The Arch-MEP Saga 10 Years Later: A Personal Tirade

I started on my green building path in the 1990’s. Since then, the number one complaint I’ve heard is about the architect/MEP engineer deadlock. There is rarely an architecture firm that I talk to that is happy with the MEP engineers they are working with (in the context of sustainability) and very few MEP firms speak glowingly of the access and inclusion they get from the firms. Come on people – its 2014!!! Have we made no progress on this critical relationship???

Of course the owners/clients have a role here too, with budgetary and sometimes timing constraints on how and when consultants can be brought in. But still.

If it IS happening, it can happen. There are great examples of successful working relationships out there, but they are still too few and far between.


It is inexcusable that an industry populated by such intelligent and thoughtful professionals can tolerate this level of dysfunction for so long. A dysfunction that not only affects the first and ongoing costs and performance of projects but one that has such disturbing impacts on the environment and public health.

Architects, you need to own your relationship. Stop whining about what’s not working and start being clear about what you want and how you want to get it. Work with your engineering partners and figure out how you can meet both the client’s demands and your own internal sustainability goals. If partners or principals in the firm have the mindset of “I’m not letting an engineer touch the project before I’ve designed it” (direct quote, I swear) – make sure you are institutionalizing processes and methodologies that won’t allow that mindset to define (and undermine) the project. Suffering in silence with the rampant dysfunction isn’t serving anyone.

Engineers, I know you are at the beck and call of the architects. You serve at their whim. I get that. That shouldn’t stop you from developing your own stance and leadership on the issue. Make the case for when you need to get involved and how you need to work to be able to deliver the best sustainability work. Engage your clients outside of the context of immediate projects and budgets. Don’t allow the mindset of “we’re just here to make it work” drag your firm down– encourage the mindset of “quality design” and being an educator for your clients. Use your best, most collaborative projects to show your less involved clients a vision for what future could be. Seek to understand what your clients are not happy with and engage them in dialogue.

Owners, some of you may not even be aware of what you’re losing due to the dysfunction of the “business as usual” A/E relationship. First costs, operating costs, occupant satisfaction–ultimately, it all comes back to you. You have the power to create conditions that are conducive to collaboration and systems integration, or to silos and fragmentation. It’s the single biggest design impact on your project cost and on the long term maintainability of your property.  Often, you struggle with lack of clarity internally about how to get what you want, or (sometimes violent) disagreement amongst your internal team about priorities. Too frequently, you are not clear enough about your expectations to the design team – not just about performance goals and operational goals but also about the process you want them to go through. None of this is rocket science. All of this is achievable and has been achieved in a small percentage of projects (relatively). You are the source. The stronger you drive your goals and the methods you want to reach them by, the more you benefit.

Neither side has the complete answer. This is a collaborative relationship that exists in the context of the owner’s prerogative. No one is going to “get to 2030” unless we fix this problem and it’s not going to happen on its own. Clearly. It’s been more than 15 years and the progress we’ve made is nothing to be proud of. We can do better. We must do better.

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