This shouldn’t come as a shock, but not every project has a well-defined route for delivery access or is surrounded by a community with endless resources at the disposal of the project team. For federal and Department of Defense projects in remote locations around the world, this fact is doubly true.

When a team is working to design and deliver a project in a location that is physically isolated from the surrounding country, is isolated by political borders or offers limited resources in terms of equipment and workforce, certain steps must be taken to see that a successful outcome is reached. From fitting all project components into shipping containers to understanding what materials and personnel are present at the site, completing a project in a remote location requires unique solutions tailored to each specific situation.

Designing for Shipping

In many cases, most material for a remotely located project must be shipped to the project site. This means that components need to be designed to meet shipping size and weight restrictions. Materials can be shipped to some locations by barge, others only by airplane. These methods of delivery bring unique challenges to the design of a project. Sometimes these challenges mean design teams must ask how to effectively utilize different materials to provide the same design solution while still meeting shipping restrictions: for instance, delivering the same load capacity for a structure using materials that are lightweight and can be broken down to fit into a shipping container. Modularization is key in this situation. Components must be packed closely together, arrive undamaged and easily assembled on location.

Considering Available Materials and Labor Force

When designing for a remote location, the team must take into account what materials are readily available at the project site and what needs to be shipped. If, for instance, concrete is abundant at the location, then the team can continue to utilize that in the design, thus saving on shipping costs.

During the project site survey, the team can determine what fixtures and materials are in ready supply by visiting local hardware stores. In this way, cost can be reduced on shipping by including those materials in the design by simply acquiring them at the project location.

In addition, knowing the experience of the available workforce in a remote location is key to utilizing the correct materials. A design that includes a large amount of steel work would not be suitable for a workforce more skilled in concrete work. In that case, a team would need to work the design around the materials that are both available and the work that can be performed.

Looking for Equipment

Heavy equipment is costly — and, in many ways, impractical — to ship for a single project. In some locations, when a contractor finishes a job the already-shipped equipment is sold to the next contractor, who can then use that equipment for the next job. In other places, there may only be one firm with the specialty equipment needed for a specific job. As an example, for geotechnical engineers there may only be one boring rig in the area that can perform the work. That piece of equipment then becomes a prized asset to the firm that owns it, meaning that firm can charge high prices for its use.

For a firm that plans on being in a remote location for long periods, it can be an investment to bring in the necessary equipment. Additionally, if it’s possible to bring in more competitors, then the costs are driven down for the both the owner and the firm, allowing for better shipment budgeting for equipment.

Overarching Considerations

Throughout the process of design and planning, success depends greatly on overcoming the language and cultural barriers inherent to the location. Having local translators or native speakers of area dialects helps to maintain relationships and communicate clearly with the workforce. Adapting to cultural norms, such as adjusting project schedules to account for siestas in Spain, is important as well.

Construction and design codes vary from place to place. Understanding these regulations at the outset of a project is paramount to developing a successful design. A common practice is to engage a local or national firm from within the country to review documents and apply local codes to the design.

Effective design and delivery of projects in remote locations depends on many factors. These moving parts may seem daunting, but knowing the challenges upfront allows the design team to focus on those constraints and issues at the outset, instead of having to shift in the middle of a project. A key for delivering successful projects in remote locations is to know the variables and design the project to overcome them.


Federal and military projects present project teams with a wide range of challenges. Finding the most effective solution takes an experienced team.


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Jerry Jorge is a department and senior project manager in the Aviation & Federal Group at Burns & McDonnell. He has more than 25 years of experience with architectural design and project management for commercial, federal and Department of Defense clients.