A study of measures to improve
Franky W.H. Wong, Patrick T.I. Lam,
Edwin H.W. Chan and L.Y. Shen
Department of Building and Real Estate, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University,
Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Purpose – This paper is aimed at identifying the common approaches for improving constructability
and evaluating their effectiveness of implementation.
Design/methodology/approach – A comprehensive survey has been carried out on contemporary
literature, i.e. from 1990 onwards, to trace the development of the buildability and constructability
concepts and the common approaches of improvement.
Findings – Results show that buildability is mainly concerned with design, quality of built products,
ease of construction, as well as efficient and economical construction. Constructability emphasises
integration of construction knowledge and experience at various project stages; optimisation of
different project requirements to achieve overall goals; and ease of construction. Therefore,
“constructability” embraces the concept of “buildability”. The implementation of Quantified
Assessment, Constructability Review and Constructability Programmes are the three commonly
Practical implications – Improvement measures should be implemented at the design stage,
whereas improved constructability would eventually bring about tangible benefits in terms of time,
cost, quality and safety. The Quantified Assessment approach appears to be the most practicable way
of improving constructability.
Originality/value – Up till now, there have been very limited studies providing an evaluation of
different approaches for improving constructability. The study has offered an insight into the
commonly adopted improvement measures, highlighting proven success cases, hence enabling
effective strategies to be developed for enhancing constructability.
Keywords Design, Construction industry, Project evaluation, Quality improvement
Paper type Literature review
Constructability, because of its abstract nature, requires tacit understandings before
improvements can be realised. Decades have elapsed since problems arising from the
separation of design and construction came to light in the 1960s. Notwithstanding
numerous studies which have looked at the subject from different perspective and with
different approaches, the problems associated with constructability have not
diminished (Egan, 1998; CIRC, 2001). Moreover, there is still no overall consensus on
the definition and at which project stage improvement measures should be
implemented. Without this consensus, constructability could mean different things
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
The work described in this paper was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants
Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (RGC Project No.
Received August 2005
Revised January 2006
Accepted February 2006
International Journal of Quality &
Vol. 24 No. 6, 2007
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
across different studies. Thus, this paper aims to identify the common approaches for
improving constructability and evaluate their effectiveness for implementation.
Interpretations of buildability and constructability
Similar to constructability, buildability is another concept which is related to the
influence of designers on the construction process (Chen and McGeorge, 1994). Since
their “infancies”, the terms “buildability” and “constructability” had been defined by
various researchers. With regard to “buildability”, the three common definitions have
shown differences from one another. These definitions refer to buildability as “the
extent to which the design of a building facilitates ease of construction, subject to the
overall requirements for the completed building” (CIRIA, 1983); “the ability to
construct a building efficiently, economically and to agreed quality levels from its
constituent materials, components and sub-assemblies” (Ferguson, 1989); and “the
extent to which decisions made during the whole building procurement process, in
response to factors influencing the project and other project goals, ultimately facilitate
the ease of construction and the quality of the completed project” (McGeorge et al.,
1992). As for “constructability”, dissimilarities are also exhibited between two
commonly used definitions: “the optimum use of construction knowledge and
experience in planning, design, procurement and field operations to achieve overall
project objectives” (CII, 1986); and “the integration of construction knowledge in the
project delivery process and balancing the various project and environmental
constraints to achieve project goals and building performance at an optimal level” (CII
Stages of implementation
Regarding the stages of implementation, “buildability”, as per CIRIA’s definition
(1983), focuses itself at the design stage. On the contrary, the term “constructability”, as
the CII (1986) defined it, encompasses all project stages and thus overcomes the
perceived narrowness in scope of “buildability” (CII Australia, 1992). Although some
constructability improvement measures do take place at particular stages of a project,
e.g. the carrying out of constructability analysis at tender stage (Phair, 2005), it is
commonly recognized that “constructability” is concerned with the whole process of
project development to facilitate construction efficiency and achieve project goals. By
contrast, “Buildability” deals with only the design stage for construction efficiency.
Hence, for the sake of clarity, since “constructability” embraces the concept of
“buildability”, the former term will be used instead of “buildability” in this paper,
except when the historical development of “buildability” and the “buildability”
definitions are referred to.
