Q&A: What is Design-Build with WBA Architect Javier Santos

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Date: August 31, 2015


1. What does it mean to have “design-build”? (aka what is it?) It means that the contractor is the lead entity in the project.

2. I keep reading this is a fairly new concept, how does design-build differ from historic builds? (ex: 1900s vs. now)

Historically the architect is the “conductor of the orchestra” who coordinates all of the disciplines in the project. Prior to the 1900’s and as far back as the times of antiquity (think Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome) the architect was also the master builder in charge of the entire construction. Just as other human endeavors became more specialized, the same thing happened in the construction and design field since the 20th century. There was a split between builder and designer…I think the verdict is still out on whether this was an improvement or a step backwards. In design build the architect works for the contractor.. in a historic build the architect works directly for the Owner.

3. What are the pros and cons? (ex: is it faster to get thru codes? Is it faster to physically build a project – if so, why is it faster?)

This is all a matter of opinion, but the main driver for using design build is the perception that the contractor will have more control over the final cost of the project. The main con is that design build buildings are likely to be less imaginative, as the main goal is to save money. While “good” design doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive, Iconic design (the kind that gets awards, recognition and makes the history books) tends to be expensive. A “design-build” building will be pretty standard, but if that is what the building Owner wants, then, there is nothing wrong with that approach. I don’t think that speed really becomes a factor, although some contractors may feel differently about that.

4. Typically a design-build is done by a contractor – how does this method fit into architecture? Or, why would they choose an architect as a contact instead?

Both methods are capable of producing a great building, but to me it comes down to the project goal. I believe a car analogy is fitting here…do you want to roll around in a Gremlin or a Porsche? Buildings are the same way.

5. Does an architect have to have a special license if they are in charge of a construction crew?

There are always exceptions but an architect is typically not going to be in charge of a construction crew. They would need to have to have a General contractor license.