Design-Build – Part I

By Todd Fratzel on Design

Over the next few months I’m going to be posting information about a topic that interests me both personally and professionally; Design-build.

Design-build is a construction project delivery system where the design and construction aspects are contracted for with a single entity known as the design-builder or design-build contractor. This approach is quite different compared to the traditional “design-bid-build” process where an owner hires a design professional and then bids the job to a contractor. The design-builder is usually the general contractor, but in many cases it is also the design professional (architect or engineer). This system is used to minimize the project risk for an owner and to reduce the delivery schedule by overlapping the design phase and construction phase of a project. Where the design-builder is the contractor, the design professionals are typically retained directly by the contractor.

Design-build focuses on combining the design, permit, and construction schedules in order to streamline the traditional design-bid-build process. This does not shorten the time it takes to complete the individual tasks of creating construction documents, acquiring building and other permits, or actually constructing the building. Instead, a design-build firm will strive to bring together design and construction professionals in a collaborative environment to complete these tasks at the same time and therefore shorten the total project schedule.

Typically the hallmark of a Design-Build project is that one organization is responsible for both design and construction of the project. If this organization is a contractor, the process is known as “Contractor-led Design-Build”. If the organization is a design firm, the process is known as “Design-led Design-Build”. In either case, the organization employed by the owner rarely handles both aspects of design and construction in-house. In fact, the organization often subcontracts with on-site personnel (if design-led) as well as architects and engineers (if contractor-led).

Benefits of Design-Build
It is important to note that the design-build method, while not focused on saving the owner construction costs, nonetheless often saves the owner money on the overall project. The combined effects of carrying a construction loan (which typically carries a higher interest rate than permanent financing) and an earlier useful on-line date usually yields considerable overall profitability to the project and may make seemingly unfeasible projects into genuine opportunities.

The compression of time is only one important aspect of the implementation of this system. Other attributes include:

* increased accountability by the service provider,
* single source project delivery, and
* a value based project feedback system

Accountability
Rather than a parcelized level of responsibility of the classic design-bid-build, design-build provides an integrated solution for the owner or client. This moves projects away from the “finger-pointing” that is often commonplace in contemporary construction projects, and allows the owner to look to one entity with any questions or concerns.

Single Source
Instead of having several contractors and consultants, an owner has just one entity to deal with. Design revisions, project feedback, budgeting, permitting, construction issues, change orders, and billing can all be routed through the design-build firm. This single point of contact allows a certain degree of flexibility for the owner Most design-builders will leverage that flexibility for the owner’s benefit by continually refining the construction program to maximize the owner’s value at the completion of the project.

Value-based project feedback
Typically, in order for a contractor to bid on a project, very specific details relating to the methods and materials must be given to avoid any ambiguity and to make an “apples to apples” comparison of bids. In a design-build context, the owner, the owner’s other consultants, and the design-builder can work together to determine what methods and materials will maximize the owner’s value. In instances where marginally more expensive materials, designs, or construction methods might yield a higher return on investment for the owner than those of lower cost, the owner is free to adjust the project’s program without having to re-bid the entire project.

For more information about design-build go to The Design/Build Institute of America.

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Tool Box Buzz. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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