Design-Build and Why You Should Use It

Q: What did the pyramids, the Parthenon and the Pentagon all have in common?

A: They were all built by the same method: Design-Build.

So, what exactly is Design-Build?

First, we’ll need to travel back 5000 years in time to ancient Egypt, when the original Pyramids were being built. These resplendent structures were assembled by a so-called Master Builder, who was responsible for the entire project from design through construction.

Several thousand years later, the Parthenon, among other long-standing structures of ancient Greece, would be built in the same manner.

It was another 2000 years, during the Renaissance, however, that architects decided they wanted their own profession as distinct from the builder. Architects began designing their own projects and put them on the market for builders to bid on. And so, Design-Bid-Build was born.

But Design-Build did not disappear. Take, for example, the Pentagon, built in the early 1940’s and considered one of the world’s most complex buildings, was constructed in the Design-Build method.

In fact, over the last 20 years, use of Design-Build has greatly accelerated in the United States, making this delivery method one of the more significant trends in design and construction. Design-Build construction now accounts for 40% of non-residential construction in the U.S.!

Across the country, owners are turning to Design-Build because it successfully delivers office buildings, schools, stadiums, transportation and water infrastructure projects, among others, with superior results.,

So, again, we ask What is Design-Build?

Design-Build is a construction delivery method that provides owners with a single point of contact for both the design and construction phases of a project. When you use a Design-Build contractor, you eliminate the hassle of entertaining separate bids for the design and construction of your project.

One entity holds single-source responsibility for every aspect of a build – from estimation, assessments and pre-construction to architecture, schematics, engineering, subcontracting, construction and post-construction.

You might say it’s a simple approach to construction. A team, working together from start to finish, in open communication and purposeful collaboration, to deliver otherwise unachievable results!

The benefits to be gained in establishing a well-designed and managed Design-Build process include the following:

One Team, One Objective

Time and again, Design-Build equates to headaches eliminated, teams collaborating and owners pleased. In Design-Build, the owner retains total control over the project and the team is there to empower him/her.

Blame is not accepted when using a design-builder. When challenges are encountered on a project (and there are always challenges), pointing fingers is not an option. Everyone simply rolls up their sleeves and works on solutions. As a result, solutions and not problems are the priority, and any problems that do arise are worked out together.

A Design-Build firm is part of the owner’s experience from beginning to end which ensures that nothing goes unnoticed and everything is done properly and with the owner’s constant input. Fact is, Design-Build operates under the assumption that the owner actually wants to be an active participant in the design and construction of their project. It’s a “We’re all in this together” approach. The owner is not alone nor is his/her project overly crowded with workers who may not know what the plan even is.

In Design-Build, there’s also no need to limit solutions to traditional ideas. The job is the boss! Teams are only limited by what’s right for the job. As ideas come forth, teams work as one to evaluate them, in full transparency, assuring owners of getting the best materials, the best siting, the best schedule, the best design, and more.

What’s more, Design-Build contracts foster partnering between team members, which in turn, adds value to the project.

Construction Fact: There are 10 Million bricks in the Empire State Building.

Total Accountability

Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to hear from people that “their remodel cost twice as much as the architect said it would.” Such a scenario is entirely unacceptable in the Design-Build world. Design-Build focuses on results, not excuses.

You see, the beauty of Design-Build services is streamlined simplicity: one point of contact and one entity accountable from start to finish.

That one entity, the Design-Builder, is accountable for the entire project, including how the end results look, the total costs, and how quickly it is completed. When the same group that designs the project also builds it, considerably more attention is given to pricing and scheduling the design phase. The costs of all aspects of the project are taken into account early on in the process – all fees, construction costs, utilities, landscaping allowances, and all other associated costs are considered.

Plus, when you align the Design-Builder’s objectives with those of the project owner, the resulting accountability drives the team to produce a more innovative, collaborative and efficient end result.

To better understand how total accountability can affect your project’s success, contact PDDM Solutions.

Construction Fact: The construction industry in the US is worth 1.18 trillion dollars.

Time Is of the Essence

Design and construction involve managing hundreds of timelines that need to coordinate in lockstep. With a Design-Build project, design and construction for a project can easily overlap, allowing for fast-track construction.

Fact is, many Design-Build projects can be completed in the same time as traditional jobs are planned.

That’s because Design-Build creates opportunities for clients to sit with the Design-Builder when big decisions need to be made, ask questions, and consider their options. Anything the team can do to avoid taking steps backwards is going to lead to better, faster and more cost-efficient results.

The Design-Build system is also highly adaptive and responsive in the field. Big decisions can be revisited during construction without change orders or added fees.

