Design-Build: Is it the solution to a streamlined construction process?

At what point does the role of an architect end, to give way for a team of contractors...
Design-Build: Is it the solution to a streamlined construction process?

The design-build method of delivering construction projects brings several advantages, including enhanced communication, efficiency, and cost savings. However, it may also hinder innovation and require a more proactive role from the owner and/or client to avoid conflicts of interest.

In this article will delve into the intricacies of design-build construction, examining the types of projects it is best suited for, it’s benefits and drawbacks, and how it compares to other project delivery methods.

What is design-build construction?

Design and build construction involves commissioning a single party for both the design and construction of a project. This can mean working with architects, contractors, or both, all under a single contract for the work.

Unlike the traditional process of engaging with design consultants and contractors separately, design and build construction simplifies the process under a unified umbrella to get the project done from beginning to end.

Also known as design-build, these projects are carefully orchestrated and quickly implemented to give clients an easy stress-free overall experience.

How does it work?

Simply put, the client approaches a design and build company with a project brief and a general timeline and budget in mind. The company then begins making a design based on the project requirements, either with in-house designers or a partner design team.

Once the concept design is approved, the contractors can begin staking and preparing the site for construction. When the design reaches final approval, full construction can commence. Finally, when construction is complete, the design and build team turns over the finished building to the owner.

All throughout the process, the design and build team makes adjustments to stay within the parameters of the contract and to make sure it gets done in an efficient and timely manner.

What are the different types of design-build?

There are two main types of design and build: single-stage and two-stage. Understanding the differences between these two approaches can help you determine which method is best suited for your specific project needs.

Single-stage design-build

The single-stage process is the most straightforward approach to design and build. Single-stage is applicable when sufficient information is provided in the beginning to make an accurate price and timeline for the project. With this information, the design-build team can proceed with all phases of the project without major hiccups along the way.

Two-stage design-build

Two-stage design and build divides the process into a design stage and a construction stage. It begins with the selection of a company based purely on fees, preliminary discussions, and costs. Once the company is hired, they then work on the design, which results in a fixed price for the final construction stage.

This is applicable when the project brief is still being determined, as it gives the contractors time to formulate and finalize the details.

How popular is design-build?

Design and build has been around for decades, but since the 1980s it has grown in popularity thanks to its efficiency and ease of coordination. Design-build now accounts for around half of all construction worldwide.

As more and more clients favor direct communication and cost-effectiveness in projects, design and build will continue to thrive for all kinds of buildings.

When should it be used?

Design and build can be used when the client wants a single point of contact with minimized risk. It works well when early construction is desired, because the design and building phases can overlap.

Complex projects can also benefit from the technical input and analysis of contractors throughout the design process to optimize construction and ensure it can be built on time and within the agreed budget.

Design-build benefits

There are several potential benefits to using the design and build construction method, including:

  1. Simplified project management: With design and build, all team members are working together under a single contract, which simplifies project management and coordination.
  2. Faster project completion: The design and build approach can lead to faster project completion due to the streamlined nature of the process and the ability to efficiently manage and coordinate all aspects of design and construction.
  3. Cost savings: The design and build approach can result in cost savings through increased collaboration, which can lead to fewer design changes and mistakes, as well as more efficient use of materials.
  4. Improved communication and collaboration: Design and build projects often involve close communication and collaboration between the design and construction team, which can lead to a better end product.
  5. Increased customization and innovation: The design and build approach allows for more customization and innovation, as the design and construction team can work together to develop creative solutions that meet the client’s specific needs.
  6. Reduced risk of cost overruns: With the design and build method, an accurate and reliable cost estimate is established at the beginning of the process, reducing the risk of going over budget during construction.
  7. Greater client satisfaction: The design and build approach can lead to greater client satisfaction due to the streamlined process, cost savings, and improved communication and collaboration.

Design-build disadvantages

However, there are also potential disadvantages to consider when using the design and build method.

