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Comparing the Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build Project Delivery Systems

Comparing the Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build Project Delivery Systems

Back in 1887, the construction of the Eiffel Tower began, a marvel completed in a mere 22 months by 1889. This rapid achievement was a remarkable feat for its era, demanding immense coordination and effort. Even today, replicating such a project’s speed and efficiency would require thorough planning and execution.

The Eiffel Tower’s construction exemplifies the design-build approach, wherein Gustave Eiffel’s company oversaw both the design and construction phases. The only departure from this model was the involvement of an architect for the aesthetic aspects of the project. 

Effective project delivery is significant in construction projects, dictating how the project owner arranges and funds both design and construction phases. 

The primary project delivery methods widely employed are design-build and design-bid-build. 

What’s the Deal with Design-Build? 

Design-build simplifies the entire process by entrusting a single entity, typically a construction company, with both the design and construction phases. Instead of dealing with multiple parties, the owner strikes a deal with just one contractor, who then takes charge of fulfilling the owner’s vision and requirements.

In this setup, all contractual agreements revolve around the contractor. This contractor then delegates various project tasks to subcontractors, each responsible for a specific aspect of the work. 

The key strength of design-build lies in its coordination. With the contractor overseeing both design and construction, there’s a smooth flow of work. Subcontractors adhere to the contractor’s directives, ensuring the project progresses smoothly.

One of the perks of design-build is its adaptability. The contractor can easily tweak the design to accommodate any new developments or changes in the project’s requirements.

In this system, the contractor shoulders the project’s risks. Since all subcontractors report to the contractor, this setup minimizes the owner’s exposure to risk.

What is the Design-Bid-Build approach?

Design-bid-build works like this: the owner or the entity managing the project hires both the architect and the contractor but under separate deals.

First off, the owner brings in an architect to craft the project’s design. Once the architect finishes the design, they hand over all the necessary documents to the owner. Next, the owner seeks bids from contractors to carry out the construction work.

Now, here’s the thing: the architect and the contractor aren’t tied together by any formal contract. The contractor’s job is solely to carry out the construction work as outlined in the design documents. Any risks that pop up during the project fall squarely on the owner’s shoulders.

In this setup, design-bid-build offers a way to manage construction by having a general contractor oversee the project in a managerial capacity. Essentially, the contractor’s role boils down to supervising subcontractors.

This method is perfect for owners who want to be deeply involved in every step of the project. It gives them the reins to steer both the design process and its execution, providing a greater sense of control throughout. 

Phases of the Design-Bid-Build Process

The Design Phase

In the initial design phase, the owner engages an architect to conceptualize the building. The architect’s task involves crafting bid documents, comprising construction drawings and technical specifications, essential for contractors to bid on the project’s construction.

Working closely with the owner, the architect identifies and addresses their specific requirements, shaping a conceptual or schematic design accordingly.

Collaboration extends as the architect enlists other professionals such as structural, landscape, civil, MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing), and fire protection engineers. These experts contribute valuable technical insights and evaluations crucial for the project’s success.

The Bid Phase

Moving onto the bid phase, the architect presents the bid documents to the owner, who then circulates them among general contractors. Subsequently, these contractors may seek bids from subcontractors based on the provided technical specifications.

General contractors, upon reviewing the bid documents, submit comprehensive bids to the owner, outlining proposed costs and materials for the project.

The Construction Phase

Transitioning to the construction phase, the architect’s involvement persists. Ongoing developments might necessitate design modifications or clarifications. Additionally, the architect monitors the project’s progress to ensure adherence to the established design.

Given the absence of a formal contractual agreement between the contractor and the architect, any new developments prompting design alterations or adjustments are communicated to the owner by the contractor. Subsequently, the owner liaises with the architect to implement the required changes.

Design-Bid-Build Example

The conventional method for project delivery in the United States is known as design-bid-build, a system particularly favored for public projects. An example of this approach can be observed in the enhancement of the Wenatchee River crossing near Wenatchee, WA. In this instance, the project entailed the expansion of the bridge deck to accommodate additional lanes. Oversight of the project was undertaken by the Washington Department of Transportation, which internally formulated the design before seeking bids from interested parties. The success of this project led the Washington Department of Transportation to adopt the design-bid-build system exclusively for all projects valued under $20 million between 2009 and 2011.

What’s the Difference Between Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build?

In the design-build approach, the contractor takes charge of both designing and building. Basically, they’re the ones who handle everything from the drawing board to the actual construction work. To get things done, they team up with an architect for the design phase and then delegate tasks to subcontractors for the construction part.

Now, let’s switch gears to design-bid-build. Here, it’s the owner or the overseeing agency who’s calling the shots in both design and construction. This means they have more say in how things are done but also shoulder more responsibility. Unlike in design-build, there’s no formal agreement between the architect and contractor. Instead, both report directly to the owner, following their lead every step of the way.

Contract Methodology of Design-Bid-Build

A design-bid-build contract operates in a manner distinct from its design-build counterpart. This contract establishes agreements between the owner and both the architect and the contractor.

Usually, the owner engages an architect to conceptualize the design. Nevertheless, there exists the option for the owner to undertake the design internally, as demonstrated by the approach taken by the Washington Department of Transportation.

What sets the design-bid-build contract apart from its design-build counterpart is its delineation of the contractor’s responsibilities within the project.

