How to embrace a Building Program or OPR to build slave-free

Andrew Klemmer
President and Founder, Paratus Group

As the founder of an Owner’s Representation firm, I have found that having the opportunity to talk with our clients about values can fundamentally change the approach to building. Our role in the ecosystem of the built environment starts well before the design begins, often with a document that we call a Building Program, which is also known as Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). It out- lines the intentions of a project and how architects and commissioning teams can achieve those intentions. And, I believe that it is in this formative stage that we have an opportunity to share the possibility of slave-free building with our clients, so that the Building Program and accompanying contracts can pursue it.

In the following action steps, I describe how to embrace a Building Program or OPR to build slave-free:  

1. Articulate a client’s values  

The act of conceiving, designing, and building should all be consistent with the client’s values. We find these guideposts to be critical to staying on course over the long process of actualizing their vision. If a value is well articulated, it can permeate the documents that constitute a design and construction process.  

2. Share the possibility of slave-free building  

Our firm has begun to surface this goal of ethical materials procurement and reduction/elimination of slavery in any form, and we are successfully including it in our documentation from a project’s inception. Values-aligned clients appreciate these proactive conversations since there is not yet mainstream awareness of slavery in the making of building materials. Owner’s Representatives can direct clients to for key information that includes ethical imperatives and risk assessments for not taking action.  

3. Help advance the industry through our client’s decisions

In recent years, clients have asked and/or agreed to incorporate new standards for environmental sustainability, safety, and accessibility as an extension of their values. Similarly, a Building Program can ask that the supply chains and labor used on the project can be traced back to original sources. This goal can be described in the program, reinforced in the contracts for both design and construction teams, and carried out in a very systematic way over the life of a project.

4. Bring in a values-aligned design and project team

When the Building Program is complete, it is used to describe the project to potential architects. The ability to fully understand the program’s intention, as well as visits to past projects and conversations, distinguish one candidate over another. The Program is also sent to the engineers and other specialists needed. By the time the design team is assembled, everyone is aware of the client’s mission, goals, and values.

5. Ask better questions

At every design iteration, from Concept Design through Schematic Design and Design Development, this Building Program serves as the measuring device for assessing design progress and design success. Is the design enabling or better yet encouraging the accomplishment of the mission? Are the spaces being provided in a way that ensures their impact that supports the client’s values and that meet the functional needs of the client? We now should be empowered to ask these same questions about ethical building materials supply chains. And the answers to these questions are the basis of all agreements and decisions to move forward in a design direction.

6. Mitigate dilution

Because there are so many stages and groups managing facets of an architectural project, it is important to have committed partners to mitigate dilution of the Building Program goals and associated values. This includes selecting a worthy builder and understanding how a construction process will be managed from beginning to end. It is helpful to direct the project on-site so that the initial intentions are never lost among contracted partners or overtaken by other priorities.

At Paratus, we are confident that clients, individuals and corporations, universities and foundations, will all embrace this ethical goal, and we are ready to stand with them to exercise control and compliance throughout a complicated chain of ownership.