  • Limited control over design: The client may have less control over the design process, as they are relying on the design and build team to handle all aspects of design and construction.
  • Potential conflict between design and construction team: There may be tension or conflict between the design and construction team if there are differences in opinion or approach.
  • Risk of cost overruns: While the design and build approach can potentially lead to cost savings, there is also a risk of cost overruns if the project scope or requirements change significantly during the design or construction process.
  • Shorter design stage: The design stage may be shorter in the design and build process, as the design and construction phases overlap. This may result in less time for review and feedback from the client.
  • Reduced flexibility for late revisions: The client may have less flexibility to make changes to the design later in the process, as the design and construction phases are closely coordinated.
  • Greater risk for the design and build team: The design and build team may be taking on more risk by handling both the design and construction of a project, as they are responsible for ensuring that the project is completed on time and within budget.

Why choose design and build?

Design-build is the preferred option for many clients looking for fast and simple building solutions. It is often chosen for its efficiency and the assurance that the building will turn out exactly as designed.

It is very convenient for clients to work with a unified team from concept to completion, and the design-build team benefits from this close communication as well. Although all project delivery methods can offer similar results when well-executed, design and build construction simplifies the process leaving less room for error or delay.

Traditional project delivery vs design and build project delivery

Traditionally, projects are delivered in multiple steps from several different parties. If a client wants to build, they first need to find designers for the project, and once the designs are approved and handed over, they need to find contractors to construct the project. The traditional process is still common, but it is often more difficult for the owners.

This is because the designers and contractors rarely get a chance to connect and coordinate, and many details are left needing clarification. When problems arise, it is the owner’s responsibility to find answers from the builders or architects.

Design and build takes a lot of that work out of the equation, leaving it to the design-build team to work out issues, source suppliers, and hire subcontractors.

Design-build process and delivery method

With design and build, the client or owner of the project only needs to hire one company for all the work. The company then either completes the project in-house, or branches out to designers and subcontractors to finish the work. Collectively, the project team handles all necessary tasks and reports back under the same single contract.

A design-build project team can be composed of the contractor, architectural designers, engineers, and construction workers, depending on the company and project requirements. Architectural design can be done in-house under the contractor, or they can hire an external design team to work alongside throughout the process.

Subcontractors can be hired as needed to complete specific parts of the project, such as plumbing works, electrical works, or interiors. Design-build can be led either by the head contractor or the head architect.

The 5 Phases of the design-build process

The design-build process involves five phases that often overlap and are completed by a single team, this is in contrast to the above traditional construction methods – these are:

Team selection

The first step in the design-build process involves the selection of a design-build team by the owner. This team is chosen through a thorough vetting process, during which the owner considers various factors such as the team’s design-build experience, understanding of the company’s vision and needs, and budget.

While cost is an important consideration, it should not be the only factor influencing the final decision. Instead, owners should prioritize selecting a qualified design-builder based on their experience and skills, even if it means paying slightly more. Choosing the lowest price may seem appealing, but a smart owner will understand the value of working with a competent team.

The design-build method is beneficial for all parties involved – designers, contractors, and owners – because it allows designers and contractors to compete based on their skill level and enables owners to expect a higher quality project from beginning to end.

The selection of the design-build team often overlaps with the next phase, pre-construction, as the chosen team will have likely already conducted extensive research and analysis of the building site.


The pre-construction phase, while seemingly short, is just as important as any other part of the process and requires close attention to detail. This is when the design-build team learns about the owner’s business and its goals, challenges, budget, and overall vision for the project. It is a time for asking as many questions as necessary to get a clear understanding of what is expected to be delivered.

During this phase, architects, engineers, contractors, and other consultants work together to assess existing structures, electrical systems, and more, in order to determine what needs to be done before construction can start. These assessments allow for a comprehensive analysis of the construction site, which helps the design-build team to maximize efficiency throughout the project.


