by Jay Connolly
Design-build is the fastest-growing construction method in the U.S. Depending on client preferences, our construction management, planning, design, and development firm uses both traditional and design-build construction methodologies. This diversity of approach provides us with a suitable vantage point to determine which method works best for different kinds of projects, and while not a perfect fit in every instance, design-build offers significant advantage in many cases.
First, design-build appeals to those interested in a single source of responsibility. This requires complete transparency on the part of the design-build entity so that the client remains informed via an open-book bidding process. When questions arise, design-build spares the client the need to play the part of centralized administrator. Instead, there is only one phone call to make, to the design-build firm, which assumes responsibility for ensuring that all members of the team are working together effectively and efficiently. In this way, design-build transforms the relationship between design and construction teams. Especially when unexpected issues occur, design-build incentivizes collaborative problem solving rather than wasting resources on establishing sources of fault.
Next, many clients initially gravitate toward the design-build model due to its efficiencies of cost and time. With a clear picture of both the vision and budget, no time need be wasted on designs that are too costly to make it from the page to the construction site. As projects develop, unforeseen needs and challenges may occur no matter what methodology one employs, but by marrying a design vision with planning and budget early on, and seizing opportunities for value engineering, design-build is often useful in avoiding schedule-busting redesigns and costly unplanned architectural fees.
Yet another advantage of the design-build model is the ability to secure materials and subcontractors earlier than one might in a design-bid-build model. Instead of waiting for drawings to be completed, bids to be gathered and leveled, and teams to be selected, the design-build firm can bid individual trades to multiple subcontractors as drawings are incrementally completed, allowing for an accelerated timeline while retaining competitive pricing advantage.
A 2018 study of more than 200 contemporary projects by the Construction Industry Institute and the Charles Pankow Foundation found that design-build remains the most cost- and time-efficient methodology available. Still, it is important to understand that, like any method, design-build is not “inherently good.” Rather, design-build is intrinsically tied to the practices of those who use it, so it remains crucial to conduct work-quality research to ensure that your project is in good hands.
Jay Connolly is president of Connolly Brothers, Inc.