Building the structures you design is not something most design firms choose to do. But for CVM Design-Build, Wayne, Pa., the progression of work responsibilities just seemed to happen naturally.

 “We are something of an ‘exotic bird’ in the AEC industry,” says Jon Morrison, principal of CVM Structural Engineers, one of several units under the CVM Design-Build umbrella.  “Most design professionals shy away from the implementation of their work, whereas we embrace it.”

(Illustration by Guy Lawrence for ENR)

The company was founded in 1986 as a design and engineering firm. But as it grew, principals found that they increasingly were relied upon to provide construction management services.  The firm now has a staff of about 40 and $11.5 million in annual revenue.  “We established the CM company because we found it was required from us as engineers,” says Sameh A. Majid, another CVM Design-Build principal who manages its special structures group.

But CVM did not totally forsake its design roots as it made the transition to construction management. ”We continue to enjoy a strong structural design and building envelope consulting practice for architects and allied design professionals,” says Morrison.

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  • CVM’s diversification has helped bolster all aspects of the firm, says Morrison. “We are now a more technically diverse firm than just structural consultants, allowing us to design and deliver a wide array of projects, and to package a wider range of services and delivery methods,” he says.

    CVM principals ignored the typical segregation of the design and build sides of the business, with staff from senior management on down holding positions in both. This horizontal integration of the companies provides the contracting firm with design expertise that allows it to stand apart from regular contractors.

    CVM Contractors, another specialized group, has the engineering expertise needed to take on tasks most contractors would shy away from. “Where our business strategy diverges from the rest of the industry—our 'blue ocean strategy' if you will—is that we seek ‘at-risk’ work that we design and manage,” says Morrison.

    CVM’s array of skills helped move a parking  garage in downtown Philadelphia through a successful redesign to enhance durability and efficiency and the construction process with little friction.

    CVM put its design expertise to good use recently on a $3.5-million parking deck in downtown Philadelphia. The job came in as a standard construction management contract for bidding. Rather than simply put together a bid package, CVM put together a redesign package. “Because as an engineering company we have designed and worked on repairs of many garages, when we went to the bid meeting with the owner, we presented alternatives to make the structure cheaper, lighter and longer lasting,” says Julie Poeschel, assistant project manager.

    CVM tapped into its contractor resources during redesign, with success. “We showed the subcontractors the different design options that we were looking at,” says CVM principal Majid.  “We asked them to evaluate constructability of the original design and the potential redesign. Based on their feedback, we finalized the redesign to maximize time and cost savings.”

    At least 10% in savings were realized, mainly through foundation and structural steel changes. The project wrapped up in September 2005, three months ahead of schedule.  “What we tried to do was to take the guesswork out of the project before we went into it,” Poeschel says. “We bounced ideas off the subs and shops for ease of constructability in the field during the redesign.  We were able to get the shop drawings out in three days because of the level of effort up front.”

    Subs appreciated CVM’s approach. “Everything went really smooth on the job,” says Dan Lloyd, project manager for Berlin Steel, Kensington, Conn.  He credits the high level of coordination between CVM, his company and the concrete subcontractor for ease of construction. The coordination was essential because “we could only go so far with steel before the concrete people had to come in and pour,” he says.  “Even with bad weather everything went well.”

    Lloyd says Berlin always works to ensure that they are on the same page as the general contractor, but delays often arise from segregation of the construction process. “There is usually a lot of down time when the two sides are separated. I’ve seen jobs where it seems like the engineer and architect aren’t even working on the same project,” he says.

    CVM designed this 12,000-sq-ft condo and will handle construction in downtown Philadelphia.


    CVM’s status as a design firm gave it credibility and prevented potential contention with the garage’s original designer, VLBJR Architects, Norristown, Pa. CVM was able to significantly improve the efficiency and durability of the structure while preserving the required aesthetics of the design, says George J. Guzzie, VLBJR principal.

    Guzzie says the constant presence of CVM people working on both the design and construction side ensured immediate recognition and resolution of any errors by subs. “Any issues that were found during construction, CVM was great at having the subs fix immediately,” he says.

    “CVM and we worked hand in hand on redesigning,” says Guzzie. “There was no finger pointing through the whole process.”     

    (Photos and rendering courtesy of CVM Engineers)