After the project parameters, including the timeline, budget, and location, have been clearly defined, the architectural design phase can commence. Some initial design strategy work may have already taken place during the pre-construction phase.

During this phase, the design-build team works together to develop the best possible design for the project, taking into account areas for cost savings and optimized productivity, functional requirements, and style preferences. The project vision is established, preliminary drawings are presented to the owner, and pricing estimates and a final budget are provided.

The project schedule is also set, and initial building drawings are presented. All expectations for the project are established at this point, and the project can begin upon agreement. The design-build approach allows for a more efficient process, as the designer and contractor are working together and there are no additional bids to be set. This allows the project to start even more quickly.


If the design-build team has not already started initial construction during the design phase, it can begin immediately after. However, it is common for there to be some overlap between the design and construction phases in design-build projects, which can significantly speed up the project.

Communication is streamlined throughout the construction process, as there is typically just one point of contact for the project. Accountability is also established, as all workers are on the same team, working towards the same goals and deadlines, and any issues or concerns are often resolved efficiently.

The collaborative nature of the design-build delivery system often leads to minimal or no change orders.


The construction phase of the design-build process can begin immediately after the design phase, unless initial construction has already started during the design phase. It is common for there to be overlap between the design and construction phases in design-build projects, which can accelerate the project.

Communication is streamlined throughout the construction process, as there is usually only one point of contact for the project. Accountability is established as all workers are on the same team, working towards the same goals and deadlines, which helps to resolve any issues or concerns efficiently.

The design-build delivery system is collaborative, which often results in minimal or no change orders.

Design-Build vs Design-Bid-Build

What is design-bid-build?

The traditional project delivery process is also known as design-bid-build. This involves two separate contracts for the architect and contractor of a project.

The owner first commissions an architect to design the project. After approval and with complete architectural plans in hand, the owner accepts and compares bids for construction. Once a bid is chosen and awarded, the contractor can proceed with building the project.


  • Clients can compare contractors for the best price
  • Clients retain full control over how and when the project proceeds
  • Architects can cater the design to the specific needs of the owner


  • Uncertainty if the project is built as designed
  • Less communication between design and construction teams
  • Conflicts must be coordinated and settled by the owner

Design-build and design-bid-build are both viable options for all project types. The shift in popularity from traditional methods to design-build is primarily due to the increased efficiency in communication and implementation. Design-build is usually the more practical solution when speed and simplicity are favored, while design-bid-build is often the choice of those putting emphasis on design.

Design-build project examples

UC Irvine Division of Continuing Education Building

The Division of Continuing Education building at the University of California, Irvine was a design and build project done by Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction and LMN Architects. The $46 million building of classrooms and offices proves that design-build is not limited to small, simple structures. The tightly-knit collaboration between the contractors and architects allowed the design to be bold and unique while still maintaining a fast construction timeline.

Populous Sports Venue Renovations

Recognizing the advantages of design-build construction, global design firm Populous has set up a new design-build entity to handle a specific niche in their clientele. While the Kansas City-based firm is already a leader in designing massive stadiums and arenas, it has struggled to keep up with the demand and challenge of sports venue upgrades.

When a team wishes to expand or renovate, firms are faced with the daunting task of designing and building in the small off-season window. With their new design-build group, Populous’ network of builders and architects can work together to ensure venue expansions are done in time for the next season.

FAQ’s about design-build

Here, you’ll find answers to some of the most common questions about this method of delivering construction projects:

What is meant by design-build?

Design-build is a method of delivering a construction project in which a single entity – the design-build team – is responsible for both the design and construction of the project. This approach differs from the traditional design-bid-build method, in which the design and construction phases are completed separately by different entities.

In the design-build approach, the design-build team works closely with the owner to develop the project design and then constructs the project according to that design. This can streamline the project delivery process, as the design-build team is able to coordinate and integrate the design and construction phases more closely.