Benefits of Design-Build

  1. Reduced Owner Risk: In the design-build approach, the owner assumes less risk as the contractor shoulders a larger portion of it, relying on their expertise to manage the project effectively.
  1. Enhanced Coordination: With the contractor overseeing both design and construction, there’s a smoother flow of work, with subcontractors following the contractor’s lead to ensure adherence to approved plans.
  1. Improved Communication and Collaboration: Collaboration between contractors and trusted subcontractors, based on years of mutual trust, fosters seamless teamwork and valuable input during the design phase, minimizing disputes.
  1. Flexibility: The contractor can easily adjust the design to accommodate new developments, ensuring the project remains adaptable and on track.
  1. Streamlined Decision-Making: Unlike the design-bid-build method with dispersed decision-making, the design-build approach centralizes decision-making with the contractor, expediting the process and avoiding delays.
  1. Time and Cost Savings: Quicker decision-making and close monitoring by the contractor from the project’s inception minimize errors and change orders, optimizing efficiency and reducing expenses.

Design-Build Cons

Since the owner has little involvement in the project, there may be a conflict between what the owner has in mind and what the contractor builds. The contractor could have made changes to the design a few times. 

The owner may not be getting the best project. Many contractors like to work with those who they know and trust, and this gives little or no room to assess new and better subcontractors. 

Quality of work can be an issue with the design-build system. The contractor may rush the project and move to a new one, creating a doubt in the quality of the job done. 

Benefits of Design-Bid-Build 

– In this approach, the architect acts as the advocate for the owner, ensuring that the design accurately reflects the owner’s vision. Additionally, the architect oversees the project to guarantee that subcontractors adhere to the specified requirements. 

– The owner retains significant authority throughout the design-bid-build process, ensuring that contractors are fully committed to delivering their utmost efforts to the project. 

– A key advantage of this method is the competitive bidding process it entails. This empowers the owner to choose the most suitable candidate for the task from a pool of contenders. 

– Design-bid-build provides the owner with enhanced cost-control capabilities. During the bidding stage, contractors present varying price proposals, enabling the owner to make well-informed decisions regarding expenses. 

Design-Bid-Build Cons 

– Decision-making in the design-bid-build process isn’t speedy. Adjustments for new developments may be needed, but getting approvals from the owner and architect can drag on. 

– Subcontractors often clash due to different working methods and paces. 

– Subcontractors don’t get a say in the project’s design. So, if things go wrong during execution, blame games and conflicts may erupt. 

– Owners tend to favor the lowest bids, which might compromise job quality. Seasoned contractors with solid reputations aren’t always the cheapest option.

Can Design-Build Really Cut Costs?

One major way design-build helps trim expenses is through efficient project management. With this approach, the contractor oversees everything, skipping unnecessary layers of oversight.

Another money-saver is the emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. By working closely together, problems are nipped in the bud, preventing costly fixes down the line. Plus, with clear estimates upfront, projects stay within budget thanks to careful resource management. 

Contrast this with the traditional design-bid-build method. Here, every hiccup means architects scrambling to fix things, adding to the bill with each tweak.

Now, let’s talk fees. Architectural firms in the old system can gobble up a hefty 5% to 20% of the project budget. With design-build, using an in-house architect means fewer fees, translating to savings for you.

Comparison: Design-Build versus Design-Assist

When it comes to the design-build approach, the contractor takes charge of both designing and constructing the project. This means subcontractors can chime in during the design phase and even suggest changes while construction is underway. On the flip side, design-assist follows a similar path.

In design-assist, subcontractors collaborate with the architect or designer early on to provide their specialized insights. For example, the plumbing subcontractor might spot a design flaw that could impact sewer lines and promptly bring it to attention.

Contrarily, in the design-bid-build method, subcontractors aren’t involved in the design phase, leading to potential conflicts stemming from errors or oversights in the design.

Comparing Design-Build to Plan/Spec (Plan and Spec)

Plan and Specifications, also known as Plan and Spec, functions as a method of delivering projects wherein the owner collaborates with a design firm or an architect to craft the blueprint for a construction endeavor. Subsequently, the owner procures the services of a construction company to actualize this design.

In the Plan and Spec approach, the owner presents a finalized design, tasking the contractor solely with its implementation. Conversely, in the realm of design-build, the contractor assumes responsibility for both the design and construction phases.

Under the Plan and Spec model, the owner provides an established design, enabling contractors to bid competitively on executing it. This allows the owner to estimate project costs based on anticipated bids from contractors.

Optimal Project Delivery with Arrant Construction

Finding the right approach for project delivery is crucial. Arrant Construction, a reputable Texas construction firm, boasts three decades of expertise in managing projects across diverse scales. With a rich history of serving both commercial and residential clientele, they are recognized for their trustworthiness, dedication, high standards, and skilled workmanship.


What sets Design-Build apart from Design-Bid-Build?

Design-Build combines design and construction under one team, whereas Design-Bid-Build separates these tasks into distinct phases with different teams.

Which project delivery system tends to be quicker: Design-Build or Design-Bid-Build?

Design-Build often accelerates the process as design and construction occur concurrently, whereas Design-Bid-Build typically follows a more sequential timeline, potentially prolonging the duration.

In terms of cost, how do Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build compare?

Design-Build can sometimes offer cost savings due to reduced change orders, while Design-Bid-Build may provide more upfront cost predictability.

When it comes to accommodating changes during a project, is Design-Build or Design-Bid-Build more adaptable?

Design-Build offers greater flexibility for mid-project alterations, whereas Design-Bid-Build may present challenges in making modifications once construction has commenced.

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