Design-Build a Simplified Tool

Posted on October 10, 2011

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Fast Company had an article recently that touched on a well-recognized, yet simple and powerful entrepreneurial formula: take an expensive product available to the few, and make it simple and affordable to many, and you have a winner.

A somewhat public display of this strategy was Nicolas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child mission initiated several years ago. Negroponte, an architect by training and founder of MIT’s prestigious Media Lab, felt that if a laptop could be designed for Third World use, and hit a $100 price point, it could revolutionize education and speed up economic and social progress in poor regions like Africa.

Interestingly, Negroponte’s struggle to hit the $100 price point was not so much a technological one, but a “turf war” of sorts with major manufacturers of computer hardware like microprocessors and hard drives, who wanted to protect their dominant market positions and lucrative profit margins. Those companies had no interest in making their components affordable for the masses, even if it meant significant increases in volume sold.

Design-build (DB) is in a similar idealogical stance to Negroponte’s laptop effort. DB offers a lot more value to owners for a lot less risk than other project methods, and is not a new technology, but it is a threat to the traditional project delivery method of design-bid-build (DBB) and CM-at Risk (CM). Feeling the threat of design-build’s growth, DBB proponents continue to criticize DB.

Instead of focusing on improved design, more transparent pricing with fixed cost, and an improved project experience for owners, non-design builders are focusing on protecting turf and political machinations like mudslinging. Only with reluctance, and in response to the traction design-build has gained, has the ‘traditional’ market responded with what they call Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), which performs similarly to integrated design-build but with some significant differences including three contracts.

Admittedly, no project or process is perfect; however, design-build offers a much improved and affordable solution to the masses—much like Negroponte’s laptop. If more companies put effort toward process and product improvement, the amount of innovation would be staggering, and more clients would be building…regardless of the economy.

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Posted in: Design-Build