The Weekly is STREAMING now. Join us at HorizonTV

Hackathons and RFCs: Why one developer killed the RFP

In lieu of an RFP process, Skanska Commercial Development hosted a three-week "hackathon" to find an architect for its 2&U tower in Seattle.

May 06, 2015 |
David Barista

Lisa Picard is tired of the RFP process. As a seasoned real estate developer currently heading up one of Seattle’s most exciting new developments, Skanska Commercial Development’s 2&U tower, Picard has spent countless hours sifting through proposals for architectural services—feeling unimpressed.

The issue isn’t the caliber of the firms, nor the quality of the proposals. The problem, says Picard, is the overly formal nature of the RFP process for evaluating key partners.

“Why are we spending all this time and energy, having people spin their wheels and create volumes of paperwork, when really we just want to know if we can work together?” says Picard.

With Skanska acting as the developer, contractor, and financier on the 2&U project, Picard and her team had the freedom to try something different. They thought about hosting a design competition, but even then, do you really get a sense of how well the design partner will collaborate with the other team members, or deal with adversity? Hardly. 

“Why are we spending all this time and energy, having people spin their wheels and create volumes of paperwork, when really we just want to know if we can work together?” — Lisa Picard, Skanska Commercial Development 

Picard’s epiphany occurred on a Saturday afternoon, while walking through Skanska’s Seattle office. She came across a full-scale “hackathon” being hosted by a tech tenant in the building. The energy was infectious. The intensity was palpable. The level of creativity and collaboration was like nothing she had witnessed before. Could the hackathon model be adapted for a real estate project? “Why not? This is Seattle,” she says. “The idea of the hackathon is to break into something that works, but that you want to make better.” 

Skanska scrapped the RFP for what Picard calls an “RFC,” or request for conversation. Nine firms were invited to join the builder/developer for individual 60-minute conversations—no formal presentation, no two-inch-thick portfolio, just a face-to-face to evaluate if the architecture firm was genuinely excited about the project, and if Skanska’s team would enjoy working with the design team. Much of the RFC centered around Skanska’s vision for the project, and its primary problem: how to create a world-class spec office tower that would both form a strong civic relationship with the city and connect downtown with the waterfront.

Two firms stood above the rest during the RFCs, but the true test was yet to come. Both were invited to participate in a three-week hackathon to test their grit, collaborative spirit, and mental endurance. (The firms were compensated for their time.)

Armed only with the developer’s vision and basic details on the project, the two teams set out the first week to develop their initial design solutions. To honor hackathon tradition, Skanska provided Red Bull for late-night design sessions. The firm also built into the program check-in points and feedback loops to reinforce the importance of collaboration and problem-solving among architect, developer, and builder.

In week two, just when the teams were starting to make headway on their design models, Picard changed the rules—removing a key parcel from the program—to see how the teams would respond. By the time the final presentations were delivered in week three, Picard says it was clear that one firm—Pickard Chilton of New Haven, Conn.—rallied when faced with adversity.

Picard says the hackathon was a success, and signals a shift in thinking among developers when it comes to selecting partners: it’s not just about IQ, but also EQ—emotional quotient. “Owners want partners who are as passionate about the project as they are,” she says. “You must express an energy that’s infectious. It has to be real.”

David Barista | BD+C Editors
Building Design+Construction
Editorial Director

David Barista is Editorial Director of Building Design+Construction and, properties that combined reach more than 100,000 commercial building professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners. David has covered the U.S. construction industry for more than a decade, previously serving as Editor-in-Chief of BD+C, Professional Builder, Custom Builder, and He has won numerous editorial awards, including six Jesse H. Neal Awards and multiple honors from the Construction Writers Association and the American Society of Business Publication Editors.


Related Blogs

Life Fitness says it will sell its exercycles to apartment and condominium property owners.

December 23, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C Editors
Reconsidering construction robotics, Building Design+Construction

Photo courtesy Construction Robotics


December 18, 2019 | BD+C Editors

After decades when experts predicted that robots would become more prevalent on construction sites, it woul...

The Oxford word of the year: climate emergency. Graph sourced from the Oxford Corpus

November 20, 2019 | Sustainable Design and Construction | BD+C Editors

The Oxford Word of the Year 2019 is climate emergency.

ProForm Studio Bike Pro

Reviewer Elyse Betters-Picaro gives high marks to the ProForm Studio Bike Pro ($999) as her best buy for alternatives to Peloton. Photo: ProForm

November 08, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C Editors

ProForm Studio Bike Pro review.

Oslo opera house and public space

Courtesy Pixabay

November 01, 2019 | Transportation & Parking Facilities | BD+C Editors

Two recent reports (October 2019) explore whether car-free downtowns really work, based on experience in Os...

Peloton bikes at Weinstein Properties, Bexley Triangle Park, Raleigh, NC

Peloton bikes at Weinstein Properties, Bexley Triangle Park, Raleigh, NC. Courtesy Weinstein Properties


September 04, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C Editors

Peloton will no longer sell its bikes to apartment communities.

Suffolk Smart Lab in New York City, 2019 Giants 300 Report, 3 ‘Giant’ AEC market trends for 2019-2020  Photo: J. Michael Worthington, Jr., courtesy Suffolk Construction

The rise of data and data tools, like the Suffolk Smart Lab in New York City (pictured), is leading to more research projects among AEC firms. Photo: J. Michael Worthington, Jr., courtesy Suffolk Construction


August 15, 2019 | Giants 300 | BD+C Editors

We’re starting to see a shift toward custom research, thanks in part to the influx of data, data tools, and...

Amenities war no more? Research report explores multifamily market

The skylit 75-foot, three-lane lap pool at Hub, a 54-story rental tower of 750 apartments (150 affordable) in Brooklyn, N.Y., designed by Dattner Architects. Photo: Evan Joseph, courtesy Dattner Architects

July 31, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C Editors

Multifamily developers show no signs of pulling back on specialty spaces and unique offerings in an effort...

Annual mortgage payment plus property tax per average square foot of housing in US cities.

Source: World Business Chicago

April 30, 2018 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C EditorsRobert Cassidy

It's inaccurate to focus on property taxes as a percentage of home value without acknowledging the actual c...

MIT’s Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl

MIT’s Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl

January 05, 2018 | Big Data | BD+C EditorsDavid Barista, Editorial Director

At a time when research- and data-based methods are playing a larger role in architecture, there remains a...

Overlay Init

Your card will be charged: 0