Conventional wisdom says that if you make changes it will cost you money – not necessarily so in Design-Build.

Construction Fact: The Great Pyramid of Giza Was the Tallest Building in the World for Over 3,800 Years.

Open, Honest and Frequent Communication

We’ve all heard stories that design and construction can be “messy.” Truth is, design and construction need not be chaotic and stressful!

That’s because Design-Build projects require open collaboration between all team members. Not me vs. you in the traditional sense. Establishing a team approach encourages high levels of communication and transparency, both important to the project’s success.

Design-Build is transparent because owners understand the process and know what is going on at all times. The best partnerships work not because people say what everyone wants to hear, but because they say what everyone needs to hear. With clear communication, the budget is defined early on, and it becomes the agreement for the entire project.

Construction Fact: The only man-made structure visible from space is the Great Wall of China.

Improved Quality

With a Design-Build approach, quality control happens under the same umbrella, from start to finish. This is quite different from traditional construction models where quality control occurs more randomly, in different phases and by various entities. That’s because using the Design-Build method, the architect and contractor coordinate as a team, leaving the owner free to focus on the project’s scope. This, in turn, leads to a higher quality project that better suits the owner’s need.

The single-entity responsibility in Design-Build also serves as a motivation for quality and proper project performance. The owner’s requirements and expectations are documented in performance terms and it is the Design-Build entity’s responsibility to produce results accordingly.

Construction Fact: The 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete used to construct the Hoover Dam would be enough to build a two-lane highway from New York City to San Francisco.


Design-Build firms are experts in both fields: design and construction. The principals should be licensed architects with formal architectural training and experience in the architecture filed. They will also have professional experience in construction and understand pricing, sequencing and how buildings go together. Expert Design-Build firms are also knowledgeable of general construction and have strong, lasting partnerships with reliable subcontractors.

There is a tremendous advantage to working with architects who think like builders and builders who think like architects.

Construction Fact: The U.S. construction industry employs roughly 7.9 million people.

Rapid Delivery

On August 1. 2007, the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed. Thirteen months later, the first cars rolled across the newly constructed bridge. The Minnesota Department of Transportation employed Design-Build to complete the construction. Among the biggest benefits described was “speed of delivery.” The state was able to save time by overlapping design and construction activities, and avoided an estimated $400,000 a day from lost revenue and costs of detouring traffic.

Put simply, Design-Build offers rapid delivery because design and construction happen concurrently and because there is only one selection phase instead of two. The delivery method turns otherwise impossible timeframes into reality.

In the case of manufacturing or distribution construction projects in which producers and distributors expand their operations, the sooner a facility opens or expands, the sooner production can begin and the sooner profits can be realized. For some, a single day of lost production could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The speed of Design-Build becomes highly visible!

Construction Fact: Concrete is the most used material in construction.

Serious Cost Savings

Due to its efficiency, Design-Build often reduces construction costs for owners. This may come as a surprise, given that Design-Build projects lack the hard-dollar bid phase that general contracting affords. But building smart with Design-Build pays dividends, reducing both real (accounting) costs and opportunity costs. Due to the smooth nature of Design-Build project delivery, owners can reduce time spent managing a build. And time is money! That’s time that can be put to better use solving other business challenges.

Put simply, the owner knows where the buck stops and the way is paved for a smooth owner experience.

We all like charts. Here is one that sums up some of the aforementioned benefits:

Comparison of Project Delivery Methods

Metric Design-Build vs. Design-Bid-Build
Unit Cost 6.1% Lower
Construction Speed 12% Faster
Delivery Speed 33.5% Faster
Cost Growth 5.2% Less
Schedule Growth 11.4% Less

Source: Construction Industry Institute/Penn State research comprising 351 projects ranging from 5,000 to 2.5 million square feet. The study includes varied project types and sectors.

To learn more about Design-Build, its benefits and costs, and if I could be a solution for your next project, start a conversation today with PDDM Solutions.

Construction Fact: The Incas considered bridges to be so sacred that anyone who tampered with one was put to death.

Minimized Litigation Claims

One of the more common legal issues on construction projects are lawsuits against the architecture and engineering firm, usually filed by the general contractor. These create headaches for owners or project developers who must wait for the disputes to be settled, with the entire project hanging in the balance.

Design-Build avoids the common issues of other construction methods. By hiring a Design-Build firm, the owner only has to deal with one company from start to finish. The same entity that designs the project implements it – and is completely responsible for project success.

Construction Fact: A bridge built in Lima, Peru, around 1610, was made of mortar that was mixed not with water but with the whites of 10,000 eggs. The bridge still stands today.

There you have it, the case for Design-Build. Interested in exploring this option, simply contact PDDM Solutions.