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M|O Perspectives

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Design-Build Delivery: What Owners Need to Know

Jan 12, 2023

In part one and part two of our design-build series, we explored the history of design-build and its evolution to progressive/collaborative design-build. Now we’ll discuss what owners need to consider when implementing either type of design-build.

While we’ve noted that modern design-build has advantages over traditional design-bid-build, there are some inherent disadvantages, too. Owners contemplating using this delivery method for the first time need to educate themselves, especially about contractual relationships and assignment of risks.

Roles, responsibilities and risks

In both types of design-build, once GMP is established and the design-build entity (DBE) moves forward into the construction phase, the architect in the DBE acts as a sub-consultant to the builder. While an architect should continue to advocate for the design intent and integrity, regardless, the reality to keep in mind is that their client is the builder, not the owner.

It’s important that owners have the right expectations, processes, and tools in place to ensure their project goals are aligned and they get what they‘re paying for. While many owners may have facility planning and operations staff, in many cases they tend to be short-staffed or have limited resources or budgets to properly manage construction projects.

This may lead to issues during or after construction, such as improper documentation of scopes of work, building failures like water intrusion, or improperly functioning equipment that is caught after construction completion. Remediating these issues and having to file claims after completion in an occupied building can be frustrating and can quickly offset any advantage that the design-build process was meant to provide.

Pre-construction project reviews

One way owners can avoid this scenario is to plan for pre-construction project reviews (PPR) of the contract documents at various points during the design process. Having these reviews coincide with design phase submissions and cost estimates will likely lead to a better outcome.

Whether performed in-house or by a consultant, these contract documents need to be viewed from a comprehensive perspective. If you are fortunate to have good mechanical, electrical, or plumbing engineers on staff, they may have time to evaluate the design comprehensively to ensure it is in keeping with the owner’s facility standards. However, most contract document reviews are performed by an individual or small team with a singular background in architectural, construction, or construction management.

Yet the more complicated the building, the stronger the need for a more detailed review. Just as the building wasn’t designed by a single individual or discipline, a multidisciplinary/ interdisciplinary team should perform a deep dive of the documents. This obviously has cost implications, but when you consider the cost of a mistake in the design documents and/or during construction, a professional PPR more than pays for itself.

The payoff of project management

If the owner organization does not have the resources to properly manage a design-build project, we recommend onboarding an owner representative, construction manager, and/or program/project manager to supplement facilities staff or fully manage the project on behalf of the owner.

The right project management consultant can:

·  Give advice on proper implementation of a design-build project delivery process

·  Assist in the selection of the right design-build entity, builder, or architect

·  Review the design-build agreement and ensure proper allocation of risks to the appropriate parties

·  Follow a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to construction document review, including consultant agreements

·  Act on behalf and in the interests of the owner in managing the project

·  Manage and maintain the appropriate lines of communication

·  Educate about proper implementation of design-build or progressive-design-build

When the owner has appropriate resources and support, design-build and progressive/collaborative design-build project delivery methods are set up for success.

As an independent consultant in architecture, engineering, and construction, Marx|Okubo delivers owners knowledge and decision-making power about their best project delivery path. For more information, please contact

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Marx|Okubo is a national architecture/engineering/construction consulting firm that works with real estate owners, investors and lenders—at every point of the property lifecycle—to evaluate their building projects, solve complex challenges and implement tailored solutions. We help clients understand their projects’ complexities, so they can make more informed decisions and, ultimately, mitigate their risk.