“Design-bid-build” has been the project delivery system most commonly employed by architects in North America since the founding of the AIA. However, over the past 20 years, use of design-build has greatly accelerated, and this alternative delivery method is becoming more widely used. It has been noted that design-build is closer to the “master builder” approach, which is an older form of construction procedure pre-dating the more prevailing design-bid-build delivery method.

The Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) notes that design-build can streamline project delivery by offering a single contract between the owner and the design-build team. The approach can save money and time by enabling designers and builders to collaborate during design and construction phases. An integrated design-build team is also well suited to leverage new Building Information Modeling (BIM) processes.

DBIA reported in 2011 that nearly 40 percent of all nonresidential construction projects in both the public and private sector use this approach, in contrast to fewer than 10 percent two decades ago. Commercial and industrial clients were quick to adopt design-build. More recently the federal government and most states are now utilizing design-build delivery on some of their large and complex public projects.

Early on the AIA Code of Ethics banned design-build due to perceived conflicts of interest. The AIA adopted a new Code of Ethics in 1986 that no longer forbade design-build. In recognition of the increasing use of this project delivery method, the American Institute of Architects released a family of AIA Contract Documents for design-build in 2004. “B143–2004, Standard Form of Agreement Between Design-Builder and Architect” is used when a contractor or other AEC firm is the lead entity that hires the architect to perform design services instead of the direct owner and architect relationship.

Many architects have understandably been reluctant to embrace contractor-led design-build, since the approach upsets the traditional close owner/architect relationship and results in the contractor influencing early design decisions…even more than third-party construction managers that now often advise clients during the design stage of projects. Alternatively, architect-led design–build projects enable the architect to work directly with the owner acting as the designer and builder, coordinating a team of consultants, subcontractors and vendors to deliver an integrated project. Architects that act as design-builders tend to work on smaller residential, retail and community projects with lower risks and bonding requirements.

Jersey Devil is a loose-knit group of architects who have worked together as design-builders since the early 1970s. They took their name from the creature of New Jersey folklore, apparently used by a passer-by to describe one of their buildings. Jersey Devil not only design buildings, they construct them, in collaboration with other specialists and artisans. Their way of working was a critique of mainstream architectural practice that separates design from construction.

MADE is another innovative architecture practice, where many of the Brooklyn, NY studio’s team members are both designers and builders; their professional practice approach centralizes creative control and accountability. By combining a design studio, a fabrication workshop and a contracting team, MADE offers a range of services beyond conventional architectural practice.
Many schools of architecture now offer design-build studios following in the footsteps of the late Sam Mockbee’s celebrated Auburn University Rural Studio, where students design and build stunning low-budget homes and community buildings for poor rural residents in Alabama.

In practice and in academy, forms of design-build have taken hold as a mainstream approach to creating buildings – AIA members will be well served to understand and influence this growing trend.

Author: Ronald C. Weston, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, / AIA NS Professional Practice Committee Chair / E-mail: rweston@psands.com

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