Despite the disparities in methods to improve constructability, an understanding of
the commonalities that may exist among different approaches would help in realizing
the potential benefits of constructability and identifying its attributes. Eventually, an
effective strategy for improving constructability can be formulated. As there are very
limited existing studies evaluating the success or otherwise of different approaches for
improving constructability, this study is aimed at closing the knowledge gap by
identifying the common approaches adopted in enhancing constructability and
evaluating their effectiveness. A comprehensive review has been carried out on
contemporary literature from 1990 onwards, including articles published in academic
journals and construction periodicals. The review covers various definitions of
buildability and constructability, the improvement measures, the stages of
implementation as well as the benefits realized by such enhancement efforts.
Methodology of literature review
The methodology of carrying out the literature review on constructability is
summarized in Figure 1. First, the objective of the literature review, which is to identify
various approaches for enhancing constructability, was clearly defined. The scope of
the review was confined to the literature published from 1990 onwards in academic
journals and construction periodicals. Next, available sources providing the required
materials were identified. These sources include hard copies available in local and
overseas libraries, web-pages of professional institutions as well as online databases,
e.g. EBSCO, IngentaConnect, MetaPress, Emerald and Scitation. A triangulated
approach, for searching the theories, the leading authors and the topical keywords
(Fellows and Liu, 2003) was adopted to discover the information. Details of the
identified literature, comprising sources of the documents, years of publication,
abstracts, definitions of buildability/constructability adopted, approaches for
improvement, stages of implementing, and implications on project performance in
term of time, cost, quality, safety and others, were then extracted for analysis.
Methodology of the
Overview of buildability and constructability development
Buildability in the United Kingdom and Singapore
The term “buildability” was invented after a number of studies in the UK on the
detrimental effects brought about by the dis-integration of design and construction in
the 1960s and 1970s (Emmerson, 1962; Banwell, 1964; EDC, 1967; NEDO, 1975).
Thereafter, the CIRIA (1983)published its definition of buildability (as stated earlier).
This definition was criticised for its narrowness in scope, in that it essentially confined
buildability to the design process. Subsequently, further studies on buildability in the
UK were carried out by Gray (1983), Griffith (1984), Adams (1989) and, Ferguson
(1989). However, after so many years, too much time and effort were still spent trying
to make designs work in practice (Egan, 1998; Love et al., 2000), and there was little
emphasis placed on buildability of designs (CIRC, 2001).
In Asia, the Singapore Government has enacted legislation to require minimum
buildability scores of designs before approvals of building plans in 2001. The
buildability scores are calculated based on the Buildable Design Appraisal System
(BDAS), which was devised to measure buildability performance of designs in
Singapore. The “3S” principles of Standardisation, Simplicity and Single Integrated
Elements form the cornerstones of the BDAS. These represent the considerations that
designers should take in developing designs, including determination of the most
appropriate building systems to be used (BCA, 2005a).
Constructability in the United States and Australia
In the 1980s, the term “constructability” evolved in the USA. The proponents of this
concept believe that constructability, which embraces both design and management
functions, is more comprehensive in facilitating construction operations and solving
problems on site. In particular, the Construction Industry Institute (CII) was
instrumental in providing guidelines for implementing constructability at various
project stages (CII, 1986, 1987a, b; 1993).
Almost concurrently, Australian researchers, e.g. Ireland (1985), were also aware of
similar problems being caused by the lack of integrated design and construction.
Through studies on constructability, McGeorge et al. (1992), Hon et al. (1988) and CII
Australia (1996) strived to encourage contractors’ involvement in design and efficient
communication, thereby enhancing the quality of project management during the
whole building process, with the aims to facilitate ease of construction and achieve
better project performance. Similar to the CII in the USA, the CII Australia published
the Constructability Principles File in 1992, comprising a system which involves the
whole project team (including contractors) from the very beginning of the project for
improving constructability, and the Constructability Manual in 1996, providing
guidelines for implementing the constructability system, in the form of 12
constructability principles, implementation strategies and case studies.
More recently, studies are being conducted in Malaysia (Nima et al., 1999; Nima et al.,
2001a; Nima et al., 2001b; Nima et al., 2004; Zin et al., 2004), Indonesia (Trigunarsyah,
2004a, b, c), and Nigeria (Mbamali et al., 2005), all aiming at the betterment of
buildability and constructability through various methodologies.
