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Architect-Led Design-Build

August 24, 2011

By Roland A. Arriaga, A.I.A. Architect

The Residential Design-Build Project Delivery Process Led By Your Architect

What is Design-Build?

Design-build is an integrated approach that delivers design and construction services under one contract with a single point of responsibility led by either an architect-builder or general contractor. Design-build is more streamlined than the traditional method known as design-bid-build, where design and construction were clearly separated.

The Architect and the Role of the Master Builder

Filippo Brunelleschi. Italian architect/master builder during the Italian Renaissance (15th century AD)

Historically, construction projects were delivered by design-build method with the Architect in charge. The architect was called the master builder and had overall responsibility for the project, both the design and construction. The master builder model was used in the construction of cathedrals and important buildings before the Renaissance in Europe and the central figure from design through construction was usually the architect who held total project control and accountability. However, as the legal climate has become more adversarial, design professionals have retreated from responsibility for construction, carving out the ever-narrowing niche that they now occupy. Today, the design-build system is a return to some of the fundamentals of the master builder concept and is fast becoming the preferred method of delivery.

Why Design-Build?

Architect-led design-build, as described above, benefits owners for the following reasons:

  1. Faster delivery because overall project duration is shortened since the project can be efficiently fast-tracked due to the designer and constructor being a single entity,
  2. Costs can be determined at an earlier stage and usually with greater accuracy,
  3. Design quality is likely to be superior in a design-build project that led by the Architect rather than the builder,
  4. Design-build minimizes the project risk for an owner and reduces delivery schedule by overlapping the design phase and construction phase of a project,
  5. One entity is accountable for cost, schedule, and performance,
  6. Reduction of unwelcome changes orders,
  7. Better control of project budgets, schedules and overall project quality, including the quality of design.
  8. Communication is direct between the architect and client without the intervention of a third party.

Using the traditional method of Design-Bid-Build, a complete set of drawings and specifications must be fully drafted, then issued for pricing from all of the various trades. Only at this time can the true cost of the project be determined. Quite often, the drawings result in cost overruns and need to be rethought, redrawn, and once again submitted for pricing. This method often leads to frustration, lost time, and additional design fees.

Using the Design-Build approach, the preliminary design is prepared by the architect first. Then the project cost is determined. This method involves the various trades to establish costs in the design phase. At this stage value engineering is performed and the architect compensates for potential material shortages and scheduling requirements.The budgetary cost controls the balance of the design process and ensures that the drawings accurately reflect the requirements, budget and schedule of the client.

Architect-Led Design-Build offers the client a higher-quality service and product than is found with a separate architect and builder. Whenever possible, we encourage our clients to strongly consider the design-build process for project delivery. Because bidding, value engineering, and design happen simultaneously under design-build, a fixed cost for the construction of the project can be determined at the same time the design of the project is completed and value engineering decisions are immediately made based on current market conditions. This allows the owner to immediately enter into an agreement for the construction of the project with the architect as general contractor.  There is no need to endure the lengthy bid process under traditional design, bid, and build scenarios because all of the bidding for the project is completed during the design phase.

When the architect is the contractor communication with the client is direct during construction. Communication with consultants, subcontractors, suppliers, and local authorities is also direct  between the architect-builder and the parties. In addition, as the contractor, the architect has the benefit of having the information needed to act on many issues, without having to confer with the client. This is turn reduced turnaround times for decisions and minimizes the chance of miscommunication or misunderstanding thereby reducing exposure to change orders and legal action.

Design-Build Method vs. the traditional Design-Bid- Build Method (click to enlarge)

Architect-Led Design-Build is quickly becoming the delivery method of choice for a wide variety of project types.  From the simplest single family residential projects, to the most complex commercial projects, Design-Build has proven to be a reliable way to fast track projects and achieve maximum value for project owners.  Because the process allows multiple tasks to run simultaneously, instead of sequentially, it gets projects out of design and under construction quicker.  Because the project team has been working together since the beginning of design, communication during construction is more efficient.  Because the Architect has been involved in the design process, he is less likely to encounter unanticipated problems with the project during construction.  Finally, because the project was bid during the design process, design decisions are made based on actual, current, market conditions, thus allowing maximum opportunity to meet project budget with the best possible design for the project.

Ultimately, an architect-led design/build team will render the best results for everybody involved. Whether it’s a team of independent design-build professionals or one integrated design/build company, this approach to team building and project leadership becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved, particularly the client.


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