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International Interior Design Association

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The Power to Deliver

By Michelle Bowles

No element in the built environment should be an afterthought. That’s the whole idea behind integrated project delivery: By allowing and encouraging the entire design team to collaborate from the early stages of a project, team members can realize their highest potential and deliver the best possible end result. But while the idea behind integrated project delivery may be common sense, it’s still not unusual for interior designers to be brought in later in the game. Our panel of interior designers, spanning all regions and design segments, offers insight on the benefits of integrated project delivery.

Why is it so important for Interior Designers to be involved in new construction projects from the earliest planning phases?

Felice L. Silverman:

The design of every space, whether it’s a new building or a renovation, is fully informed by the interior design process. While there is a great overlap between the disciplines of architecture and Interior Design, the specific elements typically owned by the interior designer — programming, space planning, furniture, lighting, interior finish selection — must be fully considered and integrated in the total design from the beginning of the design process. Without a full exploration of these elements, clients will not understand how their environment will work for them.

Angie Lee:

When an architect is designing the base building, he or she must understand how the user plans to use and occupy the space — things like core window dimensions, travel distance from the farthest corner of the floor plate to the first set of exit stairs. It’s critical to first understand programmatic and functional needs, and then design around the functional requirements. Then you will yield a space that is highly effective and efficient, and you will minimize circulation paths.

Scott Hierlinger:

Any time you bring in a project team member after that initial shaping, the initial visioning of the project has to be downloaded to the person. Any time you download information, some of the nuances are inevitably left out. Although the verbiage and directives may be all there, you didn’t hear the key adjectives and visioning emotions that came from the client. You’re going to get a partial solution that may work, but could have been far better.

What are the dangers of Interior Designers not being an integral part of the team during the early planning stages?

Mitchell E. Sawasy:

For me, the biggest concern would be company operations or function.  No matter how beautiful the space or building is, if the occupants have difficulty functioning the way they want, then the team has failed.


Often, costly revisions and modifications will need to occur to make it right.  Rooms may not accommodate appropriate furniture configurations, initial project budgeting may be incorrect because appropriate materials weren’t considered, life safety issues can be overlooked from either a space planning or materials perspective, or electrical/tele data may have to be reworked to accommodate furniture layouts.


[Aesthetically] there’s a disconnect.  I think everyone’s been in a position — whether it’s their own project or someone else’s — where you walk in and go, ‘I am failing to see the connectivity here.’ It wasn’t because the designer was trying to make a statement, and it doesn’t have to be because of budget. It’s strictly because the team didn’t talk.

Steven J. McCollom:

I was once brought on to help an architect with the FF+E [furniture, fixtures and equipment] package for a new university classroom building mid-design development phase.  The classrooms were supposed to accommodate 24 students, but only 18 could actually fit because the architect had shown furniture that was totally out of scale.  Ouch.  Major architectural revisions were required to make the building work as the university intended.


We’ve had an experience where the base building architect was brought onboard ahead of the interior architect.  They had [window] sill heights at 42 inches. Forty-two inches at a seated position does not allow you full exposure to view.  It’s those little nuances that we were able to catch as interior designers, thinking from the human aspect of how you’d use the space. Ultimately, the base building architect ended up changing the pre-cast design to accommodate a 30-inch sill height.


Fortunately, I don’t see these problems too often here in the U.S. In China, it’s another story. Often, the architecture and interior design teams never even meet.  We’ve been involved with projects that have a completed building raw shell and then [the clients] say to us, ‘Design the interiors and make them efficient.’ The new Beijing Capital Airport designed by Sir Norman Foster is a stunning piece of architecture that, in some areas, shows an after-thought for interior design operations and function. Retail stores located in the center of the terminal are now built about 6 inches above the beautiful stone floors, requiring short, steep ramps for access.  I am sure that Foster tried to plan ahead for this, but the government said, ‘We’ll deal with it later.’

How can Interior Designers ensure they’re an integral part of the team from the very start?


