Germany: The Architect as General Planner

Germany: The Architect as General Planner

The role of the General Planner in Germany is becoming increasingly important. In this article, Ruprecht Melder, a director of Chapman Taylor in Dusseldorf, discusses the benefits of appointing one architect as the prime consultant who in turn appoints all sub-consultants.

In Germany, architects are increasingly taking on the role of ‘Generalplaner’, literally “general planner”, also referred to as the “prime consultant”.

The trend is to appoint one architect who then acts as the prime consultant who appoints all sub-consultants. 

The general planner would typically then appoint consultants in disciplines such as architecture, structural engineering, building services engineering, building physics, traffic, fire protection engineering and landscape design.

This new way of working is an alternative to the traditional method of organising projects, where clients would historically appoint all the separate consultants themselves. 

Architecture - how the profession has changed

The architect's role has been subject to constant change throughout history. In early antiquity, architecture was a skilled crafts trade.

In ancient Rome, Vitruvius realised that in order to deal with complex building projects, the architect's general and professional knowledge needed to be broad and extensive. The architect also had to present his client with a graphic representation of the proposed building in the form of drawings, have a good command of mathematics, and be able to provide an overview of total costs. The architect became a generalist; he was simultaneously a designer, engineer, project manager, writer and scientist.

In the Middle Ages, the classical occupational profile of the architect disappeared, and it was only during the Renaissance and Baroque periods that architecture as a profession began once again to gain importance. During this period, the architect acted as both designer and engineer. 

By the end of the 18th century, separating the roles of architect and engineer would have been inconceivable. However, with the development of new materials – such as structural steel - and the new forms of construction that came with them, design and engineering became separate disciplines.

Industrialisation in the 19th century led to rapid economic growth and technological progress. This period saw massive developments in building materials technology, while the scope of design tasks grew as new building types (e.g. apartment blocks, fire stations, schools, etc.) were built. Architects were now trained in what became a separate academic discipline, primarily specialising in the design of buildings.

Despite their varied areas of responsibility over the course of history, architects were among the few points of contact with responsibility for the design and implementation of construction projects. However, this changed in the more recent past.

The technical complexity and legal requirements of construction projects increased steadily during the 20th century to such an extent that, in the last 40 years, many new specialist fields of design and engineering became necessary. Many of the tasks of the once ‘generalist architect’ became the remit of specialist consultants.

The Client and the Project Team

Broadly speaking, clients need to appoint three different groups of professionals to realise a construction project: the architect, consultants and construction contractors.

The client's task is to instruct the project parties on time and to agree which group does what task.

The direct appointment of sub-consultants by the client is still the most common method in small construction projects. For large projects, however, this model is becoming less popular. The many consultants needed to realise projects means that clients need to juggle an increasing number of parties.

The complex nature of construction makes it increasingly difficult for the client to make decisions on time, or to clarify interfaces and liability issues among the project team.

Different concepts have been developed to take some of the burden off the client. Project managers, for instance, are appointed by the client to represent their interests and support them in their activities.

The project manager is responsible for drawing up and coordinating the programme for the whole project, for setting up and monitoring organisational plans and for programmes and payment schedules related to the project and the project team.

Although engaging a project manager has the benefit of unburdening the client of some of their activities, it does not solve the problem of the many interfaces between individual consultants and related liability risks.

The problem is solved by the general planning model, which replaces the traditional project organisation where design and engineering services are appointed separately.

The general planner delivers all the usual specialist consulting services required for a project, is a single contractual partner for design and engineering and therefore takes on overall responsibility.

At the construction end of projects, the practice of awarding separate contacts to each trade - traditional in Germany - is simplified by appointing a general contractor, who, in a similar manner to the general planner, takes on the responsibility for all construction work.

The method which transfers most responsibility from the client is the design-build model. Responsibility for both design and construction is lifted from the client and transferred to the contractor.

This method is well established in many countries. In Germany, however, the design-build method has proven itself only in projects where the design is well-defined from the outset.

The transfer of the control of design to the contractor carries with it the risk of reduced quality, and significant additional costs, as a result of design changes.
 

