Architects Should Be Leading Design/Build Projects


Having led a design/build firm for nearly three decades, I am the first to sing the praises of the design/build model. The advantages to the client, as well as to the architect/builder, are so many that it is indisputably better than the design/bid/build standard.

Design/build models are unquestionably still in the minority within the industry. However, I am convinced that it is time for it to become the industry’s model of tomorrow.

The age-old-question of “Who should I hire first” still remains, and the response depends on who is being asked.

The concept of a design and build team is one that is getting a lot of traction, and not only with the design or construction industry. It is also sought by the end consumer. The old model of design/bid/build keeps rendering mixed results and is on its way to becoming antiquated.

Architects still working within this model should avoid pushing the checks-and-balances misconception. The design-only industry has been successful at marketing this premise. While this is a palatable concept to the consumer, the reality falls short of the promise and ultimately undermines the success of the project and the architect-owner-builder relationship.

I’ve lost more than one major project in my career due to this fallacy. The reality is, there is a lot of back scratching going on in the industry between architects/designers and builders. Each party inherently relies to some extent, at some point, on the other for new work and referrals.

It is unrealistic to have one entity policing the other. Checks and balances often is mistaken for this kind of overseeing. But the reality is neither architects nor builders step on the toes of professionals on whom they may depend for future work.

Architects should emphasize the concept of working together with people they know, people they trust, and move forward in an alliance of mutual respect and trust among architect, builder and owner. Similarly, the interior designer should be incorporated by the architect in the same fashion.

Another misconception of design/bid/build is that it ensures optimized bidding results. In actuality, it most often renders negotiations either with the low bidder or the next to lowest because you can’t trust the lowest. Worst yet, the lowest might be nowhere near the original budget.

On the other hand, design/build teams lead to better cooperation from architects and builders to keep projects on budget. All of this leads to a quicker, more successful path to construction start, in contrast with the pitfalls of the old model.

The age-old question of “Who should I hire first, the architect or the builder” still remains, and the response depends on who is being asked. There is only one correct answer and it’s the architect.

Builders have garnered status as the most appropriate leader of a team, but I don’t think the builder putting together the team is an ideal scenario. It lends itself to too many compromises in design, and relegates the design team to playing second fiddle.

The residential architectural community is moving fast to regain this leadership position it has lost over the past few decades. We will see architect-led design/build teams as the preferred direction in the near future.

Builders should prioritize working with talented architects rather than those who will compliantly play second fiddle to them. Similarly, architects should decline working with a builder whom the architect feels does not meet certain standards of quality and professionalism. Regardless of who recommends whom, the builder should yield the leadership of the project to the architect.

Ultimately, an architect-led design/build team will render the best results for everybody involved. Whether it’s a team of independent design and build professionals or one integrated design/build company, this approach to team building and project leadership becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved, particularly the client.

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