Raising the awareness of buildability and constructability
A variety of interpretations of buildability and constructability are listed below. First,
here are the quotations regarding buildability:
The extent to which the design of a building facilitates ease of construction, subject to the
overall requirements for the completed building. (CIRIA, 1983)
Practical buildability requires a compromise between consciously making the design more
buildable and accommodating the many factors imparting the influence upon design,
including quality, aesthetics, time and cost. (Griffith, 1987)
The ability to construct a building efficiently, economically and to agreed levels from its
constituent materials, components and sub-assemblies. (Ferguson, 1989)
The extent to which decisions, are made during the whole building procurement process, in
response to factors influencing the project and other project goals, ultimately facilitating the
ease of construction and the quality of the completed project. (McGeorge et al., 1992)
The end-result when designs and plans are translated on-site into a building with minimum
difficulty to give the best possible results. (SEAB, 1993)
. . . buildable designs will lead to improvements in quality . . . due to the relative ease of
construction and the need for fewer skilled tradesmen . . . the 3S principles of Standardisation,
Simplicity and Single Integrated elements to achieve a buildable design. (BCA, 2005a, b, c)
Buildability is related to all aspects of a project which enable the optimum utilisation of
construction resources. It ensures that there is continuity of work by managing labour, plant
and equipment in such a manner that the flow of materials, components and sub-assemblies
into the growing building is maintained and optimised to achieve efficient and economic
production. It is concerned with activities on site and specifically with the logical sequence of
operations and construction methods. (Low and Abeyegoonasekera, 2001)
Here are the quotations regarding constructability:
The optimum use of construction knowledge and experience in conceptual planning /
planning, design / engineering / detail engineering, procurement, and field operations /
operations phases to achieve overall project objectives. (CII, 1986)
Constructability was defined as a measure of the ease or expediency with which a facility can
be constructed. (Hugo et al., 1990)
The application of a disciplined and systematic optimization of construction-related
knowledge during the planning, design, procurement and construction stages by
knowledgeable, experienced construction personnel who were part of a project team. (CMC,
The process of doing everything possible to make construction easy, to improve quality,
safety, and productivity, to shorten construction schedules and to reduce rejection and
rework. (Kerridge, 1993)
Constructability involved construction-oriented input into the planning, design and field
operations of a construction project. (Pepper, 1994)
Constructability programs was defined as the application of a disciplined, systematic
optimization of the procurement, construction, test, and start-up phases by knowledgeable,
experienced construction personnel who are part of a project team. (Russell et al., 1994)
Constructability was often portrayed as integrating construction knowledge, resources,
technology, and experience into the engineering and design of a project. (Anderson et al.,
Constructability of a design referred to the ease with which the raw materials of the
construction process (labor, production equipment and tools, and materials and installed
equipment) can be brought together by a builder to complete the project in a timely and
economic manner. (Glavinich, 1995)
The integration of construction knowledge in the project delivery process and balancing the
various project and environmental constraints to achieve the project goals and building
performance at an optimum level. (CII Australia, 1996)
The stretch version was a planning process that required customer input in every phase of
the capital project planning: front-end engineering; detailed design, procurement, contracting,
construction, check-out, start-up, operation, maintenance, and business management, and
communication among all project participants. (Geile, 1996)
The optimum use of construction knowledge and experience by the owner, engineer,
contractor and construction manager in the conceptual planning, detailed engineering,
procurement and field operations phases to achieve the overall project objectives. (Nima et al.,
The feasibility (or complexity) of a considered project to be performed by a specific
technology based on the construction knowledge learned from past projects. (Yu and
Constructability programs aimed at integrating engineering, construction, and operation
knowledge and experience to better achieve project objectives. (Arditi et al., 2002)
As for “buildability”, the mostly publicized notion is the one developed by the CIRIA
(1983) as “the extent to which the design of a building facilitates ease of construction,
subject to the overall requirements for the completed building”, as quoted by Chen and
McGeorge (1994), Low and Abeyegoonasekera (2001), Low (2001) and Lam (2002).
