Implementing Design Excellence Through Design Build

by Jonah Cohen

For the last few years, I’ve participated in a regional initiative examining how the Federal Government’s Design Excellence Program, started in 1990 and overseen by the U.S. General Services Administration, might be applied at the state level through programs, guidelines and case studies. This discussion began at the 2010 Oregon Design Conference, and THA since has had the opportunity to work on a project for the Oregon Military Department (OMD), the Colonel James Nesmith Readiness Center for the Oregon National Guard’s 162nd Engineering Company, which tangibly manifested this goal.

Like many private and public entities dealing with the current recession, the OMD faced a lean budget that threatened to compromise the training facilities it could provide for its volunteer soldiers. In the interest of economics, the OMD had already been looking to adopt a design-build delivery, but Colonel Christian Rees, a 2010 Design Conference attendee and then senior officer in charge of facilities planning for the OMD (as well as a U of O Architecture School graduate), was inspired to integrate design-build delivery with values set forth in Design Excellence/Oregon. Spurred by Col. Rees and his assistant, James Williford, the OMD selected THA and general contractor Lease Crutcher Lewis in a rigorous process defined by strict design-build and Design Excellence guidelines. This was the State’s first such selection process, and from the beginning it established benchmarks that guided the project.

With the center nearly complete, we’re reflecting on what has made this experiment a successful, win-win endeavor for all stakeholders. The lack of precedent for integrating design-build and Design Excellence has given us an opportunity to demonstrate its potential, and raised the bar for the OMD, which is already pursuing a second project using this delivery method. Being part of a design-build team allowed us to develop powerful and cost effective solutions. For example, the initial heavy timber structure of the assembly hall was – by necessity – required to be “value-engineered.” The resulting more cost effective solution utilized conventional steel trusses concealed by a scrimmed wood lattice ceiling, which we believe to be more compelling than the original design concept. Our relationship with Lease Crutcher Lewis was another key factor. Having worked with them on two previous projects that used the CMGC delivery method, the trust, knowledge and mutual respect were already there, allowing us to focus on the common values and goals that directed the project from start to finish.

The 40,000-sf center offers a concrete example of how collective advocacy for good design can become manifest in the real world. Located in an agrarian setting just outside Dallas, Oregon, the training center brings together the tenets of design excellence – timelessness, connection to place, human scale, and structural and material integrity – with on-time, on-budget project delivery. Most importantly for us, it provides the men and women who serve our state during times of disaster and threat with an uplifting facility that lends dignity to both its users and the surrounding community. By serving as a highly functional training and recruitment facility and a community venue, the center welcomes both Guard members and civilians to contribute to the life of the building, over time generating a unique sense of place.

Photos: Lara Swimmer

1 Comment »

  1. Bart Ricketts says:

    great piece, Jonah. Design / Build & Design Excellence co-exist and thrive together….when the parameters / priorities are clear, all participants are engaged in the process, and the design team & Construction team have high levels of trust & respect. –bart

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