Few can remember exactly when or how the great divide between design and construction management/site supervision on publicly funded projects in the US came about. The reason why is more easily recalled. Most remember that the separation was imposed in efforts to keep the designer honest. To deny the opportunity to hide design mistakes during construction. The merits of the concept can be argued but the practicalities of its implementation are cause for concern.

When should the construction management team be engaged for example? At what stage in the design process should managers and engineers of the site supervision team be involved in knowing and understanding design? How familiar with design does the construction management/site supervision team need to be? If construction management is the link between what is designed and what is being built, it is rather late in the day at the start of construction for clients to realize there is a lack of knowledge on site.

Further, what is the real responsibility of construction management? Under what circumstances is the designer called in to provide ‘technical assistance during construction’ and who is responsible for making the call? And when? If the designer’s assistance is called too late (or not at all) in the run up to a subsequent disaster or serious problem, whose fault is that?

In signing off on design, the design engineer and consulting firm accepts full professional liability for the integrity of the design but can the designer be held responsible for the integrity of the design in construction, and for the design life of the structure, if the firm has had no active role in site supervision? Who is to decide if problems on site are as a result of poor design, contractor error, or ineffective construction supervision?

&#8220What is the liability of the construction supervision team?”

There are few places to hide if design is found to be at fault , particularly on tunneling projects. Ground conditions worse than anticipated, mistakes of dimension, unrealistic cost estimates soon become evident. The consequences of contractor error are also readily applied as fines for safety violations, repair costs for equipment failures, and penalties for program errors that lead to delay. What are the mechanisms in place for identifying construction management or site supervision failures? If found wanting, what are the penalties or consequences?

Unless accepted in the most diligent and astute manner, construction management is a contract of administration and record keeping. This is not to diminish the importance of these aspects of a contract, but when these services are divorced from professional liability for serious construction problems on site, construction management is a plum job for the growing number of construction management companies.

Under those circumstances, who would be a designer when you can go for construction management? It is long understood that the fixed fees for time and overheads make the construction management and site supervision phase of a project lucrative. Design services on the other hand are squeezable and to the point where a designer said recently of a current project that the construction management is worth as much as the design contract. When construction management/ site supervision was an extension of the design contract, a balance seemed to be achieved and the thread of responsibility was maintained. In today’s environment with design and construction management under separated contracts, it can be small wonder that company directors ask engineers “are you mad?” when the proposal is to be the project’s designer, particularly on tunneling projects that involve higher design and construction risk.

Design in tunneling is rarely a blue print for trouble-free construction – but that it were – and the success of the project from design to operation hinges on responsible and effective construction management and site supervision. Having succeeded in separating design from construction in the US, new methods of procurement, such as design-build, seem to be in response to an instinctive urge to link them together once again.