DesignProfessionalsImageIn the case of a design-build project, the owner enters into a single contract with a design-builder for both design and construction services. This is unlike Design-Bid-Build (“DBB”) and Construction Manager at Risk project delivery methods  in which the owner enters into two contracts – one with a design professional to design the project and one with a contractor to build it. -. Most commonly, the design-builder will be a contractor that has engaged a design professional as a subconsultant or a joint venture comprised of a contractor and a design professional. In this post we will discuss the design-build process and its benefits and drawbacks as compared to other methods of project delivery.

We should note at the outset that Design-Build project delivery is impractical for state assisted public school projects because grant guidelines dictate that, before the contract for construction can go out to bid, the final plans and specifications for the project must be approved in writing by the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services. Because a design-build contract is for both design and construction, it would be impossible to utilize design-build and remain in compliance with such grant requirements. Design-Build project delivery may be used for public school projects that are not state assisted provided that design-build project delivery is not prohibited by town charter or the purchasing policies of the board of education. For certain State and higher education projects, design-build project delivery is statutorily permitted. The ability to use design-build for private school projects is dictated by the policies of the school administration.

One of the primary benefits to an owner utilizing design-build project delivery is that the owner is able to look to the design-builder as the single point of responsibility for the entire project. With other project delivery methods, where the owner has separate contracts for design and construction, there is frequently “finger pointing” by the design professional and the contractor regarding responsibility for project issues. This can result in costly project delays. With design-build, however, because the contactor and the design professional work as a team in direct communication with each other beginning in the design phase of the project, there are generally fewer unknowns and opportunities for dispute. In any case, the owner will not need to make a determination of fault because, from the Owner’s perspective, the design-builder is the party responsible to the owner regardless of whether a defect is based in the design or the construction of the project.

Another advantage of design-build is that the design-builder is selected based on qualifications, experience and price (as opposed to low bid as is most common with design-bid-build). Additionally, the single procurement process and single contract negotiation with the design-builder (rather than one each for design and one each for construction) shortens the preconstruction planning phase. Further, a design-builder can begin ordering materials and performing site work prior to the completion of the entire design for the project thereby increasing efficiencies and shortening the project schedule.

There are drawbacks associated with design-build. One drawback is that the owner, by virtue of the nature of design-build, has less control over the design process than with design-bid-build where the owner contracts directly with a design professional to design the project. With design-build, the owner provides the design-builder with the owner’s “project criteria” upon which the design-builder is contractually required to base the design and construction of the project. Depending on the project, the project criteria may be largely conceptual in nature or, alternatively, may be developed to the point of preliminary design documents prepared by a separate consultant of the owner. This separate consultant is sometimes referred to as the “bridging architect” and the preliminary design documents are referred to as the “bridging documents”. The bridging documents will generally become a part of the project criteria provided to the design-builder.

It should be noted that the greater the degree of specificity and detail provided to the design-builder by the owner, the less responsibility the design-builder will have for aspects of the design that are based on those specifics and detail. If performance specifications in the project criteria specify the results or objectives the owner wants to achieve, rather than the method for achieving such results and/or objectives, the design-builder will have flexibility in its design but will remain responsible for achieving the owner’s stated results and objectives.
Another disadvantage of the design-build method as compared to other delivery methods is that the architect for the project is not acting as the owner’s trusted advisor and “eyes and ears” as is common with DBB project delivery. Some owners will engage a third party project manager to serve in the architect’s traditional oversight and administrative role.

According to proponents of design-build project delivery, when effectively employed, design-build saves time and money. It is difficult, however, for an owner to evaluate and compare the proposals of two or more design-builders, particularly if the project criteria lean more towards the conceptual than the specific. The proposals submitted can vary widely in substance and price. Some would argue that design-build is best suited for projects that are not particularly complex in design or implementation such as roads, apartment buildings and infrastructure projects in part because the owner may be more comfortable with less control over the design. Others are of the opinion that it is the large complex project that benefits most from design-build because the integrated approach of design-build allows for expedient problem solving and provides an opportunity for innovative solutions.

Before using design-build it is important to assess whether or not this method of project delivery is the optimal choice for your project given the project’s size, complexity and scheduling needs as well as the your desired level of control over the design aspects of the project.

Keep a lookout for our next Construction Corner post where we will discuss the essential elements of design contracts.