Alison Landry, the newly appointed associate commissioner of alternative delivery in New York City’s Department of Design and Construction, wants to change how contractors approach design-build in the city.
Landry’s appointment, announced in August, signals a new focus on alternative delivery methods. Licensed architect Landry has helped build out the city’s framework for design-build jobs through a pilot program that now encompasses seven public buildings and three infrastructure projects, with an additional eight projects in the pipeline.
Here, Landry discusses upcoming projects, goals for her new job and what builders need to know about design-build in the New York City area.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What are your immediate goals in your new role?
ALISON LANDRY: My primary focus is to build an adaptive framework that will ensure we’re successfully using alternative methods to deliver capital projects that meet New York City’s increasingly complex and urgent needs.
Our team is building out a brand new program to pilot alternatives to delivering projects outside of the incredibly limiting and ineffective lowest bidder system that the city has been forced by state law to use for more than a century. The way the city delivers complex capital projects is inefficient — it takes too long and it’s not how projects are built in the private sector or even at the state government level.
We have limited permission to use design-build for certain projects, but the city and taxpayers would see tremendous benefits if we had latitude to select the right delivery tool for each project, and could use CM-build, CM-at-risk and other popular contracting methods in addition to design-build.
This is a significant change from how city government has traditionally contracted to build our projects. Administering a design-build contract is very different from the traditional lowest bidder design-bid-build process.
What is the state of the New York City construction market at the moment?
New York City is always a very dynamic market, and even more so now with the interrelated environmental factors of cost escalations, supply chain and labor. We’re looking at tools to help support our industry partners to remove some of the uncertainty that can come with doing business with the city.
For example, we’re piloting the use of a guaranteed maximum price mechanism to provide greater flexibility after contract award, but also setting parameters to ensure that administering this contract isn’t overly burdensome.
Are there any upcoming projects that you have your eye on for alternative delivery methods?
We already have a growing design-build pilot program that includes seven public buildings projects — civic buildings such as operations centers for the Parks Department — and three infrastructure projects, including future safety improvements along parts of Lexington Avenue.
At one new Parks operations center, we’re projecting a time savings of three full years using design-build instead of lowest bidder contracting. And we’re doing it with fewer disruptions because our designers and our contractors are working together, not in opposition to each other as is often the case with design-bid-build.
What do contractors need to know about using alternative delivery methods in the city?
They need to know that it’s going to be a different experience for them than any city work they’ve done before. It’s going to be faster, more cooperative and more satisfying with fewer bureaucratic roadblocks.
They should also know that contractors do not need design-build experience to be eligible for our program. Contractors and designers also don’t need to have prior experience working together to pursue new work together.
We want teams to demonstrate that their staff and team members are capable and qualified to perform design-build work, but it’s important as we set up our program that direct experience isn’t a limiting factor. We’re also eager to engage with the industry and to be an owner of choice and position our industry partners to take ownership of this work.
Do you think alternative delivery methods, like design-build, are the future of construction?
What we call alternative delivery methods are indeed the future of city construction, but they’re already the present for almost everybody else. When I talk to people from government agencies around the country, they can’t believe that we’re constrained the way we are and until there’s change in Albany (New York’s capital) we will continue to be restricted by outdated business models.
There’s tremendous potential for the city to be successful delivering high-quality, timely work when the delivery team is integrated, selected based on quality and best value and fully coordinated at the onset of the project. A key consideration for us is the volume of resource-intensive procurements that can occur simultaneously. This is a factor for our staff as well as for the industry.
We’re hopeful that tools like progressive design-build and CM-build work well with the variety of project constraints.
What should builders know about the market, and what the DDC is looking for in contractors that work with the city?
They should know that our commitment to Minority and Women-Owned Businesses remains very high and we see alternative, value-based contracting as a tool that will allow us to increase MWBE contract awards even higher.
It’s important for us to support emerging MWBEs not just to account for historic inequities but also to expand the pool of firms competing for our contracts, and we take our role very seriously.