IDB Good For ADD Crowd

Posted on February 18, 2011


It is easy for design-bid-build (DBB) proponents to throw stones at integrated design-build.  After all, IDB is growing in popularity, so DBB sees it as a threat. Take note though, it is the professional team from DBB throwing the darts, not healthcare administrators and facilities managers.

When I meet with people and discuss projects, I let them know I have worked in both DBB and IDB. It is like getting business lessons from a healthcare administrator who has worked for both for-profit and non-profit:  they have an unbiased opinion because they have lived both, and can see the positives and negatives of both ways. Naysayers think so much is ‘given up’ to do design-build. I think of it as just the opposite:  you have to really do more to get more out of IDB.

Integrated design-build takes a lot of intestinal fortitude.  As an owner, you have to have your stuff together, know what you want, and be able to make decisions. You have to strap yourself in at times; it is not for the wishy-washy. IDB is for everyone, and especially the enlightened hospital administrator who has been burned by traditional DBB. Project rookies can tout DBB, but when you have a couple scars from the trenches, IDB makes a lot more sense.

Why do I think IDB is better?  Because I have what I call Project Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Don’t get me wrong, I love design and I love to design. As an architect in DBB, I enjoyed the copious time for schematic and design development—five, seven, nine months or more to design. What a luxury. But who can afford that kind of time? Yes, you can explore many avenues of design in that time period, but you can also waste a lot. Too much time can be a curse. It leads to people changing their minds, not just once and not just designers, but owners and users, too. It means false starts, and the luxury to overdesign several things (yes, that is possible), and still meet the basic design demands of the rest of the project heading into construction documents (CDs).

Me?  I get bored.  Are we there yet?!  Halfway through design in DBB I wanted to get on with it:  ‘let’s get this thing built!’  And I was not always the only one. In such an extended SD/DD, designers can loose focus. Teams know they have hours to burn. I remember at least one project with every architecture firm I worked for (all of which only did DBB) where I thought:  we have X months to design?  What are we going to do with all that time?! For me, in DBB things don’t happen fast enough.

The DBB supporters say, well you sell yourself short on the design side. Maybe, maybe not. Yes, you have a lot of time to explore, and start to detail—so much so that it may hold you to a higher standard. A client may expect perfection from having so much time to play.

If you are a designer that typically hits on the best solution on scheme number 17, you may have a problem operating in an IDB environment (or you will be doing a lot of design ‘on your own time’). Here is an important point:  I think IDB designers are more discriminating with their time because they are more critical of their ideas from the get-go. Bad ideas, i.e. ideas that will not fly with the engineers and / or construction side, are nixed immediately.

But when it comes down to it, clients are not going to worship the gypsum wallboard reglet you spent two hours working out. They may not catch the way you matched and specified the wood paneling. Only a small percentage of the extra design thinking may be noticed.

I think the Pareto Principle is definitely in effect in DD:  80% of the design development is done in 20% of the time allocated.  The rest is fine tuning, and running down design rabbit holes, whose value is negligible.

Our integrated design-build owners do not complain:  “the project’s moving too fast.  We’re saving too much money.”  What I hear more often is what I heard last month from a prospective client, ‘I needed to be in the ground yesterday’. The ADD in me flares up because I sympathize with that viewpoint. Integrated design-build has a lot of appeal for many reasons, yet for me, IDB is the clear choice of the Project ADD crowd.

Posted in: Design-Build