Assignment of Design to Constructors: A Road Map Towards Effective Delegated Design

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by Keith Robinson, RSW, FCSC, FCSI, Cameron Franchuk M.Sc., P.Eng., and Gerald Murnane

Editor’s note: Several readers had questions and sought clarification of the delegated design process described in previous articles published in Construction Canada in 2019. Specifically, they asked for strategies aimed at achieving effective specification content associated with assignment of design to constructors, and what components of the specification constitute delegated design.

In response, this article describes responsibilities associated with the prime architect or engineer of record, and those of the supporting professional engineer or certified/qualified contributor retained by the contractor, subcontractor, or manufacturer. Note: The previous article(s) defined architect/engineer responsible for design and documentation under a single covering term the ‘registered professional of record (RPR),’ and the professional engineer retained by the constructor as the ‘supporting registered professional (SRP).’

Communication and co-operation are critical to the interaction between the RPR and the SRP when delegated design becomes necessary. If the opportunity exists, designassist is a better alternative to delegated design; having a collaborative team approach to finding design solutions provides a more effective cost solution to the building owner. Designassist is possible under construction management or designbuild contract delivery methodologies, allowing for a designassist process to develop design solutions before bidding occurs using prequalification best practices or using a cash allowance to identify designassist opportunities, under stipulated price contract delivery methodologies.

When delegated design becomes a better solution to solving specific detail conditions requiring engineering acumen, it is critical to identify and write appropriate specification content and establish clear conditions that govern appropriate delegation for design solution to the constructor. Content must include unambiguous limitations of design responsibility of the SRP for the design condition, and project liability associated with design information provided by the RPR.

Despite the perception by many in the design and construction community; assignment of design to the constructor does not (cannot) transfer project liability, nor does it indicate a lack of time or budget from the RPR, and does not indicate a lack of knowledge within the RPR’s project team. The conditional follow-up to this statement is: “when done correctly and when the end purpose is explicitly described within the construction documentation.”

This perception becomes a truism when a purposeful approach to delegated design is not understood, or delegation is done incorrectly. Delegated design must be done with knowledge of the design outcomes and understanding of cost consequences to the owner. Delegation must be at the direction of the RPR for each specific instance, and not simply added to drawing notes or specification content as an all-encompassing “contractor shall design the following…” statement by other members of the design team.

Previous article conclusions

Delegated design is applicable to building components that require an engineered response from the constructor for a design solution. The response can include contributions from trades, suppliers, and manufacturers to determine an appropriate design solution specific to the project; this can only happen when the subcontracts for the component of work are finalized.

The RPR is responsible for providing the constructor with explicit instructions when they need to acquire a single design solution based on loading conditions and performance attributes for specifically designated assemblies. Availability of multiple design to solve detailing conditions, requiring the RPR to illustrate a variety of acceptable detail options, could result in cost uncertainty to the owner and interpretation of the engineering design by the constructor when multiple pricing options are not broken out in the bid submission forms.

The RPR illustrates the generic single solution load paths, performance expectations, and responsibilities of the SRP. Inclusion of the complete engineering design in the construction documentation; sealed and signed by the RPR, authenticates that the technical information is complete and can be relied upon by the SRP in performance of their work. Delegated design components are considered ‘engineering documents,’ and must provide sufficient information that any competent professional engineer could complete the design solution. The following test to confirm whether the information provided to the SRP are considered as such must be authenticated by the application of a seal and signature to the RPR’s construction documentation.

Who does what when?

There are potentially five contributors of design solutions associated with delegated design components. Co-operation and co-ordination of information are required between each discipline involved with the RPR to create explicitly stated delegated design statements within the specifications.

Project architect’s responsibility

The project architect is typically setup as the co-ordinating registered professional, and is responsible for co-ordination in their construction documentation, identifying where delegated design components are described within different disciplines’ construction documentation (including out of house subconsultants).

• Provides explicit descriptions of detailed components that comprise the delegated design components requiring input from an SRP, including:

• Resolving any building science details such as placement of air and vapour control membranes, flashings, and interface between dissimilar building elements, and appropriate fire and acoustic detailing, finishing and esthetic requirements, and building massing affecting architectural design.

• Consult (pick up the phone) with manufacturers of the components being delegated and review their product literature to determine appropriate details necessary for accommodating building conditions, such as deflections and shrinkage, product limitations, and compatibility with adjacent surfaces and materials.

• Call fabricators and manufacturers of adjacent assemblies and materials to determine what the limitations are for those materials attached to products described by the delegated component.

• Provides architectural limitations to the engineering disciplines to determine configurations and interferences with other equally as necessary building systems and structures:

• The authors’ firm uses the term GOYA (get off your a**) to encourage active discussion. It is more efficient to meet and speak with your engineers than to markup drawings or send emails.

• Provides architectural layers indicating extent of construction affected by delegated design, and detailing
for engineering disciplines to prepare and co-ordinate their specifications.

• Provides architectural site review during construction, review of shop drawings, mill certificates, samples and calculations submitted by the SRP, and reviews site reports from third-party testing and inspection agency (if required by the project).

Project engineer’s responsibility

Delegated design requirements must be co-ordinated and clearly indicated in the construction documentation, with explicit agreement between the project structural engineer and project architect for content location.

• Determines appropriate structural limitations for geometry of delegated design components, and technical information appropriate for detail conditions based on the components being delegated.

• Provides drawings containing design loads, load paths, connections, and other conditions required for the SRP to complete their design solution.

