What Is the Design-Build Project Delivery Method in Construction?

Design-build construction is becoming an increasingly popular approach for both commercial and residential projects. Instead of placing the burden of project management on the client, a single firm oversees the entire process from start to finish. Find out how design-build works and what makes it a standout option in the construction industry. 

What is design-build?

Under a design-build contract, a client hires one company to oversee both the design and the construction of the new property. This concept is also known as a single-source project. Design-build is frequently used for residential projects and large-scale commercial projects like hospitals, office buildings, and sometimes large infrastructure projects. 

With the design-build approach, all project contributors report to the design-build firm, whether they are internally employed by the company or are contractors. This removes the owner from having to oversee multiple contractors throughout the process. A design-build contract is typically more convenient and less risky for the client or owner because they don’t have to manage multiple parties and the budget. Instead, the design-builder is responsible for the work getting done on time and on budget. 

Design-build vs. traditional project delivery systems

When constructing a building using traditional project delivery methods, the client oversees multiple parties, including the designer, contractor, and any subcontractors used for parts of the construction process, making it more hands-on for the client. The client or owner also oversees the entire budget, even though each contractor and subcontractor acts as its own entity. This increases the chance of scope creep because these parties work separately without the responsibility for the overall budget and project.

In addition to design-build and traditional project delivery, another contract option for constructing a building is design-bid-build. This method separates the design from the construction process by using different companies for each part. Bids for the build process aren’t received until the design stage is over. This process can result in a lag during the middle of a project while the client waits for bids and reviews each candidate. 

How does the design-build process work?

While there is a flow from one phase to the next in the design-build process, keep in mind that many of these steps overlap because everyone is working together. Not only does this typically lead to better-quality work, but it also helps speed up the project schedule. 

1. Bidding phase: The firm’s design-build team is responsible for the project management and planning, as well as the construction. The owner should try to weigh costs as well as the value of each bid’s design-build project delivery.

2. Pre-construction phase: This step involves the construction costs and the terms of the contract. Payment could either be a lump-sum payment or a guaranteed maximum price. That’s the maximum price the owner pays from the design phase through construction, which could offer the owner cash savings if the project comes in under budget. A contract should also include a delivery timeline. 

3. Design phase: This is a collaborative process that involves the design-build firm, architect, engineer, and construction firm. The architect could work for the firm or be a subcontractor. Either way, they work directly with the entire team to nurture the project vision. 

4. Construction phase: Once the design firm finishes the design phase, the project moves immediately into the construction stage. There’s no need for the client to receive and review bids because the design-build firm oversees construction and the team members are already in place.

5. Post-construction phase: The final stage transitions the project from the design-build team to the client. It includes a walk-through and any type of training required for maintaining the new building.
 

Advantages of the design-build method

There are several advantages to the design-build method. 

  • Faster delivery systems. The collaborative aspect of the project appeals to clients who may not want to participate in two separate bid stages for design and building. 
  • Potential for larger profit margins. Budgets and project goals are aligned across the different phases of the project since everyone is working together to finish the construction.. This helps keep projects on or under budget, and increases the potential for higher profits.  

Disadvantages of the design-build method

The primary drawback of design-build is really for the firm.  

  • Risk shifts to the design-build team. Any errors made during the design or construction process are resolved by the design-build team, not the owner. This puts the design-build firm on the hook for any delays or miscalculations. 
  • A guaranteed maximum price. The design-build firm absorbs budget overages, not the client.

Design-build is growing in popularity and can often be an easier sell for clients who want a hands-off approach to their construction project. Contractors should be open to working on jobs with reputable design-build firms who are able to offer this competitive advantage for potential clients. 

MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications, like project delivery methods. Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.


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DR. KENNETH SANDS

Dr. Kenneth S. Sands II is an Assistant Professor in the Construction Management Program at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL, and an experienced construction management professional. He holds a doctorate in Environmental Design and Planning from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. He’s also worked as an estimator and project manager, with previous experience in purchasing, buyout and project site supervision. Dr. Sands’s passion for the construction industry was inspired by his father’s work as a carpenter.

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