Other attributes of buildability are concerned with building quality (Griffith, 1987;
Ferguson, 1989; McGeorge et al., 1992; BCA, 2005a), design (Griffith, 1987; SEAB, 1993;
BCA, 2005a), ease of construction (McGeorge et al., 1992; SEAB, 1993; BCA, 2005a), as
well as efficient and economical construction (Ferguson, 1989; BCA, 2005a; Low and
Abeyegoonasekera, 2001). As for “constructability”, the most commonly quoted notion
(Harbuck, 1991; Vardhan et al., 1992; Russell et al., 1994; Anderson et al., 1995; Gibson
et al., 1996; Uhlik and Lores, 1998; Young III, 1998; Nima et al., 1999; Anderson et al.,
2000; Chasey and Schexnayder, 2000; Jergeas and Put, 2001; Nima et al., 2001a, b; Nima
et al., 2004; Trigunarsyah, 2004b, c; Ugwu et al., 2004) is that of “the optimum use of
construction knowledge and experience in conceptual planning/planning,
design/engineering/detail engineering, procurement, and field operations/operations
phases to achieve overall project objectives” (CII, 1986). Apart from this,
constructability has also been given a diverse range of interpretations, relating to
integration of construction knowledge and experience (CMC, 1991; Pepper, 1994;
Russell et al., 1994; Anderson et al., 1995; CII Australia, 1996; Nima et al., 1999; Yu and
Skibniewski, 1999; Arditi et al., 2002), applications at various project stages (CMC,
1991; Pepper, 1994; Russell et al., 1994; Anderson et al., 1995; Geile, 1996; CII Australia,
1996; Nima et al., 1999; Arditi et al., 2002), optimisation (CMC, 1991; Russell et al., 1994;
CII Australia, 1996; Nima et al., 1999), achieving project goals or objectives (CII
Australia, 1996; Nima et al., 1999; Arditi et al., 2002), as well as ease of construction
(Kerridge, 1993; Glavinich, 1995; Geile, 1996). The notions of buildability and
constructability will be better understood as more dissemination takes place in various
forms but the common theme of construction expertise must be adhered to.
Performance improvement based on enhanced constructability
Initially, the benefits of improved constructability are usually manifested in terms of
cost saving. As a corollary, good constructability was expected to generate benefits of
10 to 20 times the cost of achieving it (BR, 1982). Extrapolating from isolated examples
of incorporating construction advice into the design, the savings were estimated to be
within the range of 1 percent to 14 percent of the capital cost (Gray, 1983). Further
studies have substantiated improved constructability resulting in savings of total
project cost (Boyce, 1991; Pepper, 1994; Geile, 1996; Griffith and Sidwell, 1997; Eldin,
1999; Francis et al., 1999; Jergeas and Put, 2001; Elgohary et al., 2003; Trigunarsyah,
2004a). In particular, lower cost of bidding (Gibson et al., 1996), reduced site labour
(Lam, 2002), increased cost effectiveness (Low and Abeyegoonasekera, 2001), and
better resource utilisation (Eldin, 1999) have been reported.
As more studies have been carried out, more benefits were identified in terms of
time, quality and safety as well as intangible bonuses. Benefits in relation to time were
referred to as early completion (Griffith and Sidwell, 1997; Eldin, 1999; Francis et al.,
1999; Low and Abeyegoonasekera, 2001; Elgohary et al., 2003; Trigunarsyah, 2004a, b),
increased productivity (Poh and Chen, 1998; Low, 2001) and reduced outage duration
(Eldin, 1999). Higher quality of the built products was also achieved (Eldin, 1999;
Francis et al., 1999; Low, 2001; Low and Abeyegoonasekera, 2001; Elgohary et al., 2003;
Trigunarsyah, 2004c). Regarding safety aspect, a safer environment on site and better
safety performance would result (Francis et al., 1999; Low and Abeyegoonasekera,
2001; Trigunarsyah, 2004a, c). Apart from these, intangible bonuses were noticeable,
such as a reduction in unforeseen problems (Francis et al., 1999; Elgohary et al., 2003;
Trigunarsyah, 2004b), improvements in industrial relations, team work,
communication as well as enhancement of client’s satisfaction (Francis et al., 1999),
employees’ satisfaction and loyalty (Eldin, 1999), alongside the creation of good
working relationships among stakeholders (Geile, 1996; Eldin, 1999).
