Design-Build Defined (and the Top 3 Team Structures)

This week we will continue our series, Project Delivery Methods, featuring our contributing blogger Dennis Rex.  Dennis is the President of Muhlenberg Greene Architects, and is currently managing multiple projects for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

As I briefly mentioned in my previous post, there are four typical types of project delivery in the design and construction field:  Design-Bid-Build (DBB), Design-Build (DB), Construction Management (CM), and Partnering (P).  While Design-Bid-Build is still the traditional method, probably the fastest growing of the 4 is the Design-Build (DB) project delivery method.  This week we will discuss what Design-Build is, as well as the 3 types of typical Design-Build team structures.  Next week, we will cover the 5 key issues that Owners should consider before beginning a Design-Build project.

What is Design-Build, and how is it structured?

Design-Build is essentially design and construction combined in one contract.  Typically, the project Owner will employ a Builder/Contractor, and the Builder will contract an Architect.  A Design-Build team can be structured in many ways, but the top 3 ways to organize a Design-Build team are:

  • Single Organization – One Design-Build firm with architects, engineers and builders all employed within a single organization.
  • Builder Prime – Most firms are organized with a Builder or Contractor as the Design-Build entity, and architects and engineers are hired as subcontractors.
  • Designer Prime – It is possible, but not common, for the Designer/Architect to be the prime Design-Build entity, and the Builder to be subcontracted directly through the Architect.

The Builder Prime structure is generally the most typical arrangement for Design-Build project delivery.  In this type of contract, the Architect’s contract is with the Builder, not the Owner.  In this way, the Architect is no longer an impartial advisor to the Owner, and will not be in a position to judge the Builder’s performance.  This is an important distinction to make between the traditional Design-Bid-Build project delivery and Design-Build project delivery.

In a Design-Build arrangement, the Design-Build entity warrants to the Owner that it will produce construction documents that are free from error, thereby assuming the risk.  This is contrary to the traditional Design-Bid-Build arrangement, where the Owner warrants to the Builder that the construction documents, produced by their contracted design firm, are complete and free from error, thereby assuming the risk.

As with any of the project delivery methods, there are advantages and disadvantages to Design-Build contracts, and it is up to the Owner to decide if it is right for their project.  Next week, we will talk about the 5 key issues that every Owner should consider before embarking on a Design-Build project.

Do you have personal experience with a Design-Build project?  Let us know!

(The featured image above is a rendering of one of our design-build projects.)

Written by

Dennis Rex is a Principal, and the President of Muhlenberg Greene Architects, as well as an occasional contributor to our Blog.

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