In the case of complicated urban public realm project, the list of consultants can be extensive and an owner must know how to hire the right ones at the right time and task them with providing the right amount and type of information at key points throughout the process. Below is a list of consultants that may be hired during the course of a project, in roughly chronological order starting at the beginning:
Review existing government data and physically survey the site to determine the nature and location of all existing features including topography, buildings and structures, curb cuts, parking areas, landscape areas. The survey will also show all manholes, utility lines, sanitary and storm sewers, electrical, phone, and water lines, above ground and buried, both on site, on adjacent properties, and in public rights-of-ways. The survey will inform many of your decisions regarding locations of new structures and site access. The survey describes the property in dimensions (feet and inches) and locates it in three-dimensional space relative to other properties (and relative to sea level, 830’ here in the Twin Cities). The survey will also show all easements for example, city right of way, utility easements, and access and maintenance easements.
Sample soils on site, survey existing structures, take samples of building materials and perform laboratory tests to determine composition. Evaluate, recommend action, specify, bid, and award work related to cleaning up contaminated soil, removal and disposal of underground storage tanks (USTs), asbestos containing materials (ACMs), fluorescent light bulbs (coatings on the inside), switches (mercury), and abandoned elevator pits and plungers (hydraulic oil). Cleaning up a contaminated site can be costly but worse is proceeding with work based on inadequate investigation and having to stop work and do an unexpected and costly cleanup on the fly. Sometimes site excavation uncovers historic objects or features that are significant, requiring the addition of archeological services to the team.
Obtain and review historical data for subsurface conditions on surrounding sites. Many geotechnical consultants have deep local knowledge of the geological character of the region and have done work on nearby projects. Based on this information and preliminary development plans showing new building or structure locations (where bearing capacity for foundations will matter the most), as well as parking and landscaped areas. Core drill in strategic locations, dig “test pits,” and perform laboratory tests on cores and soil samples to determine bearing capacity of subsurface soils and rock, identify underground water issues, and recommend foundation systems type(s) to structural engineer based upon anticipated loads. In other words, the weight of a building including concrete, steel, walls, furniture, and occupants, is transferred from beams horizontally to columns and then vertically down to footings which must be able to support the specific calculated load on each column. Foundation system costs can vary significantly depending upon soil quality so you don’t want to skimp on this work. For example, simple spread footings on good soil or bedrock a few feet below grade are very cost effective but piles driven 180’ into soil with a lot of decomposed organic matter are very expensive. More important, even on a small site, subsurface conditions can vary dramatically affecting design decisions about building locations and foundation types.
For many municipalities, such as Minneapolis, a site plan is required for preliminary development review (PDR) at the very inception of a project and this often means not only buildings, structures, and civil engineering but also a plan for trees, plantings, green space, and fences as well as for “impervious” surface areas such as parking lots, sidewalks, and roofs. The site plan is typically produced by the landscape architect or the architect or both (depending upon the nature of the project) and in collaboration with the civil engineer.
Civil engineers are responsible for designing the project site plan from the standpoint of making connections between services in the building (electricity, water, sanitary sewer, storm sewer), to underground and above ground utilities on site and in public streets and rights-of-way, working with the landscape architect to design grading plans that coordinate with the landscape design but ensure that the entire project site drains correctly, to designing parking lots, driveways and sidewalks, and storm water management systems for cases when the local storm sewer does not have enough capacity.
Often the first consultant hired for a building project, the architect helps an owner to program and shape their ideas and to create sketches and designs that take into account current codes, building standards, construction types, budgetary considerations, and project goals. First an architect develops a “program,” which in its simplest terms is a list of all of the needs of the building, including all rooms identified by name and required square feet. This list is summed and a “grossing factor” is applied that increases the total square footage to account for non-program areas such as mechanical rooms, stair and elevator shafts, and even janitor closets. This program is used when the architect begins to develop alternative plans of the building, as well as cross-sections showing numbers of floors, and elevations of the exterior of the building. Over the course of the design phase and once an alternative has been selected, the architect refines these drawings and specifications adding more and more information based upon input from the owner and the contractor.
Construction Manager or Owner’s Representative:
Hiring and managing all of these different consultants can be a lot of work, and for large projects, some owners sometimes hire a construction manager, a project manager, or an owner’s representative. These consultants will help hire and manage the design consultants and the construction team on behalf of the owner.
In addition to these typical consultants, a project may require the services of any number of more specialized consultants including historic preservation, lighting design, security, special equipment, art broker, branding and graphic design (logos, identity, web-site, signage), public relations, sustainability, archeology, planting soils, arborists, and lighting, to name just a few.