Design-Build delivers projects through trusted relationships

Many clients prefer a cooperative approach over the always-adversarial bidding process

Design-Build explained

Design-Build is a method of construction planning where the architect, contractor and client work in partnership to deliver projects efficiently and affordably. It is in stark contrast to the Design-Bid-Build method where design and construction are pursued separately by the owner.

Design-Build often is credited with saving 5 to 15 percent on project costs and that is consistent with my experience. The savings come from avoiding expensive false starts and reducing changes and surprises along the way.

For small- to mid-sized construction projects, the benefit of applying everyone’s expertise upfront to develop a total project solution exceeds any savings achieved by bidding. It helps when everyone is at the table thinking about the key questions: Is it workable? Is it buildable? Is it affordable? Can it be permitted? And perhaps most importantly, is there an even better solution?

Plus, we find many clients simply prefer a cooperative approach over the always-adversarial bidding process. We certainly do.

Designing in partnership

With a shared vision and early collaboration, we work efficiently toward the owner’s project objectives. Our work often begins with a thorough discussion of the owner’s needs and preferences, followed by early conceptual sketches that are developed in tandem with the contractor. This gives the contractor the ability to work through a preliminary budget before the client invests in a complete set of drawings.

In virtually every project, through collaboration, we find smart solutions that otherwise may not have surfaced. This requires entering meetings with a willingness to receive input from all with no agenda or ego. It also takes years of experience to build this level of trust.

As one example, one initial project concept involved expensive pilings to compensate for poor soil conditions. However, in brainstorming, we came up with an innovative solution to remove some unsuitable fill material, surcharge the site and change the building grades. This helped us avoid the expensive pilings and achieve a savings of more than 90 percent.

We continue a spirit of partnership throughout the project. When issues arise, we sit down and discuss how we can arrive at the best solution. Our planning often includes trusted suppliers such as plumbing or HVAC contractors who help us find the best possible solution given the circumstances.

By contrast, in Design-Bid-Build environments, architects and contractors typically operate in silos, with minimal collaboration or interaction. Areas of disagreement or conflict often leave the architect, client or owner’s rep to serve as referee, causing substantial rework and change orders, along with project delays and escalating costs.

Avoiding rework yields savings

Through effective Design-Build planning, architects and contractors can concentrate on delivering the most practical, efficient and best value solution for the owner.

Good planning upfront eliminates the need to redraw projects over and over again, or worse, spend time and money affixing blame for matters that could have been resolved early on.

With the recent runup of land and construction costs, a single false start may mean the difference between a project proceeding and a project being shelved by owners, or by their investors or bankers.

Design-Build is an owner’s best option for finishing a project with the least amount of pain, cost and time. However, it only is as good as the people involved, the trust they have with one another and their shared desire to deliver a quality project.

Jeff Lightheart is the managing director of Vancouver-based LLB Architecture. He is a local architect serving private sector commercial clients since finishing his education in 1973 at Washington State University. He operates LLB Architecture with his son Jeffrey and son-in-law Mike Boys. He can be reached at or (360) 735-7289.

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