Many years ago, when homes, barns, and commercial buildings were constructed, the community often gathered to support the event. When the hard work of raising a structure was reduced by many hands, the project often became not only a community event, but fun.
Formalized construction became popular as builders and planners helped the U.S. through its early growth. Later, the federal government developed a process which would create competition and lower construction costs. This process called for generating construction documents prior to building and created the bid process. While lowering costs, it often left owners wondering who to talk to when their goals were not met. The words “construction” and “fun” didn’t end up in the same sentence together very often.
Modern construction carries a heavy burden of responsibility. High-tech industries can lose thousand of dollars per day over construction delays. Products become unmarketable when produced with defects caused by the spaces in which they are built.
A new alliance between owner/producers and constructors is forming, however, to the benefit of all. Today’s companies want high-tech facilities built with the least amount of stress, in the least amount of time, and for the lowest possible cost—while at the same time supporting state-of-the-art operations. Designers and constructors are regularly challenged to provide production facilities necessary for the next generation of products. There is no place in this industry for the uneducated contractor or for anyone who doesn’t think that keeping up with technology is a necessity of doing business.
Design/Build means to design and build simultaneously, rather than to design, solicit bids, and then build. This process, which is quite different from other construction methods, comes with its own positives and negatives.
Design/Build has gained popularity over other methods because it allows complex projects to be completed in less time and save costs along the way. While Design/Build may seem like the best way to plan and construct a facility, the process can be, when misused, a source of litigation.
At the heart of the Design/Build process are the companies involved. Careful selection of partners will pay great rewards when the project is completed.
When selecting the Design/Build team, it is important to focus on the construction company’s experience with Design/Build, its in-house design capability, and the type of projects each of its specialty contractors has completed. Those most qualified will be able to document Design/Build experience in 30% to 50% of their projects. It is most important to deal with companies that take responsibility for their designs—i.e., companies that have a “Design/Build attitude.” Such firms will fill any gaps and not plague the system with change orders for small items. Companies that hire outside architects and engineers can provide Design/Build services, but may lose control. When this happens, the owner never sees all the real benefits of the process.
Many of the keys to the success in all Design/Build projects is flow of information. The Design/Build process involves design, costing, and scheduling all going on at once. These concurrent functions allow the most informed decisions to be made by the owner and all team members.
Building The Team
The group working the pre-construction phase of the project is made up of the following participants:
- The Team Leader is usually a construction manager. The team leader is ultimately responsible for the coordination of all functions, for developing responsive designs, keeping costs within budgets, and keeping the project on schedule. The team the leader develops will determine how well all this is accomplished.
- The Owner is required to participate in the process. Representatives of the owner generally include the Project Manager, an associate from Finance, and a spokesperson for the Operators who will actually use the facility.
- Architectural is Design/Build shorthand for the specialty contractor who provides design capability for all architectural requirements of the project.
- Likewise, Mechanical is a full-service mechanical contracting company with design and engineering expertise in all HVAC and mechanical systems supporting the project.
- Process Piping is a specialty contractor with the ability to design and install systems supporting the owner’s process. Such systems can handle gases, compressed air, vacuum, or pure water and, in life science applications, may require FDA validation.
- Electrical is a full-service electrical contracting company with design and engineering expertise in all power and lighting systems supporting the project.
At the option of the team leader, others such as Structural designers and other contractors such as Fire Protection system designers, may be brought in when appropriate.
The common thread linking all team members, and vital to the success of the process, is their design capability. By taking ownership of the design, each contractor develops a vested interest in seeing his or her design function. This includes meeting budgets and schedules.
Checks, Balances, and Benefits
The Design/Build system provides checks and balances that force all decisions to be examined in terms of design, costing, and schedule before they are finalized. When the project designs reach maturity, the team is assured they have met the owner’s needs, budget, and schedule.
Highlights of the process determine the agenda of each design meeting. Though often time consuming, these meetings ultimately save time in the construction schedule by making sure all questions are answered and redesign is minimized or eliminated. Other features of the process include the ability to order long lead-time items before final designs are delivered; this can be important when working on a fast-track project. The process includes continuous loops of inputting information, designers/contractors responding to the input, and meetings to access the output generated. Designs are guided along the way with constant feedback from owners and operators, shortening and/or eliminating rework.
For owners, the Design/Build process:
- Saves time. Owners enjoy the advantages of fast-track construction without loss of control.
- Saves money. Designs are coordinated to budgets during the pre-construction phase.
- Allows owners direct input. Owners have real conversations with the contractors who will install the various services.
- Reduces change orders.The level of attention to detail during the pre-construction phase means fewer change orders during the construction phase.
- Reduces stress. Problems that arise during construction can be dealt with quickly because the right people—those who can make the right decisions—have been identified and are readily accessible.
Not to be overlooked is an additional benefit: personal and professional satisfaction. Using the Design/Build approach, many challenging projects have been completed efficiently, affordably, amicably, and on time. Once the project is completed, the contractor knows that the owner’s goals have been met, and the owner appreciates that time and money have been saved, and costly errors avoided. Let’s put it this way: Design/Build puts the fun back into construction.