by Christopher Prawdzik
November 2, 2011

When the design-build team of Barton Malow and Harley Ellis Devereaux needed to complete the Marcia and Eugene Applebaum Surgical Learning Center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI, quickly they turned to design-build as a solution. The 5,500-square-foot facility is used to teach health care professionals advanced robotic and minimally invasive surgical techniques using interactive patient simulators, mock operating rooms and distance-learning classrooms. It was the first facility in the world to offer such comprehensive surgical training without using a human patient.
"The need to have this facility operational quickly made it a great fit for design-build," said Tom Porter, executive vice president of Barton Malow, a design-build firm offering services on manufacturing, commercial, higher education, sports and health care facilities since 1977. Porter is also vice chairman of the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), an association of leaders in the design and construction industry who utilize design-build and integrated project delivery methods to achieve high-performance projects.

Having focused on design-build's business management aspects for ten years, Porter has handled the structuring of teams, agreement development and championed the delivery method and its benefits within the company. It paid off with the Royal Oak project.

"The original schedule of three months in design and five months in construction was compressed to just six months overall, a 25 percent reduction," Porter said. "It helped greatly that Barton Malow's Technology Group was brought in at the start of the project, so that design, engineering, construction and technology objectives were always unified and sequenced to make the most of the available time."

This project is just one example of the benefits of the design-build process-a process with challenges sometimes present in its understanding but with few challenges that emerge as a design-build project goes from drawing board to completion-usually more quickly, with higher quality and extremely low instances of litigation throughout the process and rare change orders.

Design-build is nothing new, however. It's an integrated delivery process that has been embraced by the world's great civilizations. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Code of Hammurabi (1800 BC) fixed absolute accountability upon master builders for both design and construction. In the succeeding millennia, projects ranging from cathedrals to cable-stayed bridges used design-build. With design-build, a single source has absolute accountability for design and construction. It was true of the master builder, and it's true today.

While the design-build concept has remained for literally thousands of years, it's a building method now that is increasing rapidly. And what was once a process about which people asked, "What is design-build?" the question now is, "Where is it going?"

"This [growth] is occurring not in the United States alone, but it's occurring worldwide," said Walker Lee Evey, president of DBIA in Washington. "Worldwide, in many ways, we're starting to lose out on this race, if you will. ... The United States is kind of lagging behind the rest of the world in implementation of design-build."

But many aspects of the construction industry are tailor made for design-build-Building Information Modeling (BIM) and sustainable design and construction are just two of many. "Some of these things, like public/private partnerships, can only be done using design-build. By definition, they're design-build," Evey said.

DBIA was formed in 1993 and is the only membership organization that brings together thousands of organizations and individuals representing architects, engineers, public and private owners, general and specialty contractors, manufacturers and suppliers, students, college and university faculty, legal and finance professionals and many more. It's from here that Evey wants to spread the word about the design-build benefits.

Despite concerns about the growth of design-build around the globe and challenges for the United States to keep up, it's still growing. "It really indicates very much that the owner community is starting to become more and more sensitive to the advantages that are available to them in the design-build approach," Evey says. It's a matter of educating the industry on the benefits of the approach."

The first step, Evey said, is a complete understanding of the process.

"Often people will say, ‘What is it that design-build does?  What does it bring to the environment that makes it so successful? Is it materials? Is it tools?' No. If you go on a jobsite and there's somebody laying a block, you can't tell if they're working on a design-build or design-bid-build project." Evey said. "What makes design-build effective is that it's all about the team, not the tools."

With various technologies coming together combined with design-build's new way of doing business, on top of the money-saving and time-saving aspects, it creates a "perfect storm," where those parts combined are exponentially larger than their individual values.

"So not only do we have an environment where one is layered on top of another and they multiply their own effect, but you have a method of doing the work that also works to multiply," Evey said. "It's kind of a multiplication of a multiplication."

The key to design-build is the team. While the process doesn't provide new design techniques, software or other tools, it is a system which enables those technologies. The entire team is integrated from the start-owner, architect, contractors, specialty contractors and other constructors.

"With us, it starts from day one-the source-selection process," Evey said. "It starts with the owner and [we teach] the owner and train the owner, and raise the expectations of the owner. We really have a step-by-step process that structures how that happens and makes the development of the team an integral part of the whole process."

In design-bid-build projects, there are two contracts. The first results in the plans and specifications and includes the contract with the architect. The completion of that phase is the award, based on that document. The second solicitation then follows where the low bidder typically wins, and a second contract is written for the construction.

"Our way is very different, of course," Evey said. "We write one contract. But the whole process starts with the emphasis of the team. One of the things we teach is [that] owners communicate what their budget is. ... That's a substantive change to the way most people do design and construction contracting. And then the way that you select the winner is first you look [at] what do the teams bring in the way of past performance."

In this process the whole team is evaluated-not just the general contractors, architects, engineers or others.  "Secondly, we teach the owners to communicate in a fundamentally different way-instead of designs, drawings specs and standards. We teach the owner to communicate goals, challenges problems and constraints," Evey said.

The process begins with a document no longer than four pages, called the "preamble." At that point, Phase 1 competition begins, where, by judging past performance, the teams are narrowed down to the three most highly qualified. At this point, project cost is not discussed.

Phase 2, however, is the technical competition, where the three teams present their solutions-given the determined budget and requirements on the project. "There you see who's got the innovative ideas, who's got the creative approach to meet your requirement," Evey said. "The proposals will all come in at the same dollar value, and then we write the contract, and after the contract's written, then we produce the plans and specifications, working as an integrated team. The emphasis here is not on following directions; the emphasis here is on behavior-those kinds of behaviors that when the team works together effectively will result in an optimum output."

