Why Architect-Led Design-Build?

Overthe past twentieth century, Design-Bid-Build had been the predominant projectdelivery system for architects. In this system, the architect and contractorwork as two separate entities with the client, where the architect designs, thecontractor’s bid, then one contractor is selected to build. While this projectdelivery system has managed, it’s not without its many flaws. As a result, thearchitecture and building industry has seen a trend in finding new ways toimprove how projects are delivered. One such method that has re-emerged andincreased in popularity in recent years is Design-Build.

Under this model, the designer and constructor are thesame entity or are on the same team rather than being hired separately by theowner. While most design-build projects are led by contractors, there isno reason why architects can’t step up to the plate and take on this role aswell. This is a unique opportunity for architects to jump in and provideleadership in construction, which is atypical to the way most architectspractice. Architects who are supporters of design-build model often compare itto a process that was common hundreds of years ago, when buildings weretypically completed by a “master builder,” rather than a segmented group ofarchitects, engineers and contractors. Froma historical standpoint, the term architect, or arkhitekton in Greek, was thetitle given to the master builder who would oversee the design and constructionof each project. In Greek, a literal translation of the term “arkhi,” meansmaster while “tekton” means builder (Berman, 2003) Thus, the arkhitekton ormaster builder would assume the responsibility of the design and construction ofa project.Whileancient Greeks closely tied design and construction to the role of anarchitect, ancient Rome began to see a separation between these roles of designerand builder. Inhabitants of ancient Rome had a lifestyle which included manyluxuries, such as art, architecture, trade, power, and entertainment.

The greaticons of their time, such as the Coliseum, stand as a landmark in history andreflect their culture (Miller, 2003). Many historians are amazed at thecomplexity of their architecture and technology and wonder how they were ableto accomplish such feats. For example, their plumbing system was quiterevolutionary and the first of its kind, where aqueducts would bring water fromthe coast to provide running water, fountains, pools, baths, and sewer systems.It’s difficult to conceive that the architect’s possessed the expertise aloneto design and build these things. The amount of complexity triggered a change inroles for the architect, and they likely worked with builders and otherprofessions to complete projects.Asthe Roman empire collapsed, the world entered the Dark Ages, and the termarchitect was seldom used. The simple drive to exist replaced innovation, whilefortification and defense became the culture of this era (Miller, 2003). Tallstone walls and castle fortresses became more prominent, while elaboratedesigns and details became secondary.

The master builder began to re-emerge andonce again held sufficient knowledge to construct buildings without additionalengineering expertise. Asthe wars of the Dark Ages ended, civilization went through a re-birth, orRenaissance. If someone wanted to become an architect, they would complete anapprenticeship as a cementer and stone cutter.

Through this work experience,they would become master mason or head builder, which was also responsible forthe design of a project (Miller, 2003). Consequently, the architect assumedultimate responsibility design and construction, and was therefore referred toas the “master builder” (Coble, 1999).Fastforward to the 1800’s, and the world experienced new heights in constructiontechnology. New systems such as steel beams, plumbing, and lighting began to be incorporatedinto the construction projects of the period that was unlike any others fromthe past. Therefore, architects struggled to maintain their expertise in allaspects of the design and building process. In order to keep up with thedemand, the world needed educated/full-time architects and engineers toregulate the profession (Landau, 1996).

As a result, the master builder was separatedinto two distinct professionals; the designer and the builder. This separationwas the first step in the industry fragmentation that we see today. Duringthe 1900’s, construction projects steadily increased in scale and complexity.

Economicgrowth led to new technology and techniques. New technology and techniques thenled to specialization within the profession. The master builder could no longermaintain its level of expertise in all the trades and aspects of the buildingprocess. The 1930’s had a very large number of skilled professionals, whichwere needed for projects such as the Empire State Building.

