Contact Us

A New Startup Aims To Streamline Chicago's Permitting Process

The record number of crane permits issued last year only tell part of the story about Chicago's construction boom. Last year, over 20,000 people pulled 44,000 permits in the City of Chicago. Permit forms, while available online, are mostly filled out manually, and confusing building code interpretations can result in even the most experienced users missing forms or submitting incorrect documents, leading to weeks in delays and cost overruns. But a new platform may change all of that.

Construction crews on the site of the Marriott Marquis McCormick Place Hotel, Chicago
Construction crews on the site of the Marriott Marquis McCormick Place Hotel

Even though the Chicago Department of Buildings under Commissioner Judy Frydland has worked to expedite the permitting process, no electronic solution for storing and completing permit forms existed until a month ago. FormWork aims to be a complete solution to the permitting process for architects, engineers, contractors and developers. Using address and PIN data, the software platform can determine the proper permit path based on the project description, automatically populate form data and complete code calculations, provide support for common code interpretation questions, enable users to save and edit data, generate printable PDF versions of completed permit forms and, most important, collect e-signatures and e-stamps from multiple users.

FormWork partner Heather Morrison
FormWork partner Heather Morrison

FormWork CEO Heather Morrison said the software is an extension of her work as founder and president of MAP Strategies, which serves as a compliance and quality assurance partner for developers and engineers during a project's design stage, and analyzes and executes the most efficient path for a project.

Morrison and her partners, George Guarino and Steven Vance, decided to create FormWork after testing out other software platforms intended to streamline permitting workflow that did not work the way they hoped. Once they had the platform in place, the three reached out to architects with whom they had existing relationships to beta test FormWork.

Morrison said that FormWork, which MAP Strategies now uses in-house, has the ability to save architecture firms and developers time and money by reducing a process that takes days or weeks down to minutes, depending on the type of project.

Fitzgerald Associates Architects president Michael De Rouin
Fitzgerald Associates Architects president Michael De Rouin

FormWork could become especially popular with architects who have successfully completed the city's self-certification program. Fitzgerald Associates Architects president Michael De Rouin said he has used the software for a variety of projects and it has performed exactly as Morrison said it would. De Rouin said the average time for Fitzgerald to do a self-cert permitting is between 10 and 30 days. FormWork's ability to find the correct forms and automatically populate them cuts that time down significantly and allowed Fitzgerald to move on to other aspects of a project.

SPARC Architecture principal Jeffrey Hoyer demoed FormWork at an AIA Chicago function, and has used it for self-cert showroom build-outs inside Merchandise Mart. Hoyer found the software interesting because all the forms he needed to file were in one place, but he especially loved being able to collect all of the necessary e-signatures in one place, and be updated automatically when a signature was added. Hoyer said some projects have up to 20 forms to track and having them all in one place cut the time it normally takes him to file permits for a project in half.

John Joyce Architects owner John Joyce said that what most impressed him about FormWork was how everything was laid out in plain language, which allowed him to choose the correct forms for his design projects.

CORRECTION MAY 12 10:26 A.M. CENTRAL: The article has been edited to reflect that the Buildings Department does have an e-filing process.