Design Builder

By Ken Thomson

The Design Builder (DB) offers a comprehensive, sped-up, and cost-contained solution for many construction needs. Clients hire a design builder for two attractive reasons: (1) he assumes full responsibility for both the detailed architectural and building aspects and (2) he assumes all risks for delivering on time and within budget. The DB manager is able to mitigate these risks by working out constructability and material issues between engineers and contractors before detailed drawings are undertaken.


The Design Builder (DB) approach has grown in popularity during recent times, particularly in Europe and Japan, but also in the United States. In contrast to it is the more traditional practice known as Design-Bid-Build (DBB), a segmented process in which both preliminary and detailed drawings are completed before submitting the work out for bids and establishing the construction cost. 

The Design Builder Approach in Detail

Whether the DB contractor has architectural and engineering staff in-house or works with separate design firms, there is a great deal of consultation among the three main parties (Owner, design team and Contractor) early on. The Contractor provides input to the designers regarding constructability, cost estimates and scheduling estimates, allowing for adjustments to be made at the conceptual stage rather than after much preliminary work has been drafted.

Compared to a General Contractor, who is bidding on a project after all design has been completed, the DB manager has greater confidence in his cost estimates and also has a more elevated set of responsibilities such as contract administration, permitting and arranging insurance coverage. He is afforded the opportunity to influence the preliminary phases and to provide a number of pre-construction services.

Although the Owner hires the design builder at the outset, the DB manager does not set his construction price until after the preliminary phase. At this point, he assumes all risk; any unforeseen design changes that arise are his responsibility. In contrast, for the DBB delivery method the risk always resides with the Owner and the Contractor is entitled to charge extra for change orders.

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Design-Build Advantages

The DB delivery method is the most advantageous choice when the project is large enough to require significant design and yet construction needs to be on a fast track. Projects involving tenant improvements often fall in this category. Through collaborative negotiations between the design team and construction team, a reliable cost estimate can be determined earlier than in other delivery methods.

A big advantage of DB is that it facilitates a cooperative relationship between designers and builders rather than an adversarial one. The two teams work together to produce a higher quality product and this reduces the likelihood of cost growth due to "feature creep" and results in fewer claims or lawsuits. All in all, DB affords much better risk management.

Technically, the construction management (CM) delivery method is different from DB in that the Owner contracts separately with the design team. This might be a good choice if trust in the DB contractor is less than absolute. In both methods, the construction manager assumes the risk and early collaboration exists between the two teams.

Facility Builders & Erectors is strong in both approaches, having professional liability insurance protection applicable to either. Our emphasis is on clear documentation and good communication throughout all project phases. We work with many architectural/engineering firms that have their own specialties and we take care to identify the one that best matches the project scope. We ask the important questions and place serious investment in pre-construction services. Facility Builders & Erectors has more than 20 years of Design-Builder experience. Our projects range from Design Build, Specialized Building Construction, Tenant Improvements and Pre-Engineered Metal Buildings. We invite you to discuss your project with us to see if Facility Builders and Erectors, in conjunction with the Design Build delivery method, fit your needs.