Building with general contractors

In the case of large-scale projects, the client is generally not in a position to carry out the project management themselves. This development all too often works against the architecture. The winners in the game are those who concentrate one-sidedly on budget and deadline fulfilment. The fact that quality is lost as a result is often not recognised or is suppressed.

However, Expo.02 lacked the capacity to manage a major project totalling CHF 450 million, with around 500 mostly experimental individual buildings on five Arteplages and around 180 direct commissions. Only one year was available for realisation. This meant that only one general contractor solution was possible: an average of five general contractors (GCs) were engaged per Arteplage, not including the realisation of the exhibition pavilions. Each exhibition had its own planners and contractors. The same applied to the interior fit-out of the restaurants and VIP lounges.

Construction Arteplages

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Design to cost 

The general contractor tender took place in spring 2000. Only three applications from general contractors were received for the four Arteplages. As a result, Expo.02 declared the Arteplage tendering process a failure. A virtue was made of necessity. Even before the contract was signed - over a period of seven months - the Arteplage projects were detailed and verified together with general contractors. The meticulous preparation had the immense advantage that the project authors and general contractor teams were able to work together in a joint revision process and the cost-optimised revision formed the calculation basis for the general contractor contract. All Expo.02 buildings were assigned to three quality categories for the basis of the contract:

1) Top: The icons of the Arteplages should not suffer any reduction in architectural quality. 
2) Selective: Buildings of high architectural quality. This requirement was limited to the exterior skin and interior design.
3) Waiver of architectural requirements for functional components such as backstages and technical facilities that were out of the visitors' field of vision. This allocation led to a major reorganisation push. Carefully developed special buildings had to be abandoned in favour of screens and 450 containers.

Realisation phase

With the definitive signing of the general contractor contracts in December 2000, the architects were placed under the direct control of the general contractors. This was the right starting point in terms of the construction process, construction cost management and overall responsibility, but it posed a serious threat to the quality of the architecture. Relevant experience with general contractors and the realisation that they focus primarily on costs and deadlines and often perceive quality requirements as disruptive additional expenses led the Directeur Technique to the following questions:

1) How can we prevent the general contractor from replacing the architects with their own technicians?
2) How can the architects be prevented from being starved by minimum fees? 
3) How can the flow of information between the architect and Expo.02 be ensured even without a direct contractual relationship?
4) How are the architectural quality of the subcontractors' workshop plans checked and approved?
5) How will materialisation and its qualitative implementation be ensured on site?
6) In the event of conflict (e.g. disagreement on execution plans), how can sufficient time be reserved to work out alternative solutions? And without apologising: ‘Sorry, you're too late. We're already concreting?’
7) How can the client exclude the general contractor's claim management, especially if the project definition is inadequate?
8) Conversely, how must general contractor management be safeguarded so that large-scale projects with 500 individual projects, half of which are critical in terms of the timeline, can be realised on time and on budget? - To put it more concretely: How does the client Expo.02 behave if a team of architects is so strongly protected within the general contractor agreement that it can push through practically all its design requirements - regardless of feasibility, deadline and cost pressure? Where does the decision-making authority lie in the event of a conflict?

Innovative contracts

In contrast to the normal handling of a construction project with general contractors, Expo.02 had developed a network of key provisions in the interests of maximising architectural quality. These were de facto the contractual answers 
to the eight questions posed:

1) Protection against cancellation

The general contractors were bound to the competition winners: Architects, landscape architects, engineers, lighting specialists, scenographers. The project authors could not be dismissed without the consent of Expo.02.

2) Remuneration of the design teams

The scope of services and the corresponding remuneration in accordance with SIA were calculated in advance and contractually stipulated. 

3) Obligation to notify the client

Even without a contractual relationship with Expo.02, the project authors had a duty to report to the Direction Technique in the event that the general contractors made simplifications that would have been detrimental to the architectural quality.

4) Plan approval

All architectural projects in the Top and Selective quality categories could only be realised if the corresponding plans had been approved by the architects. This also applied to the architecturally relevant workshop plans of the subcontractors.

5) Construction samples

Samples of all architecturally important components had to be produced on site on a scale of 1:1. They had to be approved jointly by the Direction Technique and the architects.

6) Time window for conflict resolution

In every conflict situation, 14 working days had to be reserved in order to be able to work out adjustments or alternative solutions. The scheduling had to take this into account accordingly

7) No additional claims

To avoid claim management, the architecture-related projects had to be included in the general contractor agreement in as much detail as possible. Where this was not possible, framework budgets and time frames for subsequent tenders had to be contractually predefined. Both the tendering and invoicing processes had to be disclosed and verifiable for Expo.02's cost controllers. This meant that the savings achieved by the general contractors could largely be used again in favour of the Expo.02 buildings.

8) Deputy decision by the Directeur Technique

In return, the architects largely waived their copyright: if they refused to approve the plans or 1:1 scale models, the Directeur Technique could have the plans and models changed or approve them himself in a project-threatening situation.

Quality is not a product of chance

The management of architectural quality assurance is an extremely strenuous task. All situations that have not been thought through in advance usually work against the quality of the project: If quality assurance is taken over solely by economists or lawyers, it will certainly be lost. Even the best contract is useless if the parties involved do not know how to play through the differentiated instruments of quality assurance in every detail.

The realisation phase in 2001 bitterly confirmed the need for quality assurance measures in practically all areas. The Directeur Technique took proxy decisions in around 65 cases. What Expo.02 visitors took for granted as architectural quality was not a matter of course. Rather, it was the result of sophisticated project development and management and a great deal of contractual assertiveness. The large-scale experimental Expo.02 project showed how co-operation between the client, architects and general contractor can lead to architectural excellence, even within tight budgets and deadlines. 

Ruedi Rast, Directeur Technique, Architecture.Expo.02, 2003