Ahead of our Integrative Design: Redefining the Practice of Sustainability talk next Thursday at Trespa Design Centre, we asked Marcus Sheffer (7Group) to share his thoughts on what integrative design is and the best ways to implement it across our industry.
What Integrative Design Is—And Isn't
Sheffer notes that 7Group prefers the term integrative design rather than integrated design, to better frame the practice as an ongoing process. An integrative process, he says, is purpose-driven and cross-disciplinary from the beginning, with a focus on analysis, value, and performance outcome. Whereas conventional practice tends to be siloed and only marginally interdisciplinary, integrative design is centered on continuous improvement. One example of this is budgeting: costs are considered with regard to the lifespan of the project, rather than as basic line items.
It seems simple, but Sheffer says understanding of integrative design is still somewhat superficial in the market. “Ask almost any designer if they practice integrative design and the answer will be yes,” he says. But dig a little deeper, and what many designers mean by this is that coordinate closely with the other members of the design/build process. And coordination is not the same as integration, says Sheffer.
One analogy that comes to mind is the food industry: imagine the industrial food model with its disparate parties—farmers, processors, distributors, retailers—versus a seamless farm-to-fork approach. Or the production of works of art in an assembly line versus creation by one mind and body. The key difference is that conventional practice follows an industrial model while integrative practice tries to emulate a living system.
Practice Makes Perfect
Inertia and misunderstanding are the top barriers to implementation today, says Sheffer. It’s very tempting to stick to “the way we’ve always done it,” especially when one isn’t aware of the alternatives. The antidote is education and practice, beginning at the college level and continuing into professional development training across all disciplines. There have already been inroads, like AIA’s Integrated Project Delivery Guide and the ANSI Integrative Process Guide, as well a LEED credit to encourage the practice.
While vertical integration of design and construction firms is helpful, Sheffer says the best model for encouraging integrative design is a design-build approach. Closer proximity between teams can encourage higher degrees of integration, and the involvement of builders is a vital element. “The more the whole team is on the same page from the very beginning, the more likely that integrative practice will succeed,” says Sheffer.