June 7, 2018

This is inspired by Dave’s research and drafts of his upcoming book about the rebirth of the architect in the design-build model.

Design-build is taking the world by storm.  In 5–10 years, if not sooner, it will reestablish itself as the way to execute projects.

I say reestablish, because in the 5,500 years of recorded history, about 5,375 years (or 98% of recorded history) design-build—where the architect designed and then built—was the way buildings were constructed.  That’s right.  Even though we have been educated to think that the 2% of recorded history (where the architect and builder have been separate) is how it has always been, this is just not true.

“So what?” you say. “It took a while to progress to a point where roles separated.”  Progressed?  A study done in 2012 reports that 17.7% of building projects had significant defects (XianhaiMeng, “The effect of relationship management on project performance in construction,” International Journal of Project Management).  Compare this to the aviation or automobile industries where Boeing and Ford report a defect rate of 0.000034% or less (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Six_Sigma_companies). You can’t help but wonder if we are regressing compared to the buildings of old.

Design-build is turning this cycle around by being a source point of accountability for the entire process.  When a client hears they can get their design and construction done with the same firm, it makes their lives so much simpler.

Does an architect just need to start building or a builder start designing and they are all set? Is success is at your doorstep? The answer is not really. But due to design-build’s growing success and popularity, companies that are not true design-build companies have begun to use the term to refer to themselves. But that’s only a façade. Make sure you know what’s inside the company before you place your trust in them.

The secret to the success of design-build is not that it merges design and construction under one roof. Its success is because the architects think about and set up the build while they are designing.  Put another way, the architects are not only creating a picture of what the new building will look like, but they are also creating the execution of that idea.  In this way, a project’s success is assured even before it begins.

The problem is that since architects stopped building 100+ years ago, they are generally not able to do all the functions required to set up a project properly.  Let me expound while looking at the 5 components parts needed to have a project that is set up for success:

1. Project Outline

A survey of what is needed, feasible, or vital to the project. This survey is important to the success of a project, and designers are generally pretty good at figuring out what is needed.  Same with programming. Programming (or the research and decision-making process that identifies the scope of work to be designed), is a standard ability for the architect of today. The real issue more often comes with determining what is feasible. Since most architects don’t build, they can’t tell clients what things will cost. So that client cannot accurately make a decision on what is vital because they don’t have all the info that they need. This is a disastrous way to start the design process.

2. Construction Documents

With the full pre-design data in hand, an architect can then get onto creating the plans & specifications (what we call the scope) without the fear of having to come back and re-design. This is a phased process that requires both an artistic ability and building science know-how. It’s where the architect of today focuses.  If architects are truly thinking of the execution of a project, they will gear their drawings and scope towards the people who will be executing it.  Designers who are not involved with the execution of a project are hampered in their ability to think through what each trade will actually need in order to do their job.  This short video makes the point exceptionally well: https://gluckplus.com/process/trade-sets

3. Lining up the trades

After we think through the role of each trade, we organize the work to be done. It is common for us to have 20 or so different trades at work on any one project, and it is a huge asset for us to be able to collaborate with them on #1 and #2 above. This is something those who do not build are harder pressed to be able to do.

4. A schedule

A document showing actions and sequences dovetailing over a period of time can only be done if a designer knows the proper sequence and how long things should take—a skill acquired from building.

5. Knowing the cost

Knowing how to establish the cost of a project also comes from experience building.

The architects of today are best suited to lead the design-build movement and regain their true role.  The secret to design-build is all about planning comprehensively, and this is a realm the architect is already in.

If architects take ownership for more than just the picture of what the project will be, and factors in all these components, it inevitably leads them to build, just as it feeds the ability to plan comprehensively.


David Supple is the owner and CEO of New England Design and Construction. He is currently working on writing a book about his experiences and thoughts in the design and construction industry. David is a graduate of Tufts University with a degree in architecture. In California, he trained as an architect for three years, designing, directing, and managing 50- 100,00 square foot renovations. He founded New England Design & Construction in 2005 and became incorporated in 2006, and rapidly expanded the company to servicing the Greater Boston Area.  He is an aspiring comedian but currently he only practices with his wife.

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Published June 7, 2018 | By