Monday, November 7, 2011

What is Design/Build and Why Should I Consider this Approach to Building?

Design/Build is a team approach to building. The team consists of 3 primary players; Owner, Design Professional and Contractor, all of which are equally important.  Just think of a 3-legged stool. All 3 legs are required in order for the stool to function. If one leg is weaker than the others, or is removed, the entire stool collapses and ceases to function.

Traditional Hard Bid Approach

Most homeowners who approach a building project hire someone to draw a set of plans and then solicit multiple bids from multiple contractors with those same set of plans. This is the most common approach and has been done for decades. Here’s the problem……… when using this approach you are assuming that all contractors have the same level of expertise, same level of competence and will use the same quality materials and the only difference is going to be the price. THIS IS THE FURTHEST THING FROM REALITY!
It’s almost as if you decide to buy a particular car (your project) and you just go from dealer to dealer (the contractor) to get the best price. This process is usually fine since all cars are built on an assembly line, in a controlled environment and the materials and quality are controlled by the same manufacturer. With the exception of a few ‘lemons’ here and there, the end product is rather predictable, therefor PRICE is the only thing that is negotiable at that point.
Construction, however, is completely the opposite. The end product is hand made by fallible humans with different levels of expertise, different business practices and with different motivations, hence a different end product than you think you are going to get when you started out.

Design/Build is a Negotiated Bid

In a Design/Build approach to building, the owner selects their “team” (design professional and builder) from the beginning. Referring back to the 3-legged stool, the owner communicates their needs to the designer who interprets those needs into a preliminary design and then the contractor runs a preliminary cost analysis based on the preliminary design. If the costs are outside of the budget (and it usually is on the first draft, it’s a matter of how much over), the designer, contractor and owner work together to design the project to the budget and not the budget conforming to the design. This is the negotiation part of the process. It’s NOT about negotiating profit margins, but rather negotiating the aspects of the design, identifying the costly portions and developing creative design solutions to bring the costs down.  During this process, it is the design professional’s job is to ensure the integrity of the design solution, the contractor acts as a consultant for projected cost purposes and the owner steers the direction of the decision making process. All three are equally important.
Once a final design solution (including construction costs) is arrived at, final construction documents are completed by the design professional, permits are obtained by the contractor and construction begins. The advantage of having the contractor involved during the design process is that by the time you are building, all parties are fully versed of the expectations of the project and a working relationship between the owner, design professional and contractor is already established before a shovel of dirt is ever turned. A dialog and working relationship has already been established. This will prove invaluable during the actual construction when something goes awry (and it will) and issues can be headed off before it becomes a major problem.
Throughout my entire 25 year career of designing nearly 800 projects, I can say that the most successful projects have been the ones that were done in a design/build approach. My definition of ‘successful’ is when all the parties are still talking to each other by the end of the project!

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