How do you design and build?

There are various ways to approach the design and build process, depending on the specific project and the needs of the owner. Here are the general steps that are typically involved:

  1. Define the project scope and goals: This involves identifying the needs and objectives of the project, as well as any constraints or limitations.
  2. Conduct site analysis: This examines the project site to understand the local environment, climate, and other factors that may impact the project.
  3. Develop a conceptual design: This involves creating a rough sketch or outline of the project, including its overall layout, size, and design features.
  4. Create detailed design drawings: This involves developing more precise drawings and plans that specify the materials, finishes, and other details of the project.
  5. Obtain necessary permits: Depending on the location and type of project, it may be necessary to obtain various permits or approvals before construction can begin.
  6. Select a contractor: This involves choosing a construction company or team that will be responsible for building the project.
  7. Begin construction: This involves implementing the design plans, using the materials and techniques specified in the plans to construct the project.
  8. Test and commission the project: This involves ensuring that the project functions as intended and meets all relevant standards and requirements.
  9. Hand over the project: This involves transferring ownership or control of the project to the owner or end user.

What is the difference between design-build and construction management?

Design-build and construction management are two different project delivery methods that are commonly used in the construction industry. Here are some key differences between the two:

  • Responsibility: In a design-build project, the design-build team is responsible for both the design and construction of the project. In a construction management project, the owner hires a construction manager to oversee the construction process, but the design and construction are typically completed by separate contractors.
  • Integration: In a design-build project, the design and construction phases are more integrated, as the design-build team is able to coordinate and integrate the two phases more closely. In a construction management project, the design and construction phases are typically more independent, as the construction manager is not responsible for the design.
  • Decision-making: In a design-build project, the design-build team is responsible for making decisions about the design and construction of the project. In a construction management project, the construction manager acts as an advisor to the owner and is responsible for making decisions about the construction process, but the owner is typically responsible for making decisions about the design.
  • Risk: In a design-build project, the design-build team assumes more risk, as they are responsible for both the design and construction of the project. In a construction management project, the risk is typically assumed by the individual contractors responsible for the design and construction.

What does a design-build engineer do?

A design-build engineer works with a unified project team to thoroughly plan and construct a building from start to finish. This may include the floor plans, plumbing systems, electrical layout, structural framing, and lighting, to ensure that the building is complete and ready for construction. Design-build engineers can also oversee the construction process to verify the accurate implementation of plans.

What is the difference between EPC and design-build?

EPC stands for Engineer, Procure, and Construct. Similar to design-build, EPC uses a single contract for all aspects of the project. While design-build is typically led by an architect, EPC can be led by the contractor or engineer, and it is generally used when the final output needs to be a ready-to-use facility.

Coordination is a strength of both design-build and EPC projects, but EPC is often geared more toward the performance and operations of the finished product. EPC contracts also stick to a fixed price for the project.

Is turnkey the same as design and build?

Turnkey combines design and build services with project management. It offers the same all-in-one solution as design-build, plus additional services to manage schedules, budget allocation, potential delays and difficulties. With turnkey projects, clients don’t need to closely monitor the progress of work or the distribution of funds for materials. Turnkey projects are ready to be operated, sold, or rented upon completion.

What is the difference between design-build and plan-and-spec?

Design-build projects have both the design and construction handled by one party. Plan-and-spec, however, uses the traditional method of first having a design made then seeking a contractor to build it.

Plan-and-spec gets its name from the output of architects to the owners. Owners receive detailed architectural plans and specifications, which they can then submit to a contractor to carry out the construction.


Design and build provides seamless communication and simple delivery for buildings of all shapes and sizes. It is one of the most efficient ways to get a project done, and it is favored by property owners around the world who seek to stay on budget and on time with their construction.

Although design-build still has its disadvantages compared to other methods of delivery, it continues to be one of the most common and sought-after approaches to construction today.


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