What is Design Build?

B. Turner
B. Turner

To understand more about how this process works, one must first understand how design and construction are handled on a traditional project. With most projects, an owner will approach an architect to develop building plans. Once plans are complete, the owner will put the project out to bid to general contracting firms, and the lowest bidder will be awarded a contract. Throughout the project, most communication between the architect and contractor must be funneled through the owner, opening up the possibility of miscommunication, and often causing delays in the building process. The owner must act as a liaison in this case because the architect and contractor have no contract with one another, and legally must work through the owner, whom they are contracted to.

With a design build contract, however, the entire process becomes more stream-lined. The owner signs a contract with one of these companies, either the architect or the contractor, and from that point on, the owner's involvement is fairly minimal. The architect or contractor is responsible for hiring all designers, builders, and consultants needed to complete the project. There is less chance of miscommunication, and no need to have the owner act as a liaison between the two parties. Any design questions that come up on the jobsite can be easily answered by a call placed directly to the architect or engineer.

The design build process offers several other advantages as well. Because the architect and contractor are working together, the design, permitting, and construction processes can overlap somewhat, which helps to shorten the project schedule. With one company holding complete responsibility for the project's completion, there is much less finger-pointing between designers and contractors. Finally, rather than handling contracts, invoices, and questions from multiple companies, the owner only has to deal with one set of paperwork. As the paperwork involved in the construction process can be quite time-consuming, a large reduction like this can be quite significant.

While design build offers several major benefits, there are also some potential problems that owners should be aware of. Most importantly, the owner must realize that design build takes away some of the checks and balances between the architect and contractor. With these two parties working together, issues that would normally be a source of conflict may simply be pushed aside, which could impact the quality of the project. With the shortened schedule typical of design build work, the owner has less opportunity to make changes during each phase of the design. This may mean that the project's design is not quite as detailed and planned out as it would be with a traditional construction contract.

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