General Planning  

The general planning package typically includes the classic disciplines such as architecture, structural engineering, building services engineering, building physics, traffic, fire protection engineering and landscape design.

As a rule, the architect assumes the role of lead consultant and appoints sub-consultants to undertake work in the other disciplines for which they have been engaged.

The prime consultant undertakes a range of coordination tasks, as well as managing and coordinating his specialist design consultants' works.

He carries responsibility for all of the services assigned to them, particularly in respect to design, programme and costs.

Benefits of a General Planning Package

With a general planning package, the client has only one contractual partner. This form of contract is comparable to a general contractor agreement, whereby the general contractor alone deals with the individual construction trades.

The benefit to the client of employing a general planner, in comparison to individual consultants, is that it saves time and administrative work. Furthermore, bundling design areas means that the client is not involved in the time-consuming process of coordinating individual members of the project team.

The general planner assumes liability for the individual design services, and provides the client with a guarantee that the individual design services, including all interfaces, are correct.

The blurred nature of individual design interfaces can result in costly variations when operating on an individual contracts basis. In a full general planner contract, the architect as prime consultant covers all interfaces.

The time-consuming business of identifying the causes of design errors is eliminated because the general planner assumes sole liability for all design errors.

In a general planner package, design coordination with the specialist design consultants is carried out in an interdisciplinary way and not, as is the norm for individual contracts, in an additive way.

For the client, this process has the advantage that the planning processes proceed more quickly. Effective coordination of design works saves time and the cost-intensive duplication of work.

Thanks to the early coordination of the design process, and the minimisation of unclear planning interfaces, the client receives cost certainty at a fairly early stage of the project.

Projects based on traditional individual contracts can experience delays in the design process because the necessary drawings are not delivered on time by the specialist design consultants. Delay caused by the late delivery of drawings by individual specialist design consultants is minimised because the general planner bears liability for the flow of the entire programme.

The general planner is free to choose their own sub-consultants, and is therefore able to influence the quality of the overall project design.

The general planner owes the client a coherent overall concept. The client no longer needs to muster the expertise to make decisions relating to individual areas of the project design.

Drawbacks of a General Planner Package

The client has only one contractual design partner. In the event of a premature termination of the contract, insolvency or withdrawal, the client may need to put together a new project team from scratch, which would inevitably lead to considerable delays and additional expense.

The general planner receives an additional fee for the increased coordination responsibilities and liability risks.

The client is no longer involved in the project management process of coordinating specialist design consultants, since this is run via the general planner. The client's management and control options are therefore reduced, and the design process becomes slightly less transparent for the client.

Concluding Observations

The benefits of running a project with an architect acting as the general planner far outweigh any drawbacks, both for the client and for the architect.

Thanks to the lead design consultancy role, the architect becomes a generalist and returns to the architect's classic function. The coordination tasks, and the architect's influence on the project, are significantly increased, and result in an improvement in the overall project design.

With the general planning package, the client has the advantage of dealing with only one partner with respect to complex design processes, and of enjoying greater time and cost certainties.

For international investors looking at the German market, the general planner model is very attractive because they only need to engage with a single point of contact, and don't have to deal with different specialist consultant disciplines. 

About the Author

Ruprecht Melder (Dipl. Ing. Architekt (Univ.))

Director, Düsseldorf

Ruprecht joined Chapman Taylor in 1995 and is responsible for the design and delivery of retail, office and hospitality projects in our Düsseldorf studio. He became joint Managing Director in 2013 to support the growth of the business and continues to oversee project work in Germany and Austria.

He has successfully established the role of 'General planner' within the Düsseldorf studio and has an established track record leading general planner teams on large-scale projects. 

Areas of expertise:

General Planner / Retail / Mixed-use / Offices 

caret-down-skewed caret-down-thin caret-down caret-left-thick caret-left-white caret-left caret-right-thick caret-right-white caret-right caret-up chinese cross download english facebook grid linked-in list mail map pinterest play-button reset search-nobg search-square share twitter views wechat youtube