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Design-Build VS Design-Bid-Build Project Delivery Systems

Design-Build VS Design-Bid-Build Project Delivery Systems

Project delivery plays a pivotal role in construction, serving as the system through which project owners organize and finance the design and construction phases. The two primary project delivery systems widely employed are design-build and design-bid-build.   

The remarkable construction of the Eiffel Tower from 1887 to 1889, completed in a mere 22 months, was a true technical marvel for its time. Even by today’s advanced technological standards, achieving such an accomplishment in such a short duration would require impeccable coordination. 

The Eiffel Tower’s construction exemplified the design-build approach, where Gustave Eiffel’s company both conceived the design and executed the building process, with the exception of hiring an architect for the appearance aspects.  

In construction projects, design-build and design-bid-build are two project delivery systems that dominate as the primary methods of operation. Both methodologies have their merits, but their distinct characteristics determine the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and overall success of each method. 

Let’s now understand the two techniques comprehensively; 

What is Design-Build? 

Design-build is a project delivery system in which a construction company takes charge of the entire design and construction process. The owner enters into a contract with a single contractor, who is then responsible for designing and constructing the project according to the owner’s instructions and specifications. 

In a design-build project, the contractor is the sole party with whom the owner has a contract. The contractor, in turn, hires subcontractors to handle various aspects of the project. 

The strength of design-build lies in its coordination. The contractor not only designs the building but also oversees the construction process. Each subcontractor follows the blueprint provided by the contractor, ensuring seamless development of the project. 

Features of Design-Build 

Here are two main features of this project delivery method; 

  • Highly Efficient and Streamlined 

Design-build is a highly efficient and streamlined approach to project delivery. By entrusting the entire process to a single entity, owners can benefit from enhanced communication, reduced risks, and improved project coordination. This method eliminates the need for multiple contracts and simplifies the decision-making process. 

  • Flexibility 

Flexibility is a significant advantage of the design-build system. This approach allows the contractor to make necessary adjustments to the design to accommodate any new developments that may arise during the project. 

Under the design-build model, the contractor assumes the project risk. This means that all subcontractors are accountable to the contractor, thereby minimizing the owner’s risk. By adopting the design-build system, projects gain the ability to adapt and evolve as needed, ensuring that any unforeseen changes or advancements can be seamlessly incorporated into the design.  

What is Design-Bid-Build? 

Design-Bid-Build is a project delivery system in which the owner or agency responsible for the project hires the architect and contractor through separate contracts. Initially, the owner engages an architect to design the project. Once the architect completes the design documents, they are submitted to the owner, who then invites contractors to bid on the project. 

It is important to note that there is no contractual agreement between the architect and the contractor. The contractor is solely responsible for executing their portion of the project. Consequently, any risks associated with the design’s execution are borne by the owner. 

The design-bid-build approach enables a construction management structure in which a general contractor assumes the role of project overseer. This role primarily entails supervising subcontractors, thereby limiting the contractor’s responsibilities. The design-bid-build system proves ideal for owners seeking comprehensive involvement in all project aspects. It empowers them with greater control over both the design and execution phases.  

Design-Bid-Build Phases 

The Design-Bid-Build system consists of three distinct phases: the design phase, the bid phase, and the construction phase. 

  1. Design Phase 

During the design phase, the owner engages the services of an architect to conceptualize and create the building design. The architect meticulously develops bid documents, encompassing construction drawings and technical specifications. These comprehensive documents serve as the foundation upon which contractors will base their bids for the construction project. 

  1. Bid Phase 

Following the completion of the design phase, the bid phase commences. Contractors are invited to submit their proposals based on the bid documents provided by the architect. This phase allows for a competitive selection process, enabling the owner to evaluate and compare the various bids received. 

  1. Construction Phase 

Once the bid phase concludes, the construction phase commences. The contractor selected during the bid phase proceeds with the actual construction of the project, adhering to the specifications outlined in the bid documents. This phase involves the coordination of various trades, materials, and resources to bring the architectural vision to life. 

Design-Bid-Build Example 

The design-bid-build system is widely recognized as the traditional project delivery system in the United States, particularly favored for public projects. A prime illustration of this system in action is the enhancement of the Wenatchee River crossing near the city of Wenatchee, WA. 

This particular project involved the expansion of the bridge deck to accommodate additional lanes, and it was meticulously overseen by the Washington Department of Transportation. The department took charge of designing the improvement in-house before proceeding to invite bids from potential contractors. 

