Design Build

August 25, 2022

Having been in construction since 2000, I am convinced that the Design Build method of project delivery is best suited for renovation projects. Our experience working in Design Build has proven to save our clients both time and money. An added benefit for the client is true teamwork amongst the owner, the design professionals, and the contractor(s). By handling the liability for the preconstruction schedule and budget management it gives the client the flexibility in participation. Utilizing the Design Build methodology allows our clients to be more efficient at their jobs.

The traditional model of competitive bid work is outdated and is not a good fit for renovation projects. The design team, contracted directly with the owner, works in a vacuum without contractor support. As-built drawings are a rarity especially in commercial spaces that are subject to acquisition. Without having a contractor present to share experiences and alternate methods, the project is at risk for change orders. Often as unforeseen conditions emerge, the project is at risk for schedule slide and extended general condition charges.

Leadership of the project is a shared responsibility. In a non-Design Build project, the owners and the design team provide the leadership. Successful projects require a strong investment of time during preconstruction from both parties. Design Build shifts the preconstruction responsibility onto the contractor. The time saved and the gained opportunity costs make Design Build more economical for the client.

In Design Build, the contractor contracts directly with the design team. By assuming cost and liability of the design team, this leads to strong cooperation between design team and the contractor. As the plans develop, the contractor is working in the field to coordinate existing conditions versus the intent. The preconstruction study of the project’s intent coupled with the feasibility of construction has a dramatic positive effect on the project. Hunting for the unforeseen obstacles allows the design team to capture the correct scope. This “scope capture” ensures best value in pricing as well as the ability to plan for the most efficient schedule.

Budget is the number one driver in our industry. In a competitive bid scenario, the budget is not known to the competing contractors. If / when the estimates exceed the project budget, then time is lost as plans are redesigned. Typically, this leads to additional costs from the design team as they have to create documents. Furthermore, best value is not found when value engineering a contractor after the price has been presented.

Photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki

Understanding the budget is the catalyst for a successful project. It allows the contractors to work with the design team to maintain budget. There are times when the intent of the project is not aligned with the budget. Fortunately, this is discovered early in the Design Build project, after the initial SD (Schematic Design) budget is presented. The VE (Value Engineering) now takes places during the plan development as we progress into DD (Design Development). This is critical timing, getting the VE items into the DD set is vital because this is when the submarket is solicited. This is the best practice for value.

Contractor involvement during preconstruction in the Design Build model provides another layer of risk assessment for the project’s budget. Experience does tell us that there are a limited number of unforeseen issues that may be found. Of course, there are always exceptions but contingencies are built into the budget based on experience.

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