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Getting Buildings to Market Quickly with Design-Build


While there are numerous benefits to utilizing the design-build delivery method, one of the biggest is time. Time to market faster, time saved with early engagement, and time better spent moving forward and not backtracking.

At the most basic level, design-build is defined when the Owner manages only one contract with a single point of responsibility and the designer and contractor work together from the beginning. This is a vastly different approach to the traditional method in which the Owner manages two separate contracts — one with the designer and one with the contractor.

On the Rise
Recent research conducted by the industry analysts at FMI indicates that the design-build delivery method is on the rise. Specifically, design-build construction spending in the assessed markets is anticipated to grow 18% from 2018 to 2021 and reach over $320 billion.1 Where design-build was once considered an alternative way to deliver construction projects, for the first time, it’s projected that nearly half of all construction in the United States will be design-build by 2021.

That growth comes from more recognition of the benefits that a team-oriented approach can have. Craig Rogge, a senior associate at GBA Architects/Engineers, sees the merits of the design-build approach. “Design-build is a collective effort — it’s not me versus them,” he said. “We work together to get the right design, and that often results in cost savings and improved schedules.”

Not only does the design-build process create a more collaborative environment, it helps strengthen relationships among partners. When partners spend more time together at the front end of these projects, they get to know one another and there’s a greater opportunity to establish trust. Building that foundation often means that as additional projects come to the table, there’s comfort and reliability in hitting the ground running.

Additionally, the FMI research shows that design-build projects allow for greater opportunity to provide project innovations and subsequent cost savings.1 A big part of that cost savings comes from input gathered in the initial meetings. From a conventional standpoint, architects have to have the design complete before the project can be put out to bid. By the time the general contractor is on board, it’s hard and expensive to change or improve designs. When a project is already down a path, changes can be costly and will likely impact the project schedule. According to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), design-build projects complete 12% faster and the ability to fast-track projects is one key reason Owners use design-build. In addition, one change may have an impact on other aspects of a project, so the team must be diligent when making adjustments and think through other elements of the project that may be affected. Changes on a project are inevitable, but they can be better controlled with improved early planning.

Design Influence
Value engineering is the process of examining the existing plan and looking for ways it can be improved upon. Using the design-bid-build approach, those value engineering suggestions often come to the table at a point in which established designs have to be edited, rather than as the designs are being created. The ideal time to identify those value engineering opportunities is when the project is being designed, which is the foundation of the design-build process.

“We’ve worked with several partners where we’ve been able to identify improved outcomes very early in the process,” said Bryan Hefley, senior estimator at MW Builders. “We’re able to influence the design from the very start to maximize the results for our clients.”

They say two heads are better than one, which is why design-build makes so much sense. Different viewpoints, varying experiences, and a collection of experts at the initiation of a project helps ensure that when there are opportunities for innovation, they are recognized.

Lessons Learned – Case study
When MW Builders first reviewed the design-build opportunity for the KEG 1 beverage distribution and office facility, they had some concerns with how the building was situated on the lot. In the original plan, the west-facing building raised a few red flags: safety for exiting truck drivers, level of office placement, and steep grades to the facility. MW Builders explored adjusting the nearby pond so that the building could become south-facing, which alleviated those concerns. The city was in favor of the adjustment, so the MW Builders team went through the process to make the changes to the design and the nearby pond. The building was able to adjust to face south, which resulted in minimal grade changes and a much safer entry and exit to the facility than had been previously designed. Not only that, but the new design is able to increase the future development space.

This kind of early insight helped alleviate some of the issues that would have resulted had the design been left as is. The minimal up-front schedule impact that the initial changes incurred were easily made up in the duration of the project.