Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Smart Owners Consider Design-Build

An adage in the building industry states something to the effect of: “Choose two things you want from this list: 1) Quality, 2) Schedule, 3) Budget, because you’re not going to get all three.” Sadly, the majority of the traditional ways in which buildings are designed and constructed enforce this saying, also known as “the Project Triangle” as true. However, sophisticated owners willing to step outside the confines of the triangle can find reward.

If you are an owner weighing options for an upcoming building project, and you are interested in saving time and money while increasing the quality and reliability of the finished product, then consider design-build as your building delivery method.

Even if a formal design-build project structure is not desired, a client should absolutely insist on teaming with architects, engineers, and contractors who tout a collaborative approach.

By consolidating design and construction knowledge into a single design-build entity, the owner benefits without an added administrative or contractual expense; no construction management contracts, and no headache from administering this management effort in-house.

The advantages below are from the owner’s perspective. They seek to illustrate how a single-source design-build entity (D-B) providing the design and construction services for a building project (one contract between D-B and owner) can be superior to the more traditional, two contract method (where owner contracts separately with architect and contractor).

In design-build, from project conception the designer and the constructor are in tune with the entire scope of the project and can tackle all project challenges holistically. Ideally, this approach would happen naturally in the real world with any project structure, as the end goal of any project team should be a successful project. The problem is that the two contract structure of most projects does not formalize this relationship in a way that places the owner’s definition of success in the interests of all parties. The general contractor and designer often find themselves at odds. A properly incentivized Design-Build project structure can turn this problem into advantages for the owner.

Potential advantages of design-build to owner:
  1. Increased ability to control budget
    a. At early stages of design, the D-B can realistically assess project costs and place meaningful emphasis on the validity of these budgets based on the fact that building systems and details are chosen by the same entity that will build them.
    b. A guaranteed maximum price (GMP) can be arrived at sooner than in a traditional design-bid-build process because not all design documentation must be completed for the D-B to issue a 100% budget price. Further, the scenario of a lowball bid and subsequent changes orders resulting from “design deficiencies” during construction is eliminated.
    c. Therefore, the owner’s budget used for discussion with lenders, investors, and management will be more accurate earlier and later in the project.
  2. Increased project quality
    a. The D-B is incentivized to find the best systems (within budget) because it is standing behind not only the detail selection OR installation, but both of these importance aspects of building quality.
    b. Under certain circumstances, an owner may want specific criteria of building performance to reach measurable thresholds. For example, envelope leakage, daylighting levels, or production capacity for a manufacturing facility. This scenario is impossible to enforce in traditional building delivery structures where one entity is responsible for executing the design of another, because neither will guarantee the other’s work. Design-build consolidates responsibilities in the interest of all parties.
  3. Compressed project schedule
    a. The D-B team can assemble reliable construction schedules earlier in the design process than in a traditional design-bid-build process, allowing the owner to get a clearer picture of when they will be able to occupy the building.
    b. The D-B team can use the entirety of the design timeline to bid portions of the project and order long lead items to consolidate bid and construction timelines.
    c. Single-source responsibility allows construction to begin prior to the completion of design documents, without risking price increases and delays associated with fast-tracking projects with incomplete documentation.
    d. Finally: time is money. So this advantage is integral to the budget control listed above.

Not all projects may lend themselves to the design-build delivery method, but surely the advantages available warrant a look. Ask yourself, "Is design-build right for my next project?"

[1016] Architecture is ready. Are you?

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