Design/Build On the Rise

Design/Build on the Rise

There are a medley of project delivery systems used by owners today in addition to the traditional method of competitive bidding. No one method is best for every project, however, one approach is gaining momentum across the country – Design/Build.

The percentage of Design/Build projects is on-the-rise. In fact, Engineering News Record recently reported that by the year 2015, 55 percent of developments are projected to be Design/Build, while 35 percent will be design-bid-build. This statistic is not surprising. Many owners are realizing the advantages of Design/Build, including:

  • Shorter, More Concise Schedules
  • A Team Manages the Owner’s Expectations
  • High Quality Results
  • Ability to Design to the Price, Not Price to the Design
  • Minimizes Change Orders

With Design/Build, the architect and general contractor work together as a single entity to provide both design and construction of a project. This team approach allows the designer to be part of the construction entity, and eliminates redundancy in the proposal and bidding procedures, which is typical in the traditional design-bid-build process.

Additionally, fewer lawsuits, and a convenient one-point-of-responsibility encourage some owners to opt for Design/Build.

Advantages of Design/Build

Shorter, More Concise Schedules
Since the design is often based on the availability of materials, equipment and labor, schedules tend to be more efficient.

Many projects have reduced their construction time by more than one-third. Less than two months after being selected as design/build manager for Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Red Wing, Minnesota, Knutson started construction. Within six months, Treasure Island opened the first three floors of the hotel. The entire seven-story facility was complete in another three months — on time and under budget. As a result of exhaustive planning and teamwork, Knutson met the fast-tracked, 11-month completion goal.

How is this possible? The overlapping phases of Design/Build allow portions of the work to begin immediately after the design is approved. This shortens the schedule by several weeks, and often times, by months. These time efficiencies translate into substantial cost savings, so owners begin generating revenue sooner than they would have with the competitive bid process.

As an added bonus, delays due to disputes are minimized and allow the project to move forward with streamline consistency.

Team Manages the Owner’s Expectations
It’s important that the team not only “manage” but also “understand” the owner’s expectations.

You may have heard the “Porsche/Volkswagen” analogy. A specification comparison was done using a Porsche and a Volkswagen. Each specification on the list was nearly identical, except for the engine. Yet, on paper, it looked as though they could be the same vehicle. However, we all know that a Volkswagen costs considerably less than a Porsche.

Unfortunately, similar situations have occurred in the construction industry. An owner envisioned and expected the end result to be that of a Porsche, but what actually got built was a Volkswagen.

Therefore, it is important to truly understand the owner’s expectations and cost limitations – to deliver the highest quality development at the best price (within the owner’s budget), and without any surprises.

High Quality
In the Design/Build process, quality is top-of-mind for the entire team. Because the partnership is solidified from the very beginning, the owner’s best interest and priorities are shared with the entire team from the start.

Additionally, Design/Build motivates subcontractors to maximize quality and gives the general contractor more flexibility when selecting specialists.

We Can Design to the Price, Not Price to the Design
Instead of the architect designing a building first, and then the contractor coming in later, the two entities are working as one from the inception of the project. Specifications can be discussed and strategized as a team in an effort to complement the budget and stay within the monetary guidelines.

Minimizes Change Orders
Nobody likes change orders. Because good communication is the catalyst in a Design/Build project, change orders are kept to a minimum. Additionally, it helps when the owner provides a detailed, prioritized list of criteria up front. Because the architect and contractor are working together from the inception of the project, they are able to avoid surprises mid-project.

While Design/Build simplifies the process in many types of projects and saves valuable time, it can raise challenges for owner’s who are used to developing a project in the traditional manner of design-bid-build.

Challenges of Design/Build

Developing High Level of Trust
Owners must have a high level of trust in the team they select. While design and construction professionals have worked together for years, it is especially helpful with Design/Build projects for these two entities to have worked together previously as a team to help ensure the success of the project.

Change is difficult.
Eliminating the traditional “bid” portion of the process is hard for many owners. However, if a project is cost-driven, the owner often sacrifices long-term quality for short-term cost issues.

A Different Way of Thinking

While many owners are nervous about removing the bid factor, there is a learning process going on within the industry. Competitive bidding is not necessarily the best way to generate the best value or even the lowest cost. In a Design/Build situation the contractor and designer are often in a position to save the owner money, not cost him, by identifying changes and cost saving opportunities before the project begins. Even government agencies are beginning to change policies requiring low bids to give them a Design/Build option.

“The Public Sector is quickly catching on to Design/Build because it is an effective way to get their project designed and built in a time and cost efficient manner,” commented Michael Collins, a Senior Designer with GDS Architects in Pasadena, California.

For example, in Southern California, there is a classroom shortage prompting an immediate need to build more schools faster. Recently, California Governor, Gray Davis, signed new legislation allowing school districts across the state to utilize Design/Build for new construction projects exceeding $10 million. According to Design-Build Magazine, many of the 700 schools expected to be built in California over the next six years could qualify for this new option.

For school districts faced with the need to build more schools quickly, the Design/Build legislation could be very useful in attracting a top-quality contractor and achieving a cost effective, organized project.

The Wave of the Future

More and more college students are aware of the increase in Design/Build projects and are tailoring their education programs accordingly.

According to Dean Tom Fisher, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of Minnesota, “Many of our students recognize that Design/Build is the future of alternative delivery methods. They are getting an undergraduate degree in construction management and then go onto get a graduate degree in architecture. They come out of school with a strong blend of both construction and design with the idea of opening more integrated design/build organizations.”

Knutson Construction – A Natural Fit

Knutson Construction started out in 1911 as a Master Builder, providing a full scope of building services – from design to pre-construction to general contracting.

To this day, Knutson remains true to its roots as a Master Builder offering a wide range of services and project delivery systems, including Design/Build.

For any questions, regarding Design/Build or our experience with this approach, please contact Tom Wood in Minneapolis,