Oculus - Spring 2012 - (Page 24)

feature Public Projects, Small Firms, Targeted Tactics Having replaced fee-based bidding with quality-based prequalification, the city’s Department of Design + Construction has been matching talented smaller firms with appropriate projects. The result is civic construction with grandeur, greenness, and verve BY BILL MILLA RD uture senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as an assistant secretary of labor, had an unglamorous assignment: to write a memo on federal office space. Rare indeed is the memo that becomes a manifesto, yet Moynihan’s “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture” came to guide national design policy, directing civic buildings to “embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought,” express the dignity of the national government, reflect regional traditions, avoid an official style, and respect landscape and streetscape contexts. It wasn’t until 1994 that the principles were translated into the Design Excellence Program of the General Service Administration (GSA), under Edward Feiner, FAIA, replacing auto-pilot Neoclassicism and penny-pinching Minimalism with high standards for aesthetics and performance. In July 2004 Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a Design and Construction Excellence (D+CE) Initiative, piloted by the Department of Design + Construction (DDC) under Commissioner David Burney, FAIA, and incorporated into citywide procurement rules in 2006. DDC’s program, says Burney, adds local policies to the goals it shares with GSA’s. Along with quality-based prequalification, a predetermined fee schedule, and a review process involving in-house architectural liaisons and professional peers, a “small firm set-aside” program reserves projects below $15 million for firms with 10 or fewer employees; for projects in the $15–$50 million range, eight larger firms are eligible. The initial RFP process in 2008 identified 24 smaller firms; the second, in 2010, selected 20. The next RFP is expected in summer 2012. F Matchmakers and sherpas As Burney explains, the set-aside responds to the observation that “whatever criteria you use, the big firms always get all the work.” Allocating sub-$15 million projects to small practices promotes project quality, he notes. “For a $5-million library renovation, do you want AECOM?” he asks. “Probably not. You’re going to get better service from the smaller firm,” particularly more hands-on involvement by principals. DDC pairs projects with practices – paying attention to scale – and guides relations among the firm, the city agency serving as client, and community boards or other local stakeholders. 24 Oculus Spring 2012 The D+CE program has been “good about bringing some lesser-known smaller firms into the system – not just the usual suspects,” says participant Belmont Freeman, FAIA. The program can be a ticket to wider recognition for a small or young firm with a strong vision but few realized designs. The emphasis is on a promising portfolio, a familiarity with sustainable-design strategies (mandated by Local Law 86), and an ability to meet schedule and budget demands. “I can’t think of one small firm where we’ve said, ‘They were terrible; we’re not going to use them again,’” Burney says. “To us, it’s a matchmaking process. There are certain projects suited to certain firms, and we’re trying to make that marriage.” “Part of our responsibility is to beat the bureaucratic path ahead of these design firms and keep the process moving,” Burney notes. Guidance through complex municipal procedures is a boon to small firms for whom the paperwork and meetings can be daunting. “We had not realized we have to do so many presentations,” says Anna Torriani, AIA, a principal of Atelier Pagnamenta Torriani. Their branch library on Staten Island (see below) required meetings with the New York Public Library (NYPL) board, the Art Commission (now the Design Commission), and the community board. DDC’s encouragement of innovative design was instrumental in the project’s success. Residents had been asking for a library since 1937, but the abstract design solved certain problems in nontraditional ways, and the prolonged silence after the community presentation was nervewracking. Finally, Torriani recalls, “somebody got up and said, ‘Hallelujah!’ That was the end, and everybody was relieved.” Architects who have navigated city government’s complexities praise DDC even while lambasting other officials. Belmont Freeman Architects has D+CE contracts with both DDC and the Parks Department. “I think it’s a great system,” Freeman says of DDC’s program, “because you knock yourself out on the big RFP prequalification, and once you’re approved as one of the 20 firms, the RFPs that ensue are streamlined. It saves a lot of time for everybody.” On the other hand, construction delays on Freeman’s 59th Street Recreation Center for Parks’ program reveal trouble spots in municipal processes. The original scope of work and budget “had no connection in reality,” Freeman says, and “the mechanism for increasing fees to consultants to design Small Firms Doing Big Things http://www.naylornetwork.com/arc-nxt/

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2012

Letter from the President: Invitation to the Future
A Word from the Editor - Small is the New Big
Center for Achitecture - Center Highlights
Museum Mile Makeover
Opener: Small, Agile Firms Succeed in Lean Times
Public Projects, Small Firms, Targeted Tactics
Small Firm Workplace: The Whole Wide World
Small Size, Big Thinking
Breaking Barriers
Launch Pad to Success
The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age
19-Year Watch
Last Words - Smaller than a Breadbox
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Spring 2012

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