associates Architects seized the opportunity to better serve clients on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with redevelopment projects by partnering with another firm, Morris Architects of Houston, Texas.

Dale/Morris will open in Biloxi July 1 to provide master planning and design expertise to casino, condo and resort developers. The collaborative firm, which is based on a three-year contract reviewable every six months, provides expertise in local governmental approval planning and permitting, a complex process that involves the Mississippi Gaming Commission, Architectural Review Commission and municipal regulatory authorities such as Biloxi’s Development Review Committee and Department of Planning and Zoning, among others.

“Throughout our tenure here in Jackson since the early 1990s, we’ve actively sought joint venturing with firms where we could bring in talent or particular skills that we didn’t have in house or could use to supplement our in-house skills,” said Charles R. Alexander, AIA, a senior project manager and a partner at Dale and Associates. “A great example is collaborating on the state capital complex. The Dale/Morris joint venture is being put together to allow us to supplement our manpower so we can do an excellent job for our clients on the Coast. It’s a very good venture for both of us. We have a number of condominiums, casinos and projects that require not only a rapid design turnaround but also a construction document turnaround because rebuilding the Coast, especially in the condo and casino market, and getting them up and running is a key fundamental to recovery.”

The partnership reflects the growing trend of architectural firms to blend specialties and staffs to tackle especially challenging projects, garner more work, build strong teams and market themselves globally through strategic alliances.

Mississippi-based Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel partner Richard McNeel, AIA, said his architectural firm has melded talents on countless projects for reasons ranging “from horsepower to specializations.”

“For example, we use consulting engineers because we don’t have in-house engineers, and we partner with different ones depending on the design criteria,” he said. “When we did the DeSoto County Convention Center, it required a different subset of engineers than maybe for a school.

“We’ve chased a number of projects partnering with other architects, but that hasn’t generally been our way of going after work.”

Dr. Larry Barrow, associate professor of the Mississippi State University School of Architecture, said as designs have become more complex, collaborations have become more necessary between building teams that include architects, engineers, general contractors and other construction-related professionals.

“The incredibly complex collaborative design-build-operate (DBO) model has brought these integrated building teams together like never before because there’s a growing trend toward saving money over the life of the building,” said Barrow. “It’s controversial. And it’ll come to Mississippi in some form or fashion, but it will happen to get better buildings done.”

For example, over a 50-year period, only 7% of a building’s cost is incurred up front in terms of design fees and construction costs required to open the front door. Roughly 90% of a building’s cost involves energy and operational costs over the life of the building, said Barrow.

“All of these huge real estate owners — governmental agencies, universities, the military — are figuring out if we get our architects and engineers together with maintenance and facilities managers, our buildings will save a lot of money,” he said. “It may cost a little more up front, but it’ll cost a lot less over the life of the building, especially as the price of energy continues to rise.”

Architectural firms also collaborate for a very simple reason: to save money.

“For hundreds of years, the owner, architect and contractor have all worked through attorneys,” said Burrow. “Dealing with all that paperwork — change orders, disagreements, cost overruns on a project — is a nightmare. The best firms are trying to get around that by partnering with other consultants and by building relationships with owners and partners. This is a huge issue in architecture right now.”

This collaboration is also fostering trust in business relationships.

“For the last 10 years, people have figured out to look for people they trust,” said Barrow. “It’s not a black-and-white world, but people dealing with global as well as local markets are looking for others with integrity with whom they can do business on a handshake. Everyone becomes respectful of the others’ values. The Harvard Business School will tell you all day long: it’s not about the technology. It’s about the people. It’s the only way to do things bigger, better and faster.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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