Approaches adopted in enhancing constructability
Measures for improving constructability
In respect of constructability improvement, it is found that: quantified assessment of
designs; constructability review; and implementation of constructability programmes
are the three approaches most commonly employed. The approach of quantifying
assessment is adopted through the Buildable Design Appraisal System in Singapore,
which requires minimum constructability performance being achieved as a
prerequisite for building plan approval (Poh and Chen, 1998; Low, 2001; Lam, 2002).
Others have adopted the Fuzzy Quality Function Deployment system (Yang et al.,
2003), the knowledge models for automated constructability assessment (Ugwu et al.,
2004), and the assessment framework of constructability in Malaysia (Zin et al., 2004).
Another common approach of improvement is through reviewing constructability with
different methodologies, such as using formalised constructability reviews at design
and construction stages (Ford et al., 2004), early implementation of the review in the
conceptual planning stage (Arditi et al., 2002), integration of constructability
improvements into project development (Anderson et al., 2000), integration of
analytical review tools into the constructability review process (Fisher et al., 2000),
implementation of the constructability review process at different project stages
(Young III, 1998), the in-house design-phase constructability review (Glavinich, 1995),
and the carrying out of constructability review by an independent team with hands-on
experience in similar projects (Pepper, 1994). Thirdly, improvement can be realized by
implementing constructability programmes at various project stages (Harbuck, 1991;
Vardhan et al., 1992; Opfer, 1994; Russell et al., 1994; Anderson et al., 1995; Geile, 1996;
Griffith and Sidwell, 1997; Uhlik and Lores, 1998; Kog et al., 1999; Chasey and
Schexnayder, 2000; Jergeas and Put, 2001; Nima et al., 2004, 2001a; Trigunarsyah,
Stages of implementation
For improving constructability, an overwhelmingly majority of researchers proposed
measures to be taken at the design stage (Boyce, 1991; Vardhan et al., 1992; Pepper,
1994; Anderson et al., 1995; Glavinich, 1995; Gibson et al., 1996; Poh and Chen, 1998;
Young III, 1998; Denman, 2001; Low, 2001; Arditi et al., 2002; Fox et al., 2002; Lam,
2002; Acker, 2003; Ballal and Sher, 2003; Yang et al., 2003; Ugwu et al., 2004; Zin et al.,
2004). For some, improvement measures were to be carried out throughout the whole
building process (Chen and McGeorge, 1994; Opfer, 1994; Geile, 1996; Griffith and
Sidwell, 1997; Francis et al., 1999; Chasey and Schexnayder, 2000; Dulaimi et al., 2004),
whilst others applied their measures to the various stages of briefing, conceptual
planning, design, procurement, construction, contract review and tendering, etc.
(Harbuck, 1991; Uhlik and Lores, 1998; Anderson et al., 2000; Jergeas and Put, 2001;
Low and Abeyegoonasekera, 2001; Nima et al., 1999, 2001a, b, 2004; Ford et al., 2004;
Trigunarsyah, 2004a, b, c; Phair, 2005).
Evaluation of survey findings
Based on the literature relating to constructability as identified in academic journals
and construction periodicals published from 1990 onwards, an evaluation of the
common approach towards improving constructability has been carried out as the
Owing to the abstract nature of buildability and constructability, a clear
understanding of the concepts is required before any strategies for improvement can be
formulated. Regarding buildability, improvement measures should address the design
process and the quality of the completed products. Buildability is also manifested in
the ease of construction as well as the efficiency and economy of construction. Figure 2
summarizes the commonalities of different perceptual attributes of buildability.
As for constructability, its enhancement can be accomplished through the
integration of construction knowledge at various project stages. Most studies recognize
that constructability should be optimized among other project requirements, in order to
achieve the overall project goals or objectives. Apart from these, constructability
should facilitate ease of construction. Different perceptual attributes of constructability
and their common features are portrayed in Figure 3.
attributes of buildability
The benefits of improved constructability have long been associated with the time,
cost, quality and safety performance of a project, together with other intangible
benefits. It is obvious that concomitant with the improvement, construction becomes
easier and project periods can be shortened. It is also reasonable to expect that the
building process can be more efficient and economical, which eventually results in cost
saving, due to the incorporation of construction expertise and experience at the early
project stages. Building projects for which constructability is consciously taken care of
will ultimately undergo smooth construction, thereby facilitating quality of the built
products and minimizing potential disputes and avoidable accidents on site.
