Originally publised by Buildings in Aug, 1999
By Craig Rieks
Three minds are better than one.
Commercial building owners, designers, and contractors form a union of synergy and cooperation during design-build with one goal: to deliver on time and under budget the best construction product possible, regardless of complexity or enormity.
Design-build, once an uncommon, construction delivery process in the United States, has worked through a bumpy, transitional period of perception/awareness and has positively changed a lot of minds during the last six years.
Cut of the Market
Currently, design-build, design-bid-build, and construction management at risk are the three major forms of construction delivery systems used in the United States. Each approach has its inherent advantages and disadvantages, and should not be considered the sole way to construct a commercial building.
Design-bid-build, or the traditional approach to construction delivery, is established when an owner commissions a design professional — an architect or engineer — to prepare drawings and specifications for a construction project. A contractor is then hired through competitive bidding or a negotiation process to complete the work. According to figures released from the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), Washington, D.C., from 1985 to present, design-bid-build dropped its hold on the market from 82 percent to 55 percent.
Construction management is a project delivery system based on an owner’s agreement with a construction firm, separate from the design-firm contract, to provide construction leadership, as well as perform administration and management, according to contracted services. The construction manager supervises and mediates the important players throughout the different phases of the construction process — design, construction, and change orders — with the interests of the owner in mind. Depending on the situation, a construction manager can assume the financial and legal risks of construction or not. In 1985, construction management commanded 12 percent of the market; today, the system holds steady at roughly 10 percent.
Design-build’s definition has not changed in the past six years, and is also known as single responsibility and design construct. “It is a project delivery system from an entity providing both design and construction services, who is at risk for cost, schedule, quality, and management of the entire process,” says Jeff Beard, executive director of the DBIA. People often make one error when trying to define design-build, he adds. Design-build is not just a construction process with design as an added factor; it is a design and construction process, a union, with the actual design leading the plan.
Risk is an important element to the working definition of design-build. All different forms of the contract and the big picture becomes a single responsibility, says Kraig Kreikemeier, an engineer and president of St. Louis-based Sverdrup Facilities Inc, a fully integrated, design company that uses design-build, as well as other approaches, for construction delivery. One becomes the designer of record, the contractor of record — the general contractor — during design build, which is also one of the drawbacks to the process. It takes a full capability, a strong financial resource, because one takes the construction responsibility, as well as the bonding and all the expenses that are associated with that process, he adds.
Not a New or Simply Used Approach
Currently, the U.S. commercial construction industry finds itself behind Asia and Europe in accepting design-build as a mainstream delivery process. According to the DBIA, 50 percent of commercial construction in Europe and over 70 percent in Japan are constructed using this delivery method.
Although DBIA was established as late as 1993, design-build theory dates back to antiquity. This approach is similar to the methods of the master builder evidenced in structures like the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, and in Medieval and Renaissance religious buildings of Europe. More recently, design-build was used to bore the channel tunnel between France and England.
“Some of the most complex construction projects in the world were design-build,” Beard says. Design-build was used to construct the Brooklyn Bridge, the first, major, longest, suspension bridge in the United States.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, design-build was used in simple, time-driven designed projects — commercial buildings that incorporated a utilitarian design — perpetuating the popular belief that the approach wasn’t appropriate for intricate projects. “A lot of industrial-type facilities were built early on [with design-build],” says John Edwards, an architect and associate vice president with RTKL, an international design firm. “And that was because the buildings had tight delivery schedules and were complex engineering projects. Not complex in the sense of a hotel or a hospital, but more like bulk storage facilities that were erected very quickly by construction companies.” Edwards is based in Dallas.
Since the 1980s, design-build’s popularity has grown. Consequently, with the higher approval rates the delivery process has been utilized with more complex construction projects. Part of the transition is market driven, but mostly, the process makes sense. Design-build lends itself to adaptability, flexibility, and a full range of possibilities.
Kreikemeier agrees that design-build offers versatility. “We at Sverdrup do very large and very complex projects, technically driven projects. And so over the last five to 10 years, I think the industry has moved to recognizing that the issue of single responsibility on complex projects is probably more important and doable than even the simple structures.”
The Driving Force
Design-build is market driven through owner awareness and need.
On the practitioner or supply side, designers and builders search for ways to answer their clients’ requests for timely, budgeted construction projects.