The activities ofthe architect, engineer, and builder had to be coordinated together while eachremained in their separate roles. This separation of roles in the buildingindustry, led to specialization, and by the 1950’s this pattern of organizationhad become the mainstream practice in the architectural profession (Kostoff, 2000).Aswe continue into the twenty-first century, more technologies will be created,which will affect the industry and require more experts. As we can seethroughout history, the fragmentation of an industry follows specialization. Itis not uncommon today for a construction project to have an architect, generalcontractor, 15-20 consultants, 40-60 subcontractors, and hundreds ofmanufacturers and suppliers. With so many people involved, the expertise in theconstruction process has slowly slipped away from the architect to the builder.If the architect is to regain its status, it must improve upon its knowledge ofconstruction techniques, and develop its management skills.

Otherwise, the roleof the architect will continue moving toward a sub-contractor position to thebuilder and/or construction manager. The industry is looking to reverse thefragmentation that has sparked these problems and are desirous to have a singlepoint of contact and responsibility once again. Themaster builder of the past no longer exists. It has fragmented throughspecialization, which has eliminated a single source of responsibility andhindered collaboration due to the growing number of professionals involved thatworking independently from one another. To counteract this trend, theconstruction industry has been exploring alternative delivery methods and theintroduction of new professionals such as the construction manager.

Althoughthese attempts have resolved some concerns, they have also introduced newproblems and conflicts of roles. This evolution of the construction industryhas left the architect of today without a clear definition or position. Inresponse to societal demands and industry trends, design-build has re-emergedas a popular project delivery system that offers a singles source ofresponsibility. According to a study conducted by the Design-Build Institute ofAmerica, about 40 percent of commercial projects are built through the design-buildmethod, which is a large increase from less than 10 percent two decades ago(Nancy B. Solomon). Whilemost of these design-build projects are led by contractors, more architects aretaking on this responsibility.

Some benefits of architect-led design-build includethe following: (1) Architects can earn more money. While the architect assumesthe risk associated with constructing the building, they also receive moreprofit, by collecting not only the architectural fees, but also the moreexpensive contractor fees. For entrepreneurial minded architects, they see thisas a huge opportunity to earn more money by taking on more responsibilities. (2)Architects can exercise greater control over their project by making the designdecisions that might otherwise be delegated to a contractor. (3) Architects canincrease the efficiency of the construction process and thus produce a higherquality building. By having one firm solely responsible for the design andconstruction, they can typically increase the efficiency of the constructionprocess and produce higher quality buildings, because the architect and builderare collaborating with each other throughout the entire process. (4) Architectscan save their clients time and money, so they can get a higher qualitybuilding more quickly and at a lower cost. While these are substantial benefits,there are also significant risks that come a long with architect-leddesign-build.

Many architects are risk adverse, and the potential for lawsuitsincrease when the architect assumes responsibility over the construction of abuilding. It’s also a lot more challenging to complete this role, as it placesa lot more responsibilities on the architect.Whenit comes to providing leadership in design-build, architects have a distinctadvantage over contractors for several reasons.

First, architects know thedesign of their project inside and out, and that familiarity with a complexproject can be very beneficial. Since architects designed the project from itsinception, it only makes sense to have that person see the project through tothe end, as they will have insights and knowledge pertaining to the projectthat a builder who wasn’t present in the early design stages wouldn’t be asfamiliar with. Secondly, when architect’s take the lead in design-build, thedesign will remain paramount throughout the project. Whereas, if the project isbeing led by a builder, the design aspects may take a backseat to other factorssince they don’t have a design background. As one architect-led design-buildfirm, called Tekton Architecture, put it when they said, “We are architects who build, not builders who design.”Costly mistakes on projects often occur,but who takes accountability when this happens? By law, errors are permitted onconstruction documents, but in the case that such errors occur, the architectneeds to defend himself and prove that they acted with an “overall professionalstandard of skill, knowledge and judgment” (Sapers, 1984). Many projects are quitecomplex, which result in more errors and emissions, but since there is oftensuch a large number of professionals involved on a project, it has becomeeasier to place blame on others, and is difficult to hold people accountable.

