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Charles A. Clarkson

Charles A. Clarkson, The Clarkson Group, L.L.C., Jacksonville, FL, Founder and Chairman


The recent emergence of Design-Build contracts in the U.S. building industry speaks to its many attributes.  In lieu of the traditional Design-Bid-Build format, Design-Build enables fast-tracking through continual designer-builder alignment and overlapping of job processes.  Further, this single source of designers and contractors places the onus on one entity, thus resulting in fewer conflicts.

On the other hand, Design-Build seemingly generates an equal amount of constraints.  Perhaps the greatest disadvantage with Design-Build is the loss of competition inherent to the traditional bid-process.  Without this tool, owners typically lose cost-savings garnered through competitive bids.  Equally disconcerting, the architect (customarily the owner’s agent) pledges allegiance to the engineers and contractor.  This borderless relationship essentially dismantles the owner’s checks-and-balances safety net.  As many laymen would say, Design-Build is essentially the “fox watching the hen house.”  Given the obvious advantages and disadvantages of Design-Build contracts, it becomes important to identify the circumstances by which such advantages can be put to good use.

Standardized and/or redundant projects align wonderfully with the mechanisms of Design-Build.  Projects such as hangers, franchisor prototypes, highways, and industrial centers look to benefit from Design-Build arrangements.  Given its predictability and knack for minimizing root causes of disputes, Design-Build proves a viable pick in this arena.  Further, development of multiple standardized projects allows for future savings through the design’s and methods’ reusability.

Another optimal scenario for utilizing Design-Build occurs when the importance of time outweighs that of cost.  As one common example, government highway projects many times look to Design-Build given their need for an accelerated completion schedule in effort to minimize commuter disruption.  Further, such public projects many times have loose budgetary parameters.  In these cases, Design-Build proves more effective mainly due to its ability to save time.

In more customized conditions, Design-Bid-Build tends to be the more risk-adverse solution.  Given the individuality of all sites (e.g. subsurface conditions, wind/rain/snow loads, topography, and zoning restrictions) coupled with the specialty design warranted by most structures, Design-Bid-Build typically proves to be the best choice.  Because of such unknowns, Design-Bid-Build better blockades owners from price gauging and consultant mismanagement.  In such specialized projects, many would recommend finalizing design before committing to a construction cost.  Otherwise, untimely design changes will lead to rising costs though change orders.

Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build are both common to today’s building circles for good reason. Each, in their own right, presents advantages beneficial to designers, builders, and owners.  Given their varying components, however, it should be remembered that choosing one arrangement over the other is circumstantial.  Put plainly, substantial standardization of multiple projects increases the benefits of Design-Build.  Conversely, projects with more unknowns and the inability to standardize make Design-Bid-Build more attractive.  Finally, given the continual advancements and standardization of both design techniques and construction methods, one should expect the applicability of Design-Build to expand.