The process is actually not very complex. "There's two ways you can accomplish a cost competition," Evey said. "There are only two variables: One is the content, the other is the money. The traditional way of doing it is you keep the content fixed and you vary the dollars - you get the low bid. What we suggest is flip-flop that-keep the dollars fixed and vary the content."

Through this process, teams already know the cost, and they compete by trying to provide the best project for the price. This increases performance in the early stages. But the team aspects translate to the rest of the project. With everyone involved from the beginning, design-build equals high performance-it reduces cost, speeds up the schedule and the result and goal is a more satisfied owner. In addition, with everyone on the same team, the threats of litigation are minimal. And change orders also are scarce, as all team members participate early in the process.

Porter realizes this on many projects. "As a construction practitioner, we find that design-build helps control the gray areas of coordination and interface so important to a successful project," he said. "In addition, the design-build process can help tighten schedule, because it allows major project components to be ordered before working drawings are complete.  In fact, because design-build limits risk, it is a good solution for projects sensitive to budget and schedule concerns."

In addition, design-build helps overcome schedule-related changes, he adds. "Working as an integrated team to address programming, design issues, value engineering and cost decisions, all focused on a common goal for the owner, is key to meeting demanding schedule concerns," Porter said.

William K. Flemming, co-chief operating officer of Skanska USA Building Inc., and DBIA treasurer, agrees. "Design-build provides guaranteed cost containment more quickly than other delivery methods, often based upon the most conceptual level of design development," he said. "Similar to cost certainty, design-build provides schedule certainty far sooner than normally obtainable in traditional delivery methods. When architects, engineers and constructors are working in concert-as one team, legally and organizationally as a functional team-decisions occur much faster."

He adds that overall quality of a design-build project is better controlled. "When designers and builders are working side-by-side, making joint decisions about materials, methods, standards, manufacturers or subcontractors, and so forth, the project scope of work and customer expectations are in proper alignment at the commencement," he said.  "The benefits to the client are measurable."

Flemming adds, however, that the process goes beyond the physical aspects of designers and builders working together from the beginning in its "best-performing" design-build projects. "We have found that there is a positive psychological shift in how designers and builders related to one another," he said.

With the industry changing rapidly and new technologies coming into play, Flemming notes how design-build can work as perhaps the best delivery method for such innovations. "Skanska has taken design-build project delivery and blended its benefits with virtual design and construction (VDC) techniques or building information modeling (BIM)," he said. "In-progress design documents, in 3-D format, are transferred to subcontractors and materials vendors for their real-time input during design. Further, more advanced design documents are transferred, again in 3-D format, to subcontractors for either completion of design of production of detailed shop drawings for fabrication purposes."

Skanska isn't alone. Design-build has opened up innovation opportunities at Barton Malow at the Applebaum Surgical Learning Center. The company's Technology Group built the infrastructure for audio and video cabling. "One of the team's major innovations was the preassembly and offsite testing of the technology; this ensured that the equipment would be operational immediately after installation, helping to meet schedule demands," Porter said. "Close communication among all design-build team members - surgeons, hospital educators, designers, preconstruction staff, builders, subcontractors, vendors - was key to this strategy."

Nationwide, design-build continues its climb as a preferred design and construction method. One area in which design-build has seen tremendous growth is in state public procurement laws. In 2005, only fourteen states had legislation permitting design-build for all types of design and construction on state projects. And seven states had no specific legislation for design-build at all. By 2007, states permitting design-build for all types of state projects jumped to eighteen, and the number of states with no design-build legislation dropped to just three.

Some states show some resistance to the process. According to Evey, a lot of it is just about "fear of the unknown" and lack of information. "If you have a state that for 100 years design-bid-build has reigned supreme ... it means you don't have a lot of companies in those states that are knowledgeable about design-build [and] know how to do it," he said. "The state employees that may be required to implement it are unfamiliar with the approaches and the techniques ... and so they often have a dearth of knowledge, and there's a fear of exactly what this might bring."

But the design-build benefits are undeniable. The most comprehensive design-build study completed in the 1990s by the Construction Industry Institute and Penn State University compared 351 projects that ranged from 5,000 to 2.5 million square feet in various industries. The study compared performance among design-bid-build, construction management at risk and design-build on cost, schedule and quality.

Compared with the other two building methods, design-build represented a 6 percent lower cost, a 12 percent faster construction time, a 33 percent faster project time, and design-build scored higher in eight different quality categories.

"To my knowledge, every bit of research shows exactly the same thing," Evey said, but he adds that the mindset is crucial. "When you look at how we contract for [projects] in the United States-especially in the United States-both publically and privately, the assumption that underlies the process is you're going to fail, because it's all about failure," he said. Basically, if there's a problem everyone is prepared for it. It's something he tells everyone in the industry, and he has yet to find someone who disagrees.

"It's interesting, when I say, ‘Now describe to me what happens if you have a construction contractor that gives you a better project than you ever thought you'd get,' they don't know," Evey said. "There are three things you need to do to get the performance you want-pick the right team, give them the flexibility to perform and reward them when they do it, and that forms the core of the three courses we teach to owners-we do supercharged source selection, we do a performance requirements course and we do high performance contracts."

It's a process that is not taught or learned overnight, but is one in which DBIA focuses on through its education and accreditation programs. Getting the word out and teaching members of the design and construction community the benefits, is the first step in the process. "The idea here is not to build the cheapest building you can build," Evey said. "Rather, within your budget, build the very best building you can build."

Construction Business Owner, September 2008

Christopher Prawdzik is DBIA’s director of information and editor of Design-Build DATELINE.