Design-build evolving to a complete construction solution

Today’s marketplace now requires more of design-build contractors than ever before

Building plans hard hat bricks
Ron Frederiksen
RON FREDERIKSEN RSV Building Solutions

Three decades ago, design-build was a cutting-edge concept in Southwest Washington. Today, many firms claim to have design-build expertise.

Design-build is a process whereby the general contractor assumes all responsibility for both the design and construction portions of a project. design-build differs from the traditional bid-build process where contractors pursue low bids on projects after being given detailed specifications and drawings already paid for by the owner.

To become expert at design-build project management requires decades of mastery of many skillsets. The master design-builder is like a symphony conductor who orchestrates many talented musicians to write and perform beautiful music to the delight of an audience. The maestro assures that beautiful music is achieved by everyone harmoniously playing their part – with no unexpected delays and no surprise ticket surcharges afterward.

Here’s today’s challenge – while the design-build construction philosophy is here to stay, the marketplace now requires more of design-build contractors than ever before. This includes actively participating in project planning, property acquisition, permitting and financing – areas where most design-build contractors have played a passive role if any at all.

Project Planning: The best time to select design-build contractor is when you are first considering workspace options. Having a design-build contractor engaged as a trusted third-party adviser can help owners explore options based upon their many years of experience across dozens of projects. This is where creative solutions emerge to support the owner’s long-term needs, such as assembling shared tenants and owners or remodeling versus relocation.

Property Acquisition: Land prices have escalated regionally, which places higher stakes on property selection. It is particularly challenging regionally where quality and condition of land parcels vary significantly. While owners are often pressured into a fast transaction, the design-build contractor can assemble critical voices to advise owners.

Permitting: Navigating the permitting and political environment is critical to every dimension of a design-build project. We live in an environmentally sensitive area and must navigate a maze of regulatory requirements. This is magnified by strained planning departments regionally which are still adapting to a post-recession surge in regional construction.

Financing: Many financing sources have become less interested in construction projects. This is because projects are penciling much tighter and the construction cycle is longer and less certain. Meanwhile, there is growing concern that a decade-long bull market is slowing. The project owner needs to be supported by the design-build contractor in these crucial conversations.

Advising the owner in planning, acquisition, permitting and financing was not so critical just a decade ago. Today, it is essential in every project we manage. This is on top of our integrated design-build approach where we actively partner with architects, engineers, contractors and subs to deliver projects exactly as promised with no change orders.

The design-build model must now evolve into a complete design-build solution. It is becoming critical to uncover risks and opportunities throughout the project cycle, especially upfront where the greatest waste occurs.

Our firm has mastered this added responsibility. The deeper we are involved, the more ways we can help the owner find and achieve the most value with the least risk and distraction.

Meanwhile, everyone involved in our project chain knows they will be treated fairly as a valued partner in a successful client project. Decades of experience, deep personal relationships and true mastery are critical to guarantee an effective design-build process in today’s complex world.

Ron Frederiksen is chairman and CEO of RSV Building Solutions, a 45-year-old design-build contractor selected by Vancouver Business Journal readers as the top design-build contractor and the top general contractor. He can be reached at

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