The History of Design-Build

What do the Parthenon, the Florence Cathedral, and the Pentagon have in common?

A: They were built using design-build construction!

5,000 Years of Tradition

What do the Parthenon, the Florence Cathedral, and the Pentagon have in common? They were built using design-build construction! Learn more about the history of the integrated design and construction method of building known as design-build.

Leon Battista Alberti, Architect of the Renaissance, said it best, “It is never shameful to learn from any teacher things that are useful to know.”

The Master Builder Approach: Design-Build Construction

For centuries, major building projects have been using the Master Builder approach. Masterpieces of architecture and construction were completed using this approach: Djoser’s Steps, the Florence Cathedral, Egyptian Pyramids, the Ishtar Gate etc. It’s considered the “gold standard” of construction because it ensures the master builder is solely responsible for the project outcome. Today we call the master builder approach Design-Build.

Design-builders are responsible for three project outcomes:

  1. Quality of construction
  2. Cost in time and money
  3. Design that meets the criteria set by the owner

Since a design-builder is solely responsible for a project’s success, the architect can’t point blame to the general contractor when things get messy or vice-versa. It’s a collaborative, team-based approach resulting in projects that are less costly, completed faster, and higher quality than traditional plan-spec projects.

What Happened to Design-Build?

Design-build fell out of fashion for a time beginning with the Industrial Revolution. The building industry wasn’t focused on the quality of construction, but keeping up with demand. Additionally, the technical expertise required for designing industrial buildings meant designers needed an entirely different set of skills than builders. The result was the separation of designers and constructors. Owners chose a design from an architect and then bid out the construction to the lowest cost bidder. This method is plan-spec, or design-bid-build.

This separation of designer and builder has consequences. Because owners contract with a designer and constructors separately, they must manage separate timelines and updates from each of these entities. As a result, owners spend more time and energy managing building projects. When mistakes are made during design-bid-build construction, the architect and general contractor are quick to blame one another. When there isn’t agreement on who is at fault, both the architect and the constructor agree the cost should fall on the owner.

Design-Build Today

Today, design-build accounts for 40% of all non-residential design and construction. The clear benefits of design-build have made it a popular choice among owners who want collaboration, quality construction, and a fast project turnaround. The Design-Build Association of America formed 25 years ago to promote design-build as a construction delivery method and define its best practices. You can learn more about how design-build works by checking out our design-build resources.

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