Architect-led Design Build – The Ultimate Solution?


I’ve been a licensed Architect for 16 years and a General Contractor for 11 years.  We’ve worked on a LOT of projects, big and small, simple and complex.  One thing I’ve come to observe:  the design and construction process is a little messed up!

It’s WAY more contentious, stressful, and litigious than it should be.  If an Owner didn’t actually NEED a project, no one would EVER build anything.  It’s just too counter-productive, especially in the Design-Bid-Build process (where an Owner hires an Architect to design a project, then puts that project out to bid, then hires a contractor to build it).  The whole arrangement sets up an “eat or be eaten” type of mentality.  Each party cannot help but have different goals.  The Owner wants the project designed at the lowest possible price.  The Contractor wants to make money (gasp!), so he will do everything in his power to perform his contract in the manner required, but will also pursue every avenue of building profit into the project.  The Architect is frequently caught in the middle, between Owner’s interests, fairness to Contractor, and protecting his own liability.

There has got to be a better way!

Architect-led Design-Build is a possible option.

We’ve constructed successful project after successful project, totaling several million dollars worth of commercial construction in the Triangle (NC) area.  We’ve built a fairly unique practice in North Carolina with the ability to design AND build, holding licenses in both.

In North Carolina, anyone providing construction services (in most cases) must be a properly licensed general contractor.  Architects are not legally permitted to perform construction services.  Nor are they allowed to hire contractors and provide building services for a project.  In essence, an Architect that would like to build must become a licensed contractor.

Before getting into that, I should be so bold as to say that a LOT of Architects do not care to actually build anything, to be honest.  Most would prefer to avoid the day-to-day routine of contracting, instead opting to maintain their design phase services and leave the nuts and bolts to the contractors, separate from their responsibilities.

In stark contrast, WE actually enjoy the process of construction and relish the fact that we can provide everything to a Client, and our Clients enjoy that, too.

In most cases, Clients do not initially engage us with the intent of having us design AND construct a project for them.  They come to us for the expressed purpose of designing their building, fitup, renovation, addition, or whatever.  However, once they work with us through the design process, it becomes obvious to them that we’re the best ones to coordinate the construction process on their behalf.  We’re the ones who understand the vision, their goals and their wishes.

As both an Architect and a General Contractor, our Clients appreciate the fact that we provide a single source option for their construction projects.  We are able to eliminate a lot of the stress involved with a construction project, whether it’s a multi-million dollar office building or a minor renovation to a Conference Room.

While this kind of arrangement is not for everyone, those that have utilized this service keep coming back for more.

WHY is this arrangement the best way to go?  Many reasons, including:

  • The Architect plays THE major role, so quality design AND construction are of paramount importance.  Who is more intimately familiar with the Client’s wants, needs and desires?
  • No intermediaries clogging communication between Architect and Owner regarding quality of design and construction issues.
  • Cost is controlled throughout design process, from an early stage in the process.  And, it’s constantly checked and rechecked throughout the process.
  • Project has a better chance of coming in within Budget, with reduced chance of costly overruns.  In fact, this process is especially ideal for those Clients with a specific Budget, and NOT exceeding that Budget is of paramount importance.
  • No costly bid process.  Rather, an “open book” process harbors trust.
  • Even if the Owner is not sold on the Architect-led Design-Build process upfront, he can begin the process traditionally, and then convert to Architect-led DB, if desired.  Contracts are structured for maximum flexibility.
  • And, most importantly, a single source of responsibility.  One person to call.  The Owner doesn’t have to worry about finger-pointing between designer and contractor.

Now, in all fairness, this type of arrangement is not appropriate for everyone, or for every project.  WHY might this arrangement not be right for some?  A couple reasons:

  • For those interested in doing a project for the absolute cheapest price, then bidding the project may still be the best bet.  But, let’s face it; bids are won by contractors who make mistakes on Bid Day.  You may get it at a cheap price on Bid Day, but that price will creep with ticky-tack Change Orders and embattled team members.
  • Inexperience of Architect with providing construction services.  Architectural and Construction services are related, but vastly different in nature – almost left-brain and right-brain kind of functions.  Owners can avoid this one by simply choosing wisely upfront – someone ideally equipped to handle the project.

Architect-led Design-Build is not a new idea.  It has been around for centuries.  It’s tried and true, and could be the very thing that you need to pull off a successful project…and with a LOT less stress.

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