Archives for category: Design Build

In previous posts, we have introduced Design Build and explained how it differs from the “normal” project delivery method. Now, we’d like to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the model as it applies to small projects. For our purposes, I will define small projects as under $250,000 – basically the small additions, kitchen and bath renovations, etc.

The majority of residential clients on these smaller projects are doing their first renovation and are unfamiliar with the process. They have probably heard a horror story or two from their friends or family so building trust in their architect and contractor can be difficult. The Design Build model gives the client the appeal of a single point of responsibility. If there are any issues on the project, there is one entity to go to. There is no worry about a designer blaming the contractor and the contractor blaming the designer with the client stuck in the middle mediating (and often footing the bill for the mistake).

Similarly, the same team that has been championing a particular design solution is the team that is building it. Therefore, there is more assurance that the design intent and integrity that was discussed in the early meetings will be carried through to the final product. This is a huge motivating factor for our decision to get into Design Build – to have more control over the design integrity of the final product, not just the drawings. We have spent too much time training and convincing contractors to pay attention to what we knew were important details but that they saw as superfluous.

Design Build is also more efficient on the schedule and often the pocketbook. In order to successfully produce a final project that has the cohesive vision developed by the architect and client, a large part of the design fee is spent on thoroughly drawing details to communicate the design intent to the contractor. Also, there is another chunk of the design fee set aside for working with the client and contractor during the construction phase to further clarify and define the design intent as the project is being built. Both of these steps can be significantly reduced with Design Build since the communication between the design and build teams happen all in-house. For a project where design integrity is important, it is a very efficient, cost-saving process.

Where budget is a main limiter to the scope of the project – and really, when isn’t it – the ability for the design build team to simultaneously develop a design and a construction cost estimate allows the design to be literally developed within the confines of a budget. Many architects will do cost estimates along the way to guide their projects but few have the resources and relationships to have suppliers, fabricators, and subcontractors as active members of that early cost estimating process. The ability to identify potential cost overruns early and make budget-minded design decisions saves time and mitigates the risk of having to spend additional money redesigning later in the process.

We’ve talked a lot about the pros of Design Build, and there are a lot. But to be fair, there are some perceived weaknesses, too. One of the criticisms of the process is that it gives too much power to the design builder without the checks and balances of a separate designer and contractor. The thought being that if the same entity that is determining the design quality is profiting from the construction, there is an inherent conflict of interest. That is hard point to defend because if someone suspects the possibility of corruption, it is difficult to prove that it won’t happen. Our solution, in addition to maintaining a strong personal and professional level of integrity (that should be apparent through our references), is to have a very transparent cost and billing structure.

We will see in the next entry in our design build blog that there are other pros and cons to Design Build on large projects which relate to the added complexity and risk involved in those projects.



Classically, there were no architects as we think of them today. Instead, there were master builders. The designers of Greek temples and medieval cathedrals were the stonemasons and carpenters in charge of building them. During the Renaissance, an emphasis on the individual began.  Buildings started to be credited to specific architects, who were the designers and engineers, but they also oversaw construction. There was no dividing line between artist, architect, engineer, and builder.

During the industrial age, with the rise of new building technologies, architecture and engineering began to separate, and the architect began to concentrate on aesthetics and building use. There was also the rise of the “gentleman architect” who usually dealt with wealthy clients and concentrated predominantly on visual qualities derived usually from historical prototypes. Formal architectural training in the 19th century emphasized the production of beautiful drawings above constructability. The design and construction of buildings began to separate into totally different trades.  In fact, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) until 1979 in its code of ethics actually prohibited its members from providing construction services.

In the 80’s, Design Build started to become more common, as contractors started teaming with architects or hiring their own in-house designers. In 1993, the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) was formed. Finally changing course, in 2003, the AIA published “The Architect’s Guide to Design-Build Services”.

Today, Design Build accounts for 40% of all non-residential construction and is growing steadily.  It is mostly led by the general contractor but there is a segment of architect-led design build firms, like ours, which emphasize design and are able to integrate design and construction to not only streamline the process, but to create a better design.

So, although Design Build seems to be a relatively new phenomenon, it is actually the “traditional” design-bid-build method that has only been around for about 150 years.  Design Build, and the “master builder” before it, has been around for millennia.

As we defined in our previous post, the two different ways to structure a project (commonly referred to as a project delivery method) are Design-Bid-Build and Design-Build.

Design-Bid-Build is considered the traditional project delivery method and has some clear benefits.  The most commonly discussed is that, during the construction phase, the architect acts as the owner’s agent. For example, the architect reviews the contractor’s bills for accuracy and acts as an advocate for the owner if there is a dispute between the owner and contractor. In theory, under the traditional method the owner is more protected from construction problems because the architect only role is to make sure the contractor builds the design according to the plans. But is that really the case?

As we’ve said before, Design-Bid-Build relies on separate entities, with separate motivations, working towards a common goal.  However, that statement alone has some inherent problems.  The architect is put in the position of policing the contractor without any contractual relationship between them.  It seems that makes the likelihood of conflict increase.   And any conflicts will eventually cost the owner money.

Design-Build, on the other hand, is attractive because it provides a single point of responsibility to the owner.  This is a huge advantage to the traditional method because if there is a problem, there is only one entity the owner has to turn to for resolution.  This is especially the case on smaller, less complex projects.  Also, by removing the coordination between the design and construction entities, projects are often completed faster with Design-Build.  Although not always the case, faster can also lead to cheaper.

Ultimately, although Design-Bid-Build provides more layers of oversight between the design team and the construction team, supposedly to eliminate errors and the possibility of corruption, Design-Build provides a more direct and efficient process to deliver a successful project.

To kick off our discussion about Design Build, we need to first define it.  In general, Design Build is the process where you hire one company or entity to provide both design and construction services.  It is more than that, though; it is an integrated process from beginning to end where we think about construction during the design phase and are still considering design as we are building.

The most familiar process to most homeowners – called Design-Bid-Build – is where the client first hires an architect who draws the project.  Then, once the drawings are complete, they are sent out to various contractors for bids.  The contractor then builds the project with the architect providing support for the client during the construction phase.  This model has some strengths but is a linear process that can be inflexible and provides difficulty when trying to compress the project schedule.  Additionally, it relies on two separate companies with separate motivations to work towards a common goal – this is where the trouble often starts.

The strengths of the Design Build model is exactly where Design-Bid-Build falls short – by aligning the motivations of the project team.  It is becoming more and more common in non-residential projects, because those industries realize it leads to better projects due to the collaborative nature of the project team and the flexibility it lends to the project.  It currently accounts for 40% of all non-residential projects, up from 30% in 2005.  It can also lead to faster (34% according to Construction Industry Institute) and cheaper (6% according to CII) projects.

The industry we serve, residential construction and remodels as well as commercial tenant improvements, has specific needs and pressures that the Design Build model works very well for.  We will discuss these in-depth in upcoming blog entries.

We began offering Design Build services for several reasons. For one, it allows us to draw on Jason’s history and experience as a contractor, something many architects do not share. It also allows us to more fully serve our clients by providing them care and consideration of the design quality regardless of project size.

Design Build isn’t perfect – we will also address some weaknesses in future entries – but our clients are finding it very compelling because it alleviates their concerns and gives them a single point of responsibility for the entire job.