Integrated project delivery benefits multi-use project

Collaborative approach applied to East Vancouver health and social housing

James Forsyth, BC Housing’s director of regional development for the Lower Mainland, at the 1st and Clark project site | Photo: Rob Kruyt

Using an alternative approach to project delivery fast-tracked the design process for a multi-use construction project in Vancouver, according to parties behind the proposed development. 

The East Vancouver integrated health and social housing project, at the corner of 1st Avenue and Clark Drive, is being developed through integrated project delivery (IPD). While traditional delivery models require numerous contracts, with IPD, parties sign one contract and share a project’s risks and rewards. 

Justin Perdue , associate vice-president and principal, education, science and advanced technology at HDR – the project’s architect – said having one contract helps align everyone’s interests and drives “best-for-project thinking.”  

“The primary benefit of IPD is enhanced collaboration,” said Perdue. “With everyone working towards shared goals, the focus is really on maximizing the value to the owner and delivering the absolute best building for their budget.”

The 1st and Clark project is being developed jointly by BC Housing, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the City of Vancouver to address the affordable housing crisis and provide expanded addiction withdrawal management services. The development – one of the first in Vancouver and B.C. to use IPD – includes a mix of affordable rental units, an addictions management and counselling clinic and a City of Vancouver-owned social enterprise space designed with and for urban Indigenous residents. 

James Forsyth, BC Housing’s director of regional development for the Lower Mainland, said the 1st and Clark project’s multiple uses will support Vancouver in many ways. 

“If we look at the housing crisis that we’ve been in, if we look at the health crisis that we’ve been experiencing in British Columbia, this project helps address so many of those challenges,” said Forsyth. 

Once the project is built, BC Housing will have two buildings with 97 affordable residential rental units to be operated by multi-service agency SUCCESS. VCH will own and operate a two-storey podium level clinic with 20 short-term transitional beds and an academic research hub. 

Forsyth said BC Housing often considers new forms of construction and technologies to pilot. Based on IPD’s success in the U.S., BC Housing used a set of criteria to identify a housing project that would work best with IPD. They chose the 1st and Clark project. 

“Given the multiple uses, complexities of the project and the collaboration that comes hand-in-hand with IPD, we felt this would be a significant advantage for the project,” he said. 

“Big Room” meetings 

The project’s design process began before the pandemic, allowing up to two-dozen people – including developers, architects, engineers and trades – to meet in person in office space they called the “Big Room.” 

“Once or twice a week, all of the team members would get together, and they would break out into smaller groups and do their designs,” said Forsyth. “Usually designers or contractors work in isolation, but having the owners’ reps there at the same time you’re able to bounce ideas off them and bring them along the design journey every single step of the way.”

Through the design process, team members met frequently to allow for better project co-ordination. 

“Having that schedule, we were able to condense and intensify the creativity in the design process,” said Forsyth. 

Collaborating virtually 

When COVID-19 hit, in-person meetings quickly turned virtual, allowing for more collaboration. For IPD projects to be successful, all voices need to be heard, according to Perdue. 

“Great ideas can come from anyone, and being ready and willing to listen to partners is a benefit to everyone,” he said.

Besides Zoom and Microsoft Teams, they used Miro, an online whiteboard platform, to communicate visually. Construction documentation building information modelling (BIM ) software Autodesk Revit was also used along with cloud-based design collaboration software BIM 360. 

Stu Julien, an HDR architectural project manager, said BIM has been particularly helpful for collaboration. 

“As an example, a plumbing roof drain must route internally down to grade, so aligning the plumbing wall accordingly is necessary,” said Julien. “During our virtual BIM 360 clash sessions, we were able to visualize together floor by floor, in three dimensions, if these walls were stacking and if that pipe was following an unobstructed path.” 

Faster design process 

IPD also sped up the project’s design process, according to Forsyth. 

“We did find that the speed of design on a complex project like this seems to have outpaced the speed of approvals with our municipal partners,” he said. “Often it’s the other way around.” 

Being able to work collaboratively was an advantage during the design stage, according to Forsyth, who said IPD provided opportunities to discuss design ideas while getting practical advice from builders. 

“Having the sub-contractors that are going to be building the project at the table when you’re doing the design, there are so many benefits that come out of that,” he said. 

Forsyth recalled a breakout meeting with designers, a glazier and the installer about grid patterns for the building. Having the chance to discuss and slightly adjust grids will likely lead to reduced materials’ wastage and easier installation during construction. 

“It’s those sorts of collaborations that were great to see,” said Forsyth, “but also how nimble the team can be if a new requirement came up.” 

Collaboration challenges 

As with any project delivery model, IPD comes with challenges. Forsyth said oversight, team management and aligning values across the team have been the main obstacles. While many contractors work collaboratively, IPD is not normalized in the industry. 

“It’s a new experience for a lot of our partners, but it’s one that everyone seems to be quite excited about,” he said. 

Once the project enters the construction phase, the next challenges will be supply chain issues and the rising prices of construction materials and overall inflation, according to Forsyth. 

“It ends up being a problem that the team is going to collaborate to solve,” he said. 

Perdue agreed that when the 1st and Clark team faces a challenge, the various parties work together to find a solution through the IPD process. He said one of the biggest challenges is having to think about the design and construction process in a different way. 

“From a designer’s perspective, this mindset shift includes learning that when faced with a problem, designing a way out of it doesn’t have to be the first proposed solution.” 

Construction for the project, currently in the documentation phase, is slated to begin later this year or in early 2023 and be completed in 2025. •