When to Consider Design-Build
When to Consider Design-Build

When to Consider Design-Build

Design-build is not a prescription for frustration. On the right project, it can help you mobilize available resources. With the global shortage of labor and materials, rising costs, and condensed timelines, design-build is an alternative approach with considerable upsides.

Designers have historically disliked design-build. As the old customer service adage goes, “quality, speed, price—pick two.” In other words, design-build can meet your budget and your timeline, but you’ll sacrifice quality. 

To some extent, this is true. You might need to forgo some of the specificity you had in mind. However, with the right design and construction team and a few key conditions, you can have a speedy—and highly successful—outcome.

Are you considering design-build? Here are a few questions to ask first.

Question 1: What is your top priority?

If your top priority is speed-to-completion, design-build can be a smart option. Design-build compresses a project timeline by combining the design and construction phases. It also gives the building owner one point of contact with the team instead of one with each party, which enhances efficiency. 

Conversely, if quality is your top priority, you might be better off with a design-bid-build approach. It’s unrealistic to expect perfection when the team is running at top speed.

In 2019, Republic Airways made the strategic decision to co-locate its regional pilot and inflight crew training center, hotel, and corporate headquarters on a new campus in Carmel, Indiana. At that time, the project had an ample three-year timeframe. 

Enter a pandemic and a pilot shortage—causing delays on one hand and demand pressure on the other. By the time the project resumed in 2021, the timeline had shrunk to only 16 months. Design-build was now the best option. We partnered with F.A. Wilhelm Construction, a flexible and experienced builder, to expedite the project.

Question 2: Do you have the right team? 

Design-build contractually lays a foundation of teamwork between the designer and the builder, and it’s important for the two companies to have a long history of working well together. During the Republic project, it was crucial for all three parties—the owner, the builder, and us—to agree on a clear set of objective requirements related to the schedule, budget, and quality. Everyone at the table must be ready to make decisions—sometimes with limited information, which requires trust and a willingness from the owner to act quickly.


Question 3: Can you compromise?

Design-build will be a frustrating process without a willingness to consider options. Your architect is designing concurrently with construction, using readily available materials and reacting to budget updates. For example, during the Republic project, a training lounge was added after construction started as project funding was reallocated based on real-time cost updates. It is a nice amenity, but it is not in the ideal location—anything else was impossible because the frame and exterior wall panels were already in production.


Question 4: Can you finance purchases in advance? 

Doing things out of the traditional sequence requires the owner to pay for items earlier in the process, committing more capital upfront to order materials and secure subcontractor labor. That’s the cost of speed. Without this understanding and commitment, the team cannot move as quickly as required.

We can embrace design-build.

Design-build is a viable solution under the right conditions. An experienced designer like RATIO can maximize optionality without sacrificing quality. We know the pivot points within the process, the now-or-never decisions, and can protect design integrity while accommodating an evolving wish list.


Get in Touch

Get in touch with Chris Boardman, AIA, LEED AP, Principal / President.