Designers should be proactive in communicating their specific knowledge in areas of design that could positively impact the architectural solution. Like clients, many architects look for a design partner who has experience with a particular project type and successfully addressing design challenges.  If a person has a proven track record of designing interiors that work in concert with the architectural concept, he or she will be brought onboard to help develop concepts and work to make the design better.

Cheryl Duvall:

If we, as interior designers, come into meetings more focused on aesthetic qualities than the functional, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. What we’re answering at the very beginning are crucial decisions about the size of the facility, planning strategies that will help space last for 30 years and exit strategies.  Selecting finishes are important, but if we come in talking about them at the very beginning, we look like decorators, not the planning strategists that we are.

What are some useful tactics or tools that can ensure Design Teams are on the same page from beginning to end?


As an architecture and interior design firm, we use [Autodesk] Revit [software] to provide integrated project delivery, including MEP/FP design.  We are able to sell and explain this concept to our clients, and it is fully embraced.


Software tools are useful. But for me, kickoff meetings, also known as partnering meetings, are really helpful, particularly with long-term projects.  And food is always helpful, as trivial as it sounds.  The relationships you build by sitting down to eat and chitchat can do more to foster a successful resolution if a problem or challenge arises.  For one project, we moved our meetings to early in the morning, no longer serving lunch or food, and I’ve actually seen the team is not as cohesive as it used to be.


It’s about building a strong collaborative relationship with the architect and with the client.  Communicate with the entire team to keep them in the loop and be supportive of everyone’s objectives and visions. Be a team player. Be professional. Be open-minded.

What are some examples of times when Interior Designers were successfully integrated into the project from the beginning?


Early in my career, a developer for whom we had recently provided tenantplanning services asked if we would work with the base building architect on the second building for a three-building campus.  For the first building, we had simply provided tenantplanning services.  But the developer had to relocate many sprinklers and lights because the architects’ base building plans had not anticipated where offices and full height partitions might be located.  By bringing us into the initial planning stages of the second building, we were able to work with the architect to fine-tune features such as column spacing and ideal core-to-perimeter depth.  Those decisions led to a 60 percent reduction in sprinkler relocations alone, which equated to savings in both time and money.


One of our projects was a child care center — a new building that was to be sited on a very challenging site, bound by wetlands.  The available site left us with a butterflyshaped footprint for the building. But by working from the inside out from the beginning of the design process, we were able to develop a plan that made the best use of the site for the client.  We started day one with furniture layouts to ensure the spaces worked.


Right now, we’re working in tandem with the architect to design a built-to-suit for an owner.  That marriage is excellent because we are able to play back and forth on the most optimum size for core-to-window dimensions knowing the workplace standards of this particular client.  We’re designing right up to almost inches in terms of tolerance of how big the floor plan needs to be. An inch around the floor plan equates to money.

Where is the Interior Design Profession in terms of integrated project delivery?


There has been a lot of advancement in that interior designers have become far more educated.  They understand the complexities of projects.  It used to be that they only knew the end part of it, meaning the finished plan and some elevations, but never about the construction, the electrical systems and the lighting systems.  Now, designers can speak to a lot more of these issues.  Thus they’re heard; thus they become more integrated.


I think it’s a mixed bag. There are designers and firms that are onboard with the integrated project delivery methodology, while others haven’t a clue.  But that’s not just designers; there are a lot of architects struggling with the concept, too.  I’m encouraged by the totally integrated architecture and interiors curriculum at many colleges and universities now.  But I do think a growing percentage of clients are bringing interior designers into the process earlier.  Sometimes, clients bring in the interior designer even before they make an architectural selection.


  1. My husband and I are having a new home built and I really want to hire an interior designer. My husband is skeptical, but I like what you said about having them involved in the early phases of planning. I think that this would really help our home have a nice flow. Plus it would look amazing. Thank you for sharing. Posted by: Sierra Blackman on 02.05.16 at 07:42

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