Design-Build Fast Becoming Project Delivery Method of Choice

Written by Paul Gray, Sr. Vice President, New England Mechanical Services, Inc., Vernon, CT

and Matthew Mullen, Business Development Manager, New England Mechanical Services, Inc., Vernon, CT

Design-Build is not a new method of project delivery. It actually goes back to ancient times when the master builder served as both designer and builder. Today, it is a process whereby an owner hires a contractor with an experienced team of design professionals and prime subcontractors who can deliver a project faster, at a lower overall cost and at higher levels of owner satisfaction than the traditional design-bid-build method.

The Design-Build Institute of American (DBIA) in Washington, D.C. recently completed a study on procurement. It found that in 1985, 5% of all projects in the U.S. were delivered using design-build; 82% used the design-bid-build method of project delivery and 13% used other approaches. For 2005, the DBIA study predicts that 45% of all the U.S. projects will be design-build. 45% will be design-bid-build. By 2015, it is projected that 55% of all projects will be completed by design-build with only 35% using design-bid-build.
Clearly, design-build is becoming the project delivery method of choice. It offers several key advantages:


On average, a design-build project costs 6% less than a design-bid-build project. Design-build also enables an owner to establish a firm budget early on in the project development process, facilitating the owner's ability to secure financing.

Improved Timeline

Because critical construction planning efforts can begin during the design process, design-build service proves to be a real time saver. It also allows for phased construction, in as much as the project team can design and construct simultaneously. In fact, design-build typically enables projects to be completed in a third less time than by other methods.

Expedited Procurement

Once a design-build project is in the design process, long lead time materials and equipment can be pre-purchased, saving time and money. This also enables an owner to have greater input into purchases, allowing the owner to specify equipment that will have lower overall life cycle costs and require less maintenance.

Fewer Change Orders

Use of design-build solutions can significantly reduce the number of change orders on a project. And, if the owner and the rest of the project team specify the performance criteria jointly, design-build is usually a better process for providing smoother building start-ups, better commissioning and improved facilities operations and maintenance.

Making Design-Build Work

There are several key elements that are necessary if design-build is to be successful; one is trust. An owner must have confidence in the design-build service team, since they are ultimately responsible for all facets of the project. Trust is established through a track record of proven results. In order to proceed with confidence, the owner must understand and trust in the experience of each major team member.

Given the complexities and fast-track nature of most design-build projects, teamwork is also essential to a successful outcome. Owners should look for design-build teams that have worked together in the past on similar types of projects. They will have a good balance of talents and will understand the different contributions that are necessary to achieve an owner's requirements. After all, construction of a building is not about bricks and mortar; it is about the process of people working together to achieve a common goal.

Design-build is not for every project. But an experienced design-build team working in tandem with a savvy owner can provide a host of price, performance, and schedule benefits for many types of building construction.