Owners want to stick with one design and construction entity, which follows sound logic. The giving of advice without standing behind it, without being at risk, is starting to evolve, Beard says, alluding to the division of design and construction responsibilities in the traditional design-bid-build process. “I wouldn’t go to the world’s best surgeon to do my appendectomy, to give me advice on it, and then go to another surgeon to cut out the inflamed organ. That’s just not logical.” Owners are looking for quality service, looking for someone to stand behind their products. Rather than just paying somebody for advice, there is continuous assistance. “That is answering to a higher authority.”
Additionally, design-build lends itself to electronic plan rooms, the Internet, and electronic, communicative advances of the future. There is no longer any reason to go through a segregated, sequential, linear process to accomplish a completed construction project for a client, Beard says. Now, this process can be achieved through information technology. This allows design and build elements easier access and acceptance to the same team, treating each other like contributors to the same end goal, which best serves their client’s interest.
“My interpretation of what [design-build] was five years ago hasn’t changed,” Kreikemeier says. “The change is the acceptance in the marketplace.”
Market changes come through demand for a product. Designers and builders have taken notice, and in some cases have changed their modes of operation to survive in the market. The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Washington, D.C., partially rewrote its bylaws in 1978 to incorporate the design-build delivery approach. Before that period, architects saw themselves as the owner’s advocate in the construction process, and the possible partnership with a builder as a direct conflict of interest. What has influenced this change or evolution of attitude?
Preston Haskell, an engineer and president of the Haskell Co., a well-known, veteran, design-build firm based in Jacksonville, FL, says the pandemic spread of design-build occurred because of the cause-and-effect efforts of DBIA. He feels DBIA was a response to the emergence of design-build and the successful practice of the delivery approach by a number of highly competent and responsible practitioners. DBIA has helped promote awareness and instill some structure in the marketplace by articulating best practices and promulgating common definitions, which has helped to create constructive dialogue among professionals in the field. Communication fosters growth and understanding. Design-build would have grown in the market without the efforts of DBIA, but not as quickly or pervasively, he adds.
A Matter of Demand and Supply
Haskell lists a number of market-driven, basic advantages, which have helped influence owners to ask for the design-build delivery process when they are considering construction, either new or modernization:
• Singular responsibility: A single company takes credit as opposed to an adversarial finger pointing practice between architects in traditional systems of construction delivery.
• Cost effectiveness: The design-builder designs in an atmosphere of construction cost and constructability. A line is not drawn on a piece of paper without knowing what it costs. Owners get more for their money, or they get the same product for less money.
• Time savings: Total time to market can be reduced because design and construction can be overlapped. Bidding and redesign periods are eliminated; critical long-delivery purchases can be identified initially and ordered before detailed design begins. Conflict is reduced through cooperation. Often owners aren’t aware of change orders because the process is expedited through professional teamwork and understanding.
• Knowledge of firm cost: Accurate costs can be projected early in the process with as much as 10 to 15 percent of the completed documents. The 90/10 rule is applied: Ninety percent of the intellectual effort takes place in the first 10 percent of the design effort. As a result, economics, budgets and costs can be established during the 10-percent stage because 90 percent of the critical decisions are made. The other 10 percent is managed through the established budget.
• High level of quality: The design-builder takes part in the design process; responsibility and ownership for the quality of construction in the project is inherent, rather than building from another’s specifications.
Opponents have argued that quality drops during design-build, because the architect is not situated to supervise the construction process. Conflict between designer and builder produces a natural process of quality workmanship.
Haskell sees the process differently. The design-builder has a duty to his client to produce a product as opposed to a project, he says. He/she has an obligation to produce a product based on the owner’s expectations — performance based criteria — like a car, which will perform to certain specifications. The design-builder’s reputation and large amounts of capital are at risk. Design-build produces more than a commodity construction of another’s plans and specifications. So the architect is really working with the design-builder in a cooperative, professional manner. The owner’s needs are paramount. This practice, and ultimate attitude change among some architects, has helped spread design-build.
Synergy: Making a Personal Change
by Moving Forward
The multidiscipline views of design-led and construction-led firms working in the design-build mode offer the construction industry a number of possibilities, says Beard. The ultimate qualifier for builders is to wake up in the morning and define themselves as design-builders, not contractors, architects, or engineers.
