Why Design-Build

The history of building starts with the history of civilizations, yet architecture was not always an independent profession.

The word architect comes from the Greek word architektōn, meaning chief constructor, master builder. For a long time there was no clear differentiation between builders, craftsmen and engineers who also provided the design. As societies and life became more complex, advanced technology led to the development of new manmade materials. As a result, building, design and engineering became more complex and specialized.

Architecture as a profession began to organize and define itself in the US between 1860 and 1900, so the licensed profession is about 150 to 200 years old. Today we have architects to define, design and document a building project.

In addition, the construction documents include the work of a structural engineer who sizes and documents the structure. Further, the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and civil engineers, landscape architects and interior designers participate on the design team as needed.

Once the builders (licensed general contractors) receive the construction documents, they complete a thorough cost estimation process. When a bid on a project is accepted by the owner, the builder sets up the subcontractor team to build the project.

When we take on a project in our architectural studio, our goal is twofold—design a building and plan the pathway to accomplish the project. We establish the project outline, the time frame, the budget and the members of the team. The architect can set up the complex process of design and construction in one of three ways:

  • Design-Bid-Build—Engage the builder after the design is complete.
  • Preliminary Bid—Engage the builder during design development.
  • Design-Build—Engage the builder at the beginning and work as a team.

Design-Bid-Build is an acceptable way to set up a project but certain drawbacks lead to inefficiency. At the beginning of my architectural practice we often followed this process. However, we had to cycle back to the design phase after the bidding process and redesign the project to better meet the budget, adjust the quality or do some other form of value engineering. Often the structural part had to be redone as well because the builder’s preferred methods were not aligned with the plans. The process became lengthy and untenable due to differing interests of the architect and the builder.

Preliminary Bid offers a different pathway to accomplish a project. We begin pricing at an earlier stage as we develop the design at the design development stage. We get a preliminary cost estimate and engage a builder, which is more efficient but often requires training those builders on the specialties we focus on in our architectural work. These include green building, alternative structures, solar design, nontoxic materials and other research that leads to nonconventional solutions.

Design-Build has evolved as the most efficient pathway for most of our projects. In this setup the architect and the builder work together from the beginning as a team to consider all components of the design and construction, and the impact on the overall cost. The best project outcome is achieved because the builder and the architect carry out the concept seamlessly and efficiently. This pathway is especially valuable when experience with nonstandard projects is a priority—when the owners request alternative construction or a healthy-built, nontoxic home.