The success achieved by this project served as a testament to the effectiveness of the design-bid-build system. Consequently, the Washington Department of Transportation made the strategic decision to adopt this system for all projects under $20 million between 2009 and 2011. 

By embracing the design-bid-build approach, the Washington Department of Transportation demonstrated its commitment to ensuring the highest standards of quality and efficiency in the execution of public projects.  

  • Planning and Designing 

The design-build system not only allows for meticulous planning and design by experienced professionals but also encourages healthy competition among contractors, ultimately resulting in cost-effective and successful outcomes. 

The Wenatchee River crossing improvement project stands as a shining example of how the design-bid-build system can be leveraged to achieve remarkable results. Its seamless integration of design, bidding, and construction phases showcases the system’s ability to deliver projects of significant magnitude while adhering to strict budgetary constraints. The Washington Department of Transportation’s decision to embrace this system for projects under $20 million further solidifies its reputation as a forward-thinking and results-driven organization. 

Understand the Difference Between the Design Build and Design-Bid-Build 

Imagine a city planning to build a new state-of-the-art sports stadium to host major sporting events and concerts. They have two options for the project delivery system: design-build and design-bid-build. 


In the design-build approach, the city would hire a single entity, such as a construction firm with in-house architects and engineers, to handle both the design and construction aspects of the stadium. The chosen design-build team would work collaboratively from the beginning, ensuring seamless coordination between the design and construction phases. This approach allows for faster decision-making, efficient problem-solving, and a streamlined construction process. 

For instance, the city decides to award the design-build contract to a renowned construction company with a track record of successfully completing large sports stadiums. The company assigns a team of architects, engineers, and construction professionals to work closely together. They come up with innovative design ideas that meet the city’s requirements while considering factors like budget, timeline, and sustainability. Once the design is finalized, construction can begin immediately, with the design-build team efficiently managing the entire process, from breaking ground to the stadium’s grand opening. 


In the design-bid-build approach, the city would hire an architect or design firm first to develop detailed plans and specifications for the stadium. Once the design is complete, the city would put the construction phase out to bid, inviting contractors to submit proposals based on the provided plans and specifications. The city evaluates the submitted bids and selects a construction company based on factors like cost, experience, and schedule. 

In this case, the city hires a renowned architectural firm to design the sports stadium. The architects work diligently to create a detailed set of plans and specifications, which they submit to the city. The city then issues a public invitation for construction companies to bid on the project.  

Several construction firms submit their proposals, each offering their expertise and pricing for the project. After careful evaluation, the city selects a construction company that best meets their criteria. The construction process begins only after all the contract negotiations are finalized and the detailed plans are handed over to the selected construction firm. 

Both project delivery systems have their pros and cons, and the choice between design-build and design-bid-build depends on various factors, including the project’s complexity, schedule constraints, budget considerations, and the level of collaboration desired between designers and constructors. 

What Distinguishes Design-Build from Design-Bid-Build? 

Design-build entails the contractor taking charge of both the design and construction processes. In this approach, the contractor collaborates with the architect to develop the design and subsequently manages the execution through subcontractors. 

On the other hand, design-bid-build involves the owner or overseeing agency assuming responsibility for both design and construction. This grants the owner greater autonomy but also exposes them to higher risks. In this system, the architect and contractor operate independently, both answering directly to the owner. 

Design-Bid-Build Contract 

A design-bid-build contract differs from a design-build contract in several key aspects. The design-bid-build contract establishes a contractual agreement between the owner and both the architect and the contractor. 

Traditionally, the owner engages an architect to handle the design phase. However, in some cases, the owner may choose to undertake the design internally, as exemplified by the Washington Department of Transportation. What sets the design-bid-build contract apart from the design-build contract is its explicit delineation of the contractor’s responsibilities within the project. 

The Advantages of Design-Build 

The design-build system offers numerous advantages for both the owner and the contractor. By entrusting the contractor with the responsibility of handling both the design and construction aspects, the owner assumes less risk. This shift in risk allows the owner to rely on the contractor’s extensive experience and expertise to successfully execute the project. 

  • One of the key benefits of the design-build system is the enhanced coordination it facilitates. The contractor takes charge of designing the project and sets the pace at which it progresses. All subcontractors involved in the project answer directly to the contractor, ensuring seamless coordination and adherence to the approved designs. 
  • Moreover, the design-build approach fosters effective communication and collaboration among all parties involved. Contractors often choose to work with subcontractors they have established trust with over the years. This longstanding relationship makes collaboration effortless, as everyone contributes their expert input before the final design approval. Consequently, there is minimal finger-pointing or blaming, creating a harmonious working environment. 
  • The design-build system allows for easy adjustments to the design in response to new developments. The contractor possesses the flexibility to adapt the design swiftly, ensuring that the project remains aligned with any emerging requirements or changes. 
  • In contrast, the design-bid-build approach grants the owner and the architect greater control over the project. In some cases, a general contractor may be involved to oversee the construction as a manager. However, this approach introduces multiple layers of management, which can significantly impede the decision-making process, leading to delays. 