One of the major benefits that come from design-buildis it provides a single source of responsibility, and studies have shown thereis a decrease in the amount of errors when utilizing the design-build method.Onewell-known architect who adapted the design build methodology is Peter Gluck. Asa graduate from Yale, Peter Gluck had a strong influence on his alma mater, asthey were one of the foremost schools to establish a design-build program,shortly after he graduated and began building designs of his own. Gluck and his colleague David Sellers,got together in 1963, to build a vacation home for Gluck’s parents inWesthampton, New York. This home was a great opportunity for them to learn howto build, as Gluck said, “Private houses are a great way to experiment” (Zacks, Stephen).

I assume his parents gave him them a little more wiggle roomduring construction, to learn through trial and error, because it’s onlynatural to assume that first-time builders are going to make mistakes, but theproject turned out to be a great success. Peter Gluck and David Sellers wereable to finish this home in two summers, and it got featured in an article inProgressive Architecture in 1967. The article described Peter Gluck as “plungingheadlong into architecture–designing, building and developing.” (“Light and AirHouses”)So,what was it that spurred Gluck to begin architect-led design-build? Regardingthis decision, Peter Gluck said the following, “Yea so…

why were we doingthis? I think there were two impulses: One was that in the 1960’s there wasthis kind of attitude that you can do anything. So if you wanted to be anarchitect why don’t you just go out and build stuff. So that was a kind ofethos of the time. The other impulse came from when we looked at the work ofarchitecture offices, people that were coming in as critics at the school, werealized that they didn’t know “Sh*t from Shinola.” WhilePeter Gluck learned a lot from his architectural education at Yale, it’s clear fromhis criticism that he has major issues with the educational system. In additionto his issues with the educational system, Gluck has an issue with thearchitectural profession as a whole as it is currently practiced. Gluckmentioned how too many architects tend to complain about the failures ofcontractors, but he puts the blame on the architects themselves when he said, “Mostarchitects have no idea how a building is laid out, let alone how to put innotation that is compatible with existing equipment,” he says.

“It’s amazing ifyou look at a set of drawings by one of these guys; some of the dimensions areof absolutely no value. If you’re not overseeing the job site, you have nomeans to understand that. All architects are certainly capable of it, butthere’s never any opportunity for them to know.

They’re basically forced to beignorant, which I find inexcusable” (Zacks,Stephen). Gluck also takes exception with the educational andprofessional system that fails to train architects how to build. He finds itfrustrating that architectural graduates face such a steep learning curve whenthe begin, and wishes they had the knowledge to close that gap, but they don’t”(Zacks, Stephen). According to Gluck, “It’sa broken-down system that impoverishes the profession, adds a huge premium tothe cost of doing good design, taxes building quality, and makes it almostimpossible to do social projects affordably.” (Zacks,Stephen)Foryoung architects who are fortunate enough to work at Gluck’s firm, it serves asgreat on the job training for discontented architects who want to learn how toactually build something. They’re expected to learn quickly, but by managingtheir own projects, they’re able to close that gap quicker than other firms whodon’t participate in the construction phase. Gluck said, “One of the biggestproblems is that architects spend so many years in such a refined, isolatedworld—one school environment after another,” he says.

“They never really getout into the real world.” (Zacks, Stephen)Thearchitecture profession is currently heading in the wrong direction, and itneeds to make a course correction for it to thrive. To achieve this,architect’s need to increase their responsibilities and embrace architect-leddesign-build. Much of the market is no longer relying on the services ofarchitects as sees them as an unnecessary extravagant expense. Forcenturies the architect was the master builder; the one who was responsible forboth the design and the construction of a project, with sufficient constructionexpertise to oversee the project from inception to completion. However, inresponse to societal changes in innovation, technology, and construction, thebuilding industry became fragmented and the role of the architecturalprofession changed from the master builder to designer. The separation of rolesbetween builder and designer has created many problems within the profession,as it has created an ever-widening gap between the designer and builder, a gapthat historically didn’t exist, and is unnecessarily wide today.

Through the architect-leddesign-build approach, architects can stake it’s claim in the profession and regainis title as a master builder. Thus, they will be better equipped to providemuch needed leadership in the architectural profession.

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