What is Design-Build Construction?: A Comprehensive Guide

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design-build construction blog

It seems as though the construction industry is taking a massive leap forward in many innovative ways like technology, materials, and architectural design. However, this isn't exactly the case as far as the entire building process goes. In fact, build theory and strategy is taking quite a big step back and the timeless quote "less is more" is beginning to show some real face in this aspect. You may have been hearing some buzz around the term 'design-build' lately and may be wondering what design-build is and what it is all about. Look no further... well, just a bit further because we are about to dive deep into the world of design-build. We'll go into what design-build is, it's advantages and disadvantages, and who the biggest hitters in the commercial and residential design-build world are.  

What is Design-Build Construction? 

The design-build construction process is a method of delivering construction projects while taking a vertically integrated approach. A single firm designs a project as well as builds it. Usually, in the traditional design-bid-build method, a construction project starts with a vision from the owner's perspective. The owner hires designers to create a blueprint for the project and then contractors bid on the design to build the project. This process requires several contracts and agreements with separate entities. Design-build is a different approach in that it creates a process that involves a single contract between the owner and the design-build firm. I'm going to emphasize that again... single contract. As you can see below in the infographic from the Design-Build Institute of America, design-build eliminates the separation of designer and contractor. This creates a unified team dynamic throughout the entire building process that promotes collaborative work on the entire project from the first blot of ink on a blueprint to the last bell and whistle placed on a structure.

design-build diagram

Approaches on construction build theory are starting to come full-circle in a sense. The master builder concept is a relatively ancient approach to building that resembles design-build. The master builder approach has been used throughout history, but predominantly in the Renaissance period during a time when a "master builder" and his guild would take on an entire project including the design and the construction. As time went on, and as the Industrial Revolution affected Europe, specializations in both design and construction developed and the roles began to shift into the hands of separate entities. This eventually led to the current, standard construction process where there are multiple parties and multiple contracts involved. To put it very simply, an owner has a vision, hires a designer to draw out the plans and then general contractors bid on the project. A general contractor is then hired for the job and the owner now has two separate contracts. This process seems logical and tactical, but problems arise when the general contractor has issues with the designer's blueprints. Due to the inevitable and growing difficulties with communication between designer and general contractor, firms are starting to take a different approach. Enter design-build. The design-build approach has been gaining some serious traction, but we can't help but be a devil's advocate for this process. That being said, let's get into some of the advantages and disadvantages of the design-build method and take a look at who some of the biggest firms are to do it. 

design build renaissance master builder

Advantages of Design-Build Construction

The design-build construction process is quite an innovative step backwards for construction and with so many well-versed professionals in the industry, there are legitimate reasons why these owners and firms are using the design-build approach. Here are some benefits of the design-build delivery method: 

1. Reduced Risk For the Owner

In the design-bid-build process, the design entity provides design plans to the owner with a Standard of Care, essentially stating that they will provide their design service to the best of their professional abilities to the owner but do not promise perfect, errorless plans. The owner then sends the design plans for general contractors to bid on under the Spearin Doctrine which is essentially a promise to the GC that the design plans contain sufficient information needed to estimate, bid on, and build the entire project. This process puts risk into the hands of the owner because if the plans are not sufficient and the project turns out to be much different than the design plans articulated, the owner can be in a litigation situation and that's not a fun place to be. Design-build takes this risk out of the equation, because a single firm is designing as well as building, putting the warranty of sufficiency on their own hands.

2. Fewer Change Orders

Construction change orders occur when there is any alteration to the original plans for a project. These changes can be in the form of project scope, budget, or any other significant details. In the design-bid-build method, there is a separation of entities doing the project which can result in ineffective communication and increased amounts of change orders. Change orders slow down projects and cost the owner time and money. However, with design-build, the design and construction teams work very closely which makes for a synced collaboration that produces much more accurate estimations resulting in fewer change orders. 