Cons of Design Build 

  • In the design-build system, the decision-making process is expedited as it is solely the responsibility of the contractor. This not only enhances efficiency but also contributes to significant time and cost savings. 
  • Expanding on the previous point, design-build methodology offers notable advantages in terms of time and cost management. The streamlined decision-making process allows for swift actions, minimizing the likelihood of errors and ultimately resulting in financial savings. 
  • Additionally, the occurrence of change orders is greatly reduced as the contractor closely monitors the construction process right from the beginning. 

The Advantages of Design-Bid-Build 

  • The architect serves as a guardian of the owner’s interests, ensuring that their vision is accurately expressed through the design. Additionally, the architect diligently oversees the project to guarantee that subcontractors adhere to the specified requirements. 
  • In the design-bid-build process, the owner holds a significant level of control, ensuring that contractors are fully committed to delivering their utmost best for the project. This process involves a competitive bidding system, granting the owner the freedom to select the most suitable individual for the job. 
  • Design-bid-build empowers the owner to make well-informed decisions regarding costs. During the bidding phase, contractors present varying price proposals, allowing the owner to carefully evaluate and select the most favorable option. 

Design-Bid-Build Cons 

  • The design-bid-build process is known for its lack of flexibility when it comes to making quick decisions. While new developments may require adjustments in the design, obtaining approval from both the owner and architect can be a time-consuming process. 
  • Conflicts often arise among subcontractors due to their varying systems and work pace. Each subcontractor operates independently, which can lead to clashes and disagreements. 
  • It is important to note that subcontractors do not have any input in the design of the project. Consequently, if the execution of the project does not meet expectations, conflicts and blame-shifting can occur. 

Does Design-Build Save Money? 

Design-build is a cost-saving approach due to its streamlined project management. By consolidating all aspects of the project under the control of the contractor, multiple layers of management are eliminated. Moreover, design-build promotes collaboration and teamwork, minimizing conflicts and conserving valuable resources.  

With the contractor’s expertise, an accurate estimate of project costs can be provided, ensuring efficient resource management and staying within budget. In contrast, the design-bid-build system often requires architects or designers to make adjustments or clarifications when issues arise. These constant interventions result in additional expenses. 

Design-Build vs Design-Assist 

In the design-build system, the contractor assumes responsibility for overseeing the entire project, from the initial design phase to the final construction stage. This approach allows subcontractors to actively participate in the design process and even propose adjustments during the construction phase. Similarly, the design-assist method follows a comparable approach. 

Under the design-assist approach, subcontractors collaborate with architects or designers at the early stages of the project to provide their expert input on specific aspects. For example, a plumbing subcontractor may identify a flaw in the design that could potentially impact sewer lines and promptly bring it to attention. In contrast, the design-bid-build process does not involve subcontractor input in the design phase, which can lead to conflicts arising from mistakes or oversights in the design. 

Design-Build vs. Plan/Spec (Plan and Specifications) 

The Plan and Specifications delivery system involves the owner enlisting the services of a design firm or architect to create the design for a construction project. Subsequently, the owner hires a construction company to bring this design to life. 

In the Plan and Spec approach, the owner already possesses a completed design, and the contractor’s responsibility is to execute it. Conversely, in the design-build method, the contractor assumes the role of overseeing both the design and construction phases. 

In conclusion, the design-build and design-bid-build systems have been instrumental in shaping some of the most remarkable architectural marvels throughout history. Both systems have their pros and cons, and the choice between them depends on project-specific factors such as complexity, budget, timeline, and desired collaboration level. 

In the ever-evolving world of construction, understanding the strengths and limitations of each project delivery system is essential to achieving successful outcomes. The Eiffel Tower’s legacy serves as a timeless reminder of the incredible results that can be achieved through innovative approaches and effective collaboration between visionaries and builders. 

As we continue to push the boundaries of human achievement in construction and architecture, it is crucial to embrace the lessons from history and adapt our methodologies to suit the challenges of the future. By doing so, we can inspire generations to come and create more architectural marvels that captivate the world’s imagination.

So, what are you waiting for? Contact Arrant Construction for a construction company in Houston, Texas.

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