What is Constructability, Anyways?


Constructability is a term used within the construction community and is defined in different ways depending on your source. The Law Insider has two definitions that ring true to our understanding of the term:

Definition 1
The creative, organized process of reviewing a project’s drawings, specifications and other project documentation with a goal of eliminating design, detailing, and specification problems which might render the construction contract documents unbuildable or requiring extensive Addenda or Change Orders to make them buildable.

Definition 2
Review of design and construction documents by an expert in construction to advise on feasibility, practicality and effectiveness of the proposed construction methods, materials, and process.

A constructability review, or rather, a series of them, are generally completed during the preconstruction process of any given project, with teams reviewing a number of factors to determine whether the project is designed in the most appropriate manner to meet cost, functional goals, and schedule.

Contractor Responsibilities for Constructability Reviews

When an owner utilizes a procurement strategy that involves a contractor during the initial design development stages, such as with a negotiated design-build or GMP contract model, the team has the opportunity to provide constructability feedback. This is in contrast to a Design-Bid-Build model, in which the design team completes construction documents ahead of contractor involvement that limits a contractor’s ability to review the documents and provide constructability feedback.

During the design development phase, the general contractor and design teams are responsible for reviewing documents at each stage of design document issuance and contributing their knowledge in assessing many factors. First and foremost, these reviews must consider the design as it relates to the owner’s end goals to ensure that they match.

Additionally, these reviews may include the evaluation of:

  • Materials use
  • Construction timing and its impact to existing conditions
  • Site logistics
  • Temporary shoring/bracing that may be required
  • Phasing strategies to optimize the schedule
  • Subcontractor recruitment strategies
  • Equipment clearances required
  • Test fitting building enhancements against project cost and schedule
  • End-user needs
  • Local building code restrictions
  • Environmental concerns, such as displacement of local wildlife
  • Sustainability goals

Contractors should review the design drawings to ensure that what is written in ink translates to a building that meets the needs of the owner in terms of schedule, price, function, and sustainability. Their findings must be transparent and communicated to all team members so that designs can be modified.

How is Constructability Communicated?

Communicating items that are noted during a constructability review may be achieved in several ways:

  • Red-lined drawings with proposed changes noted and/or described in a narrative
  • Alternate line items in updated budget documents that note the cost impacts for suggested changes compared to the design documents
  • Formal Request for Information (RFI) documents suggesting changes or clarifications to the work.

It is advisable that proposed changes be reviewed either in-person or through virtual meetings to discuss identified items, proposed changes and the path forward. Ideally, a log or meeting minutes are maintained to document changes over time, which serves as both a historic record of changes as well as reference point to keep the team moving forward on a single path.

Is Constructability an Art or a Science?

Efficient construction projects are built on a foundation of consistent processes, but constructability is more of an art than a science. It combines solid research with past experience and future planning to truly identify possible efficiencies or problems. To truly look at constructability, the project team must be able to plan out each step of the building process to evaluate a wide variety of factors, for example:

  • Does the site allow for proper clearances to erect tilt wall panels or steel members?
  • Can a mobile crane be utilized for picking materials or is a tower crane more appropriate?
  • Are existing building components going to hinder the installation of new components and if so, what alternative materials can be used instead?
  • How do we transition from the various material finishes?
  • Will the proposed products arrive in time to meet the project schedule?
  • Will the exterior finishes hold up to the local weather conditions over time?
  • Are there alternative materials that meet the intent of the design that are more sustainable?
  • What phasing will be required to keep the building occupied?
  • Are there faster means of installing the same product?
  • Can certain building scopes be self-performed instead of hired out?
  • What equipment, like scaffolding, can be erected to speed installations, and can that equipment be shared by multiple trades?

Many of these examples can be researched to find solutions, but the best path forward often comes from reviewing past experience, talking with trade partners about lead times or availability, and discussing building phasing with end-users. Additionally, to really dig into constructability, the team reviewing the drawings must understand not only the individual components, but also the function of those components to the structure and/or end user. Some items may be required by code and are therefore unable to be substituted. Some may cost more than alternative materials but have a much longer anticipated life span.

Much of a constructability review hinges on how all of the components will fit together in the order of operations for construction. For instance, a review of the building site layout or the function of an existing space may lend itself to pre-fabricating certain building components offsite. Alternatively, pre-fabrication options should be evaluated against onsite construction methods. These evaluations assist in finding the most efficient solutions for time, cost, sustainability, and quality.

The Key to Constructability

The most important factor in constructability reviews is to have the general contractor on board prior to the completion of design. Ideally, the contractor is added to the team at the conceptual phase of design and assists through completion. While these reviews can, and often do, take place after a hard bid, the general contracting team can typically do little to influence the schedule and cost of the work without having the opportunity to lend their knowledge during the design process.

Construction is best completed when all parties – the owner, design team, end-user and contractor – approach it as a team, seeking to meet the owner’s goals while optimizing cost, schedule, aesthetics, sustainability, and minimizing disruptions to the surrounding neighborhood and/or building users.

If you have a building concept in mind and what to discuss it further, please contact us today!