Design-Build Buries the Hatchet

Posted on June 1, 2011


Of all the cliches I hear when someone describes the supposedly negative aspects of design-build to me, my favorite is ‘well, you’ve got the fox in the hen house.’ I always ask for clarification on that because that phrase means different things to different people. Most often, it is used to describe an apparent conflict of interest, meaning ‘an architect and contractor cannot possibly work together—they’re natural enemies!’

If that is the case, then I am guilty as charged:  I am an architect and I work with contractors every day in the same company. Most surprisingly perhaps—not only have I lived to tell about it, I prefer it.

For those sadists who get all lathered up every morning for the adversarial relationship, that is why you have design-bid-build (DBB) and CM-at Risk (CM). In DBB, you have old fashioned back-stabbing, and with CM-at Risk you have two teams forced to play nice, but cursing behind their clinched smiles.

For the rest of us, we have collaboration and teaming. Isn’t this best achieved when two people have the same employer and get paid by the same person? I mean, you can’t get more single-minded than that. Design-build is the only project delivery set up where, if two parties pull in two different directions, they don’t get paid.

There is a law firm in town with a billboard touting: “You hurt, we fight.” To me, it does not get much more antagonistic than that. The message they try to send is ‘you need someone looking out for you because you cannot do it yourself.’ And this is somehow a logical explanation for why design-build cannot work?! Think of all the people who benefit from the false view that architects and contractors cannot work together:  CMs, attorneys, project managers, third-party consultants like criteria architects, RFP writers, estimators and program managers.

The truth is owners want teamwork; they tell me as much. When asked what they like about design-build, hospital owners say “the architect and contractor are working together from the beginning”. Not working against each other, but in the same direction for the benefit of the owner. Integrated design-build found a way to bury that hatchet, reducing owner risk and construction costs for the past forty-five years.  What value does your fight bring?