Eventually, it induces improvement in aspects such as labor relations,
communication among project participants, client’s and employees’ satisfaction as
well as loyalty.
To improve constructability, different approaches have been proposed. The three
common approaches are:
(1) quantified assessment of designs;
(2) constructability review; and
(3) implementation of constructability programs.
Quantifying assessment enables an objective evaluation of constructability attributes
while results are comparable. On the subject of quantifying assessment, two issues
have emerged. On one hand, it is more practicable and manageable for assessment and
improvement by focusing at the finished design rather than the design process. On the
other hand, it is difficult to comprehensively take account of all relevant factors
affecting constructability into the assessment system. It is inevitable that more
important aspects are taken into consideration for assessment purpose. This has been
the strategy being adopted by a research study aimed at developing a prototype
assessment model for use in Hong Kong (Wong et al., 2003). The second approach of
Constructability Review refers to evaluating design documents at an early stage to
ensure smooth project delivery. It helps to guard against any discrepancies or errors
and ensure coordination of design documents including drawings and specifications.
The Review is also aimed at ironing out any possible problems that may arise during
construction, prior to commencing actual site works. Nevertheless, carrying out
constructability review incurs additional time and resources, not to mention the need to
overcome potential resistance from design consultants, who may regard contractors as
the party primarily responsible for constructability. As for the third approach, it entails
the incorporation of constructability programs comprising a set of rules and guidelines
into the management process. The measure embodies all factors affecting
constructability and involves interaction with different project stakeholders at
various project stages. As any constructability program would involve process factors,
this would make assessment of performance appear subjective and complicated.
Monitoring the whole process of implementing constructability programs is not
practical whereas snap shots observed during parts of the process may not be
representative. As a result, of the three approaches, Quantified Assessment of Designs
appears to be the most practical and achievable way for improving constructability. In
fact, the approach was adopted by the Singapore Government which has successfully
enforced the BDAS (BCA, 2005a) across the city state since 2001.
By reviewing current literature published in academic journals and construction
periodicals, the paper has identified the common approaches for improving
constructability and evaluated their effectiveness for implementation. The study has
provided an insight into the commonalities of proven improvement measures, thereby
enabling effective strategies to be developed for enhancing constructability. Through
their interpretations, predecessors’ studies have expressed the abstract concept in a
more comprehensible form. Empirically, there has been evidence that it would worth
the effort to promote “constructability”, which was found positively correlated with
enhanced project performance in a variety of aspects, especially if the improvement
measures were implemented at the design stage. To improve constructability, the
common measures are:
. quantified assessment of designs;
. constructability review; and
. implementation of constructability programs at different project stages.
Of them, Quantified Assessment of Designs has demonstrated its practicality and
successfulness in improving constructability. A good example is the Buildable Design
Appraisal System (BCA, 2005a) which has been enforced in Singapore as a nation-wide
measure for assessment of design constructability.
Recommended further studies
The recent successful implementation of Singapore’s Buildable Designs Appraisal
System (BDAS) (BCA, 2005a) has demonstrated the practicality of formulating a
systematic assessment system to objectively measure constructability of designs.
Follow-up studies have established the correlations between better constructability
performance and the improvements of site productivity, construction quality and
manpower consumption at the project level (Poh and Chen, 1998; Low, 2001; Lam, 2002;
BCA, 2005b, c). Since Singapore was the first to formulate official guidelines for
quantifying constructability and make it a mandatory prerequisite for approving
building developments, the effects of enforcement need to be monitored on a long term
basis. Similar assessment systems should also be established elsewhere such that the
validity of the approach in enhancing project performance can be tested out in
countries with different contextual backgrounds. In the long run, if such
constructability assessment systems are proven to be effective, they can be used to
establish benchmarks for incentive or punitive purposes, all geared towards enhancing
the time, cost, quality and safety performance of construction.
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Franky W.H. Wong can be contacted at: [email protected]
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