Do You Still Need An Architect When Your Contractor Suggests Design-Build?

Design-Build is a popular term in the construction world these days, basically it means that you hire a single company / firm / person to both design and construct your project. I have worked on several design-build projects and they can be a great way to streamline a project, they can also be a real nightmare if the team isn’t right (or there is no team). The key to the success or possible failure of your project is knowing who is on the team and who is doing what.
In the commercial world, design-build has a few more checks because construction documents for commercial projects almost always need to be stamped by a licensed professional. This can protect the client by ensuring at least a minimum level of competency from the professional. The residential world; on the other hand, is a bit more loose, and stamped drawings are often not required for a building permit to be issued. This is where the client needs to be particularly careful when the option of design build is first suggested.
Design-build works great when you have a team of experts and licensed professionals working together with a client to create and build a functional, well designed project. Often a design-build team can deliver a project with lower upfront design fees because these fees can be spread out over the length of the project.
Sadly, in the residential world there is often no design-build “team” rather it is simply an outgrowth of one profession. Typically a general contractor has decided that he/she can do the design work as well as the construction. Unfortunately this leaves the design of the house in the hands of someone who is not a design professional, and the client will often spend the same amount on design fees that they would have had they hired a full time architect.

Typically, I would advise anyone that is considering entering into a design-build situation to ask a few key questions:

Who will be performing the design work on my project?

Will I be able to meet directly with the designer?

What if I am not pleased with the design work I am receiving?

At the end of the day, one of the best solutions for a client is to hire an architect AND a contractor at the beginning of a project. I have worked on many projects where the contractor was brought on board early or at the same time as the architect and it is a great way to form a team mentality early in the project and give the client a truly integrated process. Strictly speaking this is not design-build, but it does offer many of the advantages.

If you have any other questions about design-build or other delivery methods in the fields of architecture and construction, please feel free to ask questions or give us a call.

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