• Provides applicable modifiers to design conditions, including nontechnical performance attributes such as architectural appearance or improved installation tolerances, which will affect the SRP’s design solution.

• Provides structural details for connections and interfaces between other building loadbearing elements (when this is a design condition).

• Provides site review during construction; reviews shop drawings, mill certificates, samples and calculations submitted by SRP, and reviews site reports from third-party testing and inspection agency (if required by the project).

Three yes answers = an engineering document.

Manufacturer’s responsibility

Delegation responsibilities of the manufacturer are typically limited to aiding the project architect and project structural engineer. Most delegated design/engineered design solutions are completed by the subcontractor.

• Aids project team to determine maximum permissible geometries of delegated design components, appropriate deflection limits based on project loading conditions, and provides standard details applicable to their products.

• Is aware of assemblies such as trusses or other pre-engineered components that require engineering modification by the manufacturer, and include requirements for subcontractor’s responsibility for the manufacturer when appropriate.

Subcontractor’s responsibility

Engages with an SRP that has explicit and direct experience in the design and engineering analysis of the delegated design component or assembly.

• Derives any standard loadings required to complete design solution based on project location from building code.

• Incorporates RPR’s loading from the construction documentation as a part of the design solution.

• Prepares shop drawings with details necessary for erection, including geometries, sizes, locations of components relative to other structures, connection details, co-ordination of critical installation conditions and related work required by other subcontractors, temporary bracing (if required), and seal and signature of the subcontractor’s SRP.

• Incorporates changes arising from review of shop drawings by the RPR, and resubmits for final review.

• Provides site review (when appropriate and when described as a part of the delegated design) during construction and reports to RPR.

As noted previously, be aware of which entity has direct responsibility for engaging with the SRP. The subcontractor can take on the responsibilities for co-ordination and general support described for the manufacturer when they provide the design solution.

Constructor responsibilities

Co-ordinates appropriate and agreed upon review and rework of shop drawings and other submittals with RPR and SRP for timelines necessary for shop drawing review and potential incorporation of review comments and markups.

Conclusion

Delegated design is not a substitution for appropriate and correct drawing details and specifications and is not used to transfer the RPR’s design liability to the SRP. The SRP remains responsible for the design solution and is accountable for negligence directly associated with the limited scope described by the assignment process.

• The SRP is not responsible for deriving primary engineering in preparation of the technical details associated with the design solution; that responsibility remains with the RPR as is appropriate with consideration for project liability when signing the owner/consultant agreement.

• The RPR does not have the same contractual relationship with the SRP as when specific professional engineering services are being obtained as a part of the professional agreements. This means the constructor must be protected from duties and obligations that form a part of the delivery for building performance responsibilities of the RPR.

• Professional engineering associations across the country recognize the process of delegating design solutions through the construction contract and have written processes to obtain commitment from the SRP for performance of their work while maintaining the design liability of
the RPR.

• Any assignment of professional design risk should be clearly stated within the specification, including minimum insurance coverages and minimum statements of experience with the systems assigned to the SRP.

• Do not use the delegated design process when assigned design components do not require an engineered design solution. Any assignment of non-engineered design is simply that—it is just design—and forms a standard part of shop drawings and product data reviews. The exception to this is where specialized responsibility has been assigned to safety components such as firestopping and fireproofing systems where a certified fire protection specialist, which is handled similarly as delegated design components.

• Describe the requirements and submittal and review process, along with any limitations to design and performance that provide for a more accurate assignment of design responsibility.

Any time there is a requirement for a non-engineering shop drawing in the specification, there is an implied requirement for design assignment. Shop drawings provide the constructor’s design solution and reduce the need for specific details in the construction documentation when the constructor’s role is clearly described in providing the design solution assigned to them.

Designassist is a better alternative than delegated design when working with design-build and construction-managed contract delivery methods, and the preconstruction services arrangement with the owner/client allows for early procurement. Designassist can also work with stipulated price contracts provided the owner/client is kept informed and accepts the process is a standard part of obtaining design solutions for their buildings. The RPR can also directly engage with design assist specialists for their own benefit and engage with these project participants in a similar manner as any other specialist consultant.

Keith Robinson, RSW, FCSC, FCSI, has worked as a specifier since 1981 and is currently an associate at Dialog in Edmonton, Alberta, responsible for research and development of technical specification content. His range of experience includes contract administration, building envelope detailing, and writing construction specifications. In addition to working on projects across Canada and in Egypt, Japan, and Costa Rica, Robinson also instructs courses for the University of Alberta, acts as an advisor to several construction associations and building trades committees, sits on several standards review committees for ASTM and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), He can be reached at krobinson@dialogdesign.ca.

Cameron Franchuk, PE, is a structural engineer at Dialog, where he creates impactful spaces that build communities, but in reality he wears many hats: engineer, educator, and mentor. Franchuk has a deep understanding of architectural concepts and building science. Integration of all disciplines is at the forefront of his thinking throughout a project, from conception to completion. His work on low-, medium-, and high-rise buildings, parkades, and pedways throughout Western Canada has helped shape communities. Franchuk can be reached at cfranchuk@dialogdesign.ca.

Gerald Murnane is an associate, contract administration, with Dialog. He has been in the industry for 44 years in both Ireland and Canada. He joined Dialog in 1988. Murnane has an in-depth background in the design, specification, and management of complex construction projects. He is well respected in the industry for his senior construction administration expertise. Over the years, he has built strong owner/contractor/designer team-based relationships and has a passion for resolving complicated issues as they arise. Murnane can be reached at gmurnane@dialogdesign.ca.

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