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POctober 1, 2012

Why Design-Build? The Integrative Design Process

The design-build construction project delivery method is an arrangement in which a building owner contracts with a single entity to both design and build the facility. The process is different than the typical design-bid-build lump sum bidding process. It is also different from the construction management project delivery method. There are numerous advantages of using the design-build project delivery method.

summit-small-imageIf you input the words, “Advantages of Design-Build” into your Google search engine you will get much of the same information from website to website. You will learn about the benefits of single source responsibility, improved risk management, improved quality, lower building costs and faster schedules. As you read the narratives at each of the websites, you begin to wonder if, perhaps, they were all authored by the same person. That is because the words sound the same. The advantages, while all true, sound familiar (or in some cases exactly the same) from company to company. Yes, even our very own EDiSinSiDE September 2012 newsletter has some of the same language. And I should know because I am one of the authors of that piece. Single source responsibility, faster delivery, cost savings, higher quality, enhanced communication… it’s all there.


While all of those design-build advantages get a lot of attention, the most important benefit of the design-build project delivery is the integrative design process.  Integrative design is a collaborative process of designing and constructing buildings that focuses on the whole building design. The integrative design and construction process embodies all of what is best about the design-build delivery method.

The traditional design process begins with a schematic design, which essentially results in identifying the parameters of the building’s architectural form and plan. After this step is complete, the mechanical, electrical, structural, fire protection, and assorted other design professionals all complete their disciplines’ designs in the vacuum of their respective offices using conventional approaches to their designs. At the end of this design development stage, the architect coordinates all of these disciplines into the final design. The burden is upon the architect to identify any collisions and interferences that may have resulted from the developed design. The result is a set of construction documents that can include hundreds of drawings and thousands of pages of technical specifications. General contractors are then requested to take those bidding documents and provide a lump sum proposal in roughly 2 to 3 weeks. So, after the design team has spent months and sometimes years working on the building design, the bidders spend a few weeks putting a live-or-die price to it.  And, guess what, the low bidder is typically awarded the project!

PS-145UniqemaOfficeDuring this entire design and bid period, there is no interaction between the builder and the design team. Coordination between the builder and the design team doesn’t occur until the start of construction. As John Boecker writes in his analysis “The Integrative Design to Green Building” (2009), about the traditional design approach, “This conventional process creates buildings that are no more than the sum of their parts – and sometimes less.” What is even more thought-provoking, he writes, is that the buildings are not prototypes like a chair or a coffee machine that have been produced thousands of times and have had the opportunity to have their bugs worked out. But a building is one and done. It is its very own prototype.

Integrative design changes the way the building is formed. The design-build project delivery method facilitates the change. It involves builders from the very beginning and it challenges all of the stakeholders to think differently; to innovate. The integrative process eliminates isolated thinking in the design and construction process and begs the question, How can we do this differently? It forces the team members to think creatively because the process challenges old paradigms and conventional thinking. The integrative process can have a dramatic and positive effect on the final product, budget, schedule, quality and sustainability of the completed project. This is the ultimate in collaboration where many minds with differing backgrounds participate and deliver an enhanced building that meets the owner’s needs and expectations in a way the conventional design process cannot.


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