3. Collaborative Teamwork

Design-build firms are vertically integrated. They are a team that is used to working together and are working for the same goal of the same firm. There is a deeper alignment with the people on these teams, driving them to work together to collaboratively save money, execute the project more efficiently, and make the client happy. In design-bid-build, this isn't exactly the case. In fact, the GC and design firms tend to get in finger-pointing disputes when problems arise because no one wants to take blame for errors in project scope, process, or budget. 

4. Time Saved

Reduced errors, fewer change orders, collaborative work... all of these things produce a more efficient project. I've said it before and I shall say it again, time is money. Design-build firms save a lot of valuable time due to how they are structured which is something to heavily consider as an owner looking to jump into a project, especially if the firm is using Raken software. With Raken, owners have access to project progress updates, photos, daily reports, time cards, and any information they need without having to constantly ask the design-build firm. This lets the firm do what they're good at without having to focus heavily on communication and documentation. 

Disadvantages of Design-Build Construction

Despite the advantages of the design-build method, there are certainly some disadvantages of this approach as well.

1. Lack of Competitive Bidding

In marketplaces, competition is everything. Intense competition drives companies to offer their best product at the most effective price. The same goes for firms that compete for projects in the construction industry. In the design-bid-build world, there a plenty of firms competing for projects and to win, they need to offer the best option at the best price. This isn't quite the case in design-build. Because design-build is a newly reintroduced approach on construction, the amount of firms that do are built for this process are limited. Due to the limited competition, the price tag on a design-build process is usually greater than the alternate option of design-bid-build. Lack of competition may also give the owner few to no options of firms that they actually trust or expect to perform on the desired level.

2. Loss of Owner Control in Design

Owners of a project may face some loss in design influence in the design-build process. With hiring a firm that specializes in design-build, there is a level of trust that the owner has in the firm to design and deliver the ideal project. The firm designs the project based on their unique capabilities and resources, creating room for the owner to lose some control of the design. 

Daily Reporting Technology in the Process

At the end of the day, there are going to be pros and cons with any kind of build process. Design-build pros and cons may just be more attractive than design-bid-build pros and cons. Regardless, technology plays a big role in both of these methods and choosing a firm that is on top of the game with construction software is crucial. Firms that use Raken, like Maurice Agrillo, see large results in factors such as saving time, saving money, litigation protection, and overall efficiency. Daily reports, time cards, and job summaries are all necessary day-to-day tasks that must be completed and the traditional pen and paper process of doing these reports creates for inefficiency and error. With inefficiency and error come a loss of time, loss of money, an extended project delivery period, and all kinds of costly problems. Having Raken on the jobsite is hugely important no matter what the process of project design and delivery looks like. 

Top Design-Build Companies

Commercial Design-Build Firms

So who are the big players in the commercial design-build industry? We've compiled a list of the top 10 commercial design-build firms in the United States who collectively pulled in over $53 billion in 2017.

top 10 commercial design-build

Residential Design-Build Firms

Residential building is a whole separate beast, so we have put together a whole separate list for you. Here are the top 10 residential design-build firms in the United States: 

  1. GLUCK+ New York, NY 
  2. Marmol Radziner Los Angeles, California
  3. Jauregui Architecture Interiors Construction The Woodlands, Texas
  4. Phil Kean Designs Winter Park, Florida
  5. Remick Associates San Francisco, California
  6. Magleby Construction Lindon, Utah
  7. Smith Brothers Solana Beach, California
  8. Fratantoni Scottsdale, Arizona
  9. Merlin Contracting Las Vegas, Nevada
  10. Gabriel Builders Travelers Rest, South Carolina

top 10 residential design-build

Are you currently in the construction industry? Does your firm currently use daily reporting software to streamline the reporting workflow? Well if they don't, give it a shot. It's easier than ever to download the app and get the entire crew onboard within an hour. Click the button below for a free trial to see how Raken can make your life a whole lot easier.