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William L. Shannon, Editor

William L. Shannon, Editor of CISCA

It's Really Quite Incredible!

for the November / December 2002 Issue, CISCA's Interior Construction Magazine

Individuals involved in the commercial construction industry are aware of the perceived necessity of "Three Equals". Although fraught with misinterpretation, it is a commonly used tool to attempt to foster and even assure competition in publicly funded projects.

It is generally accepted, by some, that the approach is necessary to avoid conflicts of interest, or unfair competition, and to assure the public the best possible product at the best possible price. Whether or not the system works as advertised is open to much debate, but after all, the argument goes, "it is public money"!

Accepting this approach too many is troublesome, to say the least! But why in the world would this concept be adopted in the private sector?

Private sector commercial construction encompasses many differing types of projects. Private Schools, Private University Buildings, Corporate Headquarter Buildings, Museums, Performing Arts Centers, Theatres, Hospitals and Health Care Facilities, to name a few. Why would the owners of these facilities ever accept "or equal" for any of the components comprising their outstanding projects? Would any of us accept this concept in our personal lives?

Take a moment to delve into the ownership of these facilities or the source of funds for building them, and you will most certainly find that the funding, the basis of financial support for these projects, generally stems from innovation, imagination, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial talent.

Isn't it odd that these institutions would accept, for a moment, the lowest common denominator for inclusion in their prestigious project? Are the benefactors of the projects aware of the limitations?

Recently a major new hospital research facility was announced. A family was graciously donating more than $20,000,000 towards the design and construction of this magnificent $50,000,000 structure. The benefactor's fortune was amassed through a series of proprietary product developments in the automotive industry. The new Center was to carry the family's name.

Interestingly the architect was directed, by the institution, to have at least three names for each product on this project. If a product was unique, with no equals, it was not considered, guaranteeing that the most innovative new products would not be included. The funding for the building was created by proprietary innovation. The project was to be deprived of similar construction product or system innovation and guaranteed to contain only "me too" technology. Does the hospital limit their operating procedures to "three or equals"?

This happens every day at major universities, as well. Universities known world wide for their ground breaking technological advances. In these same institutions, students are carefully cultivated to use their imagination, "think outside of the box", develop new and exciting concepts. Simultaneously the architects for the university's new buildings are directed to use only products available from at least three manufacturers, ignoring the product differentiation that often insures excellence. Eliminating new and innovative products and systems! Does that make any sense? Are The Universities Computer systems limited to "three equals"?

Imagine a new high technology company, created and prospering due to Their New Proprietary Products, limiting the architect of their new headquarters building to only products available from three or more manufacturers. Seems strange, doesn't it?

Obviously most construction projects have a budget, and the commensurate concern regarding the cost of various high profile components. The real issue is how to design and build the most creative, innovative and attractive structure on time and within the established budget. Interestingly, the concept of "three equals" can actually be detrimental to the process.

There are, however, many outstanding commercial construction projects utilizing extraordinary, unique, proprietary products. Many owners demand the most recent, "cutting edge" construction technology, products and systems, for use in their buildings. They also demand projects to be on time and delivered within budget! To assure a successful project takes a great deal of detailed planning. Unique, proprietary products do not have to be budget busters!

During the design phase the architect should select the specific products that will best translate their concept into a completed project. Selecting the appropriate manufacturers and products early in the design process. Building a team that can be counted upon to deliver the specified products at the agreed upon price.

Discussing the features and limitations of the various products and systems, being very specific. Ordering samples and detailed drawings. Securing commitments in writing! Supporting the team and ignoring last minute substitutions.

This approach enables the designer and client to assure compatibility of all building components, reducing the unknown, solidifying the budget, and guaranteeing the quality of the finished product.

Clients select outstanding architects to create outstanding buildings. Architects spend countless hours creating their design, selecting, researching and modifying outstanding products and systems for their project. With all of that attention to detail, it's difficult to imagine why anybody would ever accept "Three Equals"!

William L. Shannon CSI, CISCA
President of Shannon Corporation
Recipient of the 2004 De Gelleke Award

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