Design-build is an evolution of spirit, culture, cultivation, and intellectual dimension within a person, Haskell says. Contractors, many of whom are credentialed engineers or architects, are no longer seen as individuals who wear dirty boots and have no formal education. Often, the contractor is the first to see a flaw in design while working in the field. Functionality at fair cost is the mantra of the day. They know very quickly what will work, and what will not. Design-build delivery highlights the wisdom and working knowledge of contractors by bringing their abilities to the planning table, to the field in partnership with the design professionals, and to the owners’ confidence in the completed building process. Today’s builders, especially in the design-build mode, are sophisticated, valued partners with the design element. This is a change or evolution in attitude within the commercial construction industry.
Builders or contractors brought into the design process early in design-build can successfully complete most projects by focusing on an owner’s performance requirements. The later the design-builder enters the design process, the more difficult seamless construction becomes. DBIA created two documents, the 201 and 204, especially for the timing issue of design-build. The 201 document deals with competitive selection and is used after a design has already been drawn. However, if one has a highly complicated project, and design-build is the mode of delivery, then the 204 type of selection would be best. “I don’t think there’s any project where design-build cannot be successfully utilized,” Haskell concludes.
Integration: The Logical Stepping Stone
to Design-Build Theory
Design-build firms, whether management is design-oriented or build-oriented, think of themselves as integrated businesses that offer their clients a full range of opportunities with design-build at the front of their choices. True design-build firms, organizations that are used to working in the efficient atmosphere of trust, respect, and cooperation, would rather construct a commercial building using the non-traditional approach. Sometimes a client may specifically ask a design-build firm to operate under a design-bid-build approach, and often the company will agree to do the work unbundled. Conversely, the opposite scenario also occurs where a traditional, design-bid-build firm is asked by a client or owner to construct a building in the design-build vein, and again, because the owner dictates market, the firm agrees. The project is completed in a bundled fashion. Fully integrated firms, like the Haskell Co. and Sverdrup Facilities Co., have both construction professionals and the design professionals on staff, which allows great flexibility in cooperation in their operating mode. “They both draw a paycheck from the Haskell Co.,” Haskell says.
Another option in design-build is when a contractor engages an architect as a subcontractor, but the contractor operates as the general contractor, Haskell explains. The contractor manages the design process through the architectural subcontractor. “It’s a legitimate delivery system, and I think that’s how a lot of design-build is being done today. I think we can deliver a better value doing it the way we’ve done it, because we’ve been at it for 30 years and have developed an in-house, totally integrated delivery system.”
Haskell thinks the designer-led model of design-build, where an architect holds the contract with the owner in a design-build mode, and subcontracts the construction responsibilities to a general contractor, is more rare in the commercial construction market. “Most architects don’t have the financial strength, the deep pockets, and the ability to bond and guarantee costs. They have to go out, and in effect, have the contractor do that. On the other hand, if the architect is a good businessman, and is structured for design-build delivery, that can be a very effective model. I would say that it represents less than five percent of design-build projects.”
Jeff Beard sees all three models as possible design-build vehicles as long as they create a design-build team where individuals think of themselves as design-builders. However, he knows exceptions to the three models that have been successful in design-build. “I think there are some great people leading design-build companies who are not trained architects or engineers. They are good business managers; they are good people managers with an appreciation for design. They personally don’t have to design. They have to be good at leading a consortium of designers, constructors, finance people, operation people, and maybe maintenance people.”
John Edwards describes himself as solutions-driven and service-driven. He envisions design-build within a larger framework of integration that solves or answers a spectrum of client needs. Edwards feels he can better serve his client by bringing both sides of the equation — design and construct — to the table simultaneously, because his clients are looking for answers, not advice. “I’m a proponent of a base of services, not just design and construction, but more of an integrated services approach to a project delivery that runs from site acquisition analysis, site studies, and zoning studies —the preconstruction services — to programming, budgeting, and design-building. This process can evolve into operation and long-term maintenance. If you manage the entire process for the owner, the service allows the owner to do what he does best: run his business.”
The definition of design-build has not changed. However, the uses for design-build are constantly evolving, witnessed by DBIA’s struggle to update its Design-Build Manual of Practice. The table of contents is flagged with future topics of consideration for design-build. Learning is simultaneous and associated within the field, commerce, and publications. Design-builders find themselves confined only by the parameters or limits of their vision because this efficient construction process fosters cooperation, respect, and a large range of possibilities.
Kraig Kreikemeier concludes, “The design-build portfolio is building every day.”
Craig Rieks (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor at Commercial Building magazine.
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