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THREE MAJOR DECISIONS SHAPE CONSTRUCTION

In design-build, the design-builder stands accountable to the owner for all aspects of the project. The Design-Build Institute of America says that when one person possesses sole responsibility for a job, owners experience better project delivery, including faster execution, fewer change orders, reduced administrative burdens, lower costs, and fewer disputes that result in litigation.

According to research by the Construction Industry Institute and Penn State University on 351 projects from 5,000 to 2.5 million square feet, design-build achieved 6.1 percent lower costs and 33.5 percent faster delivery speed when compared to design-bid-build. Having faster delivery also creates financial benefits since construction loans, carried while workers are building a structure, charge higher interest rates than those of permanent financing, which kick in when the project is done. 

Design-build has become increasingly popular. A 2013 DBIA study found that owners used this method on more than 40 percent of non-residential construction projects in 2010, up 10 percent since 2005.

Within design-build, there are different models. One of these models is contractor-led design-build (CLDB), also called builder-led design-build, in which the general contractor manages the project. CLDB accounts for most design-build projects. Recently, the architect-led design-build (ALDB) model, also termed designer-led design-build, has grown. In ALDB, the architect is responsible for delivery of the building. A 2005 survey cited by Architectural Record magazine found that 55 percent of design-build projects were headed by a contractor, 26 percent by an integrated firm with both design and construction expertise in house, and 11 percent by designers. 

A third design-build school of thought contends it does not matter which specialty holds the primary contract for the project; either can do just as well. Project-led design-build, in which the project team consists of a cohesive unit of all the job’s disciplines, always puts the project’s best interests first.  

While design-build has compelling data on speed and cost, construction experts say that it also has disadvantages. The design-builder’s very incentive to reduce speed and cost can impact quality and put the owner at the mercy of the contractor, who may or may not act with integrity and expertise. Also, because the architect works for the design-builder rather than for the owner, the architect does not represent the owner’s best interests. (In DBB, the architect does work for the owner and therefore represents their best interests.) Moreover, because there are so many unknowns about the future of a building at the beginning of a D-B project, owners must define more of the project’s requirements, objectives, and materials before soliciting bids.