Design-Bid-Build vs. Design-Build: Selecting an Architect or Contractor

Whether you are embarking on a renovation or new construction project for your home, office, or business, it is important to have a solid understanding of the different project delivery methods and contract document types. Deciding to pursue a traditional Design-Bid-Build, Contractor-Led Design Build, or Architect-led Design-Build, delivery type should be dependent upon the project scope as well as the owner’s background and varying degree of experience with building projects.

Design-Bid-Build is the most common project delivery method in which the owner signs separate contracts with the architect and the general contractor. The architectural firm produces all of the design and construction permit documents. In most cases the architect will then retrieve bids from contractors to carry out construction. In deciding upon the Design-Bid-Build delivery format, architects and contractors are not contractually obligated to one another and the owner assumes all risk associated with the final result of the project Construction 3

Contract Administration is the management and negotiation of general and sub contractor agreements, and is often not fully understood by owners new to the building process. It is important then for the owner to discuss with the Architect, the extent of their background and whether or not they will need additional help managing the construction or services such as applying for a historical tax credit, applying for building permits, reviewing shop drawings and payment applications, and responding to requests for information etc. Because it takes the architect additional time to appropriately manage the construction, his or her time should be compensated accordingly.

If the owner chooses not to retain the architect after the bidding phase, then they are responsible for managing the construction process. As a result they are left to fend for themselves if finger pointing arises during construction. If the owner does not have a solid understanding of the building process, then they probably won’t be able to effectively manage the building schedule for sub contractors and general contractors. They also are less likely to competently manage and anticipate day-to-day challenges during the construction process, or identify mistakes or irregularities in the construction.

Construction management fees could equate to 20% of the total design fee and is especially worthwhile if the owner doesn’t have a construction background. An experienced architect will do a thorough job educating the owner of the building process and will propose terms of the contract to suitably compensate for any knowledge gap the owner may have in terms of construction.

It is important for the owner to do research when choosing an architect or contractor so that firms that are experienced in producing complex projects similar to theirs are selected. It is also vital to make sure that the architect and contractor are well versed in the nuances of the building code and life safety code, which varies depending on the state, client type, and purpose of the building or renovation. Construction not up to code can result in change orders and wasted time on the part of the owner, that could be spent operating a profitable business had the construction been completed properly.

The Contractor-Led-Design-Build approach involves one contract with the owner and General Contractor(GC) to manage all aspects of the construction phase. During Pre-construction the contractor is a construction manager and becomes the GC after the price is negotiated. Sub contracted work includes painting, insulation, HVAC, Grading/paving, and Site development. They can subcontract either on a lump sum or cost plus basis.

There are some larger General Contracting firms that do have an in-house architect professional on staff, in-house and can operate as a true Design-build firm. However, only about 5% of Contractor-led Design-Build companies keep a licensed architect in house. The majority of General Contractors carry out the design in-house by an unlicensed CAD professional or engineer. It is then outsourced to be reviewed and approved by a registered design firm.

AAA-Construction-960pxIt is important for an owner who is pursuing this method to ask the General Contractor about who is carrying out the design and confirm that a registered Architect is being hired for the project. If the company employs an unlicensed design professional in-house for a complex project, the quality of the design and specifications could come into question depending upon the complexity of the project. Furthermore, plan stamping by an architect is illegal and is especially risky for both the Architect and Owner.

The advantage of the Contractor-led-Design-build method would be the ability to stream line and fast track schedules due to the fact that they were leading the planning process from project conception. The GC will also be well versed in construction systems, costs, and scheduling which can also be developed early in the planning phase. The owner also receives the cost benefit of the competition among the subcontractor and supplier bids.

Architect-Led Design-Build designates the Architect as a single source of responsibility to perform both design and construction under a single contract, from project planning and conception through design and construction, to occupancy. This means that the owner is not responsible for coordinating schedules between the design firm and contractors. This allows the owner and the architect to develop the scope of the design phase. The owner can then continue to focus on their business while the architect manages the entire project either through the ownership of an in-house contracting company or by contract with a separate GC.

The main benefit of the Architect-Led Design-Build delivery method is Architects, who are regularly involved with the construction process, are typically able to produce higher quality and more thorough designs and specifications. Design-Build Architects are also more aptly able to design a project within budget because they have a better understanding of materials and labor cost, resulting in real, buildable, solutions on time and within budget. When an architectural professional spends significant time on the job site, they witness and manage scheduling for foundations being poured, framing, setting trusses, painting, roofing, and HVAC installations, on a regular basis.

If there are unforeseen issues that were not able to be resolved during the design phase, they need to be addressed. Usually, the contractor in a Design-Bid-Build project will have to go back to the architect and wait for a solution, taking valuable time to create the design revisions needed, which in turn may delay the overall duration of the project. In the Architect-led Design-Build model however, construction can be performed without these glitches or drawbacks, since the Architect already knows the project inside out right from the start. If surprises do come up during construction, they are minimized and solved relatively easily and quickly since the design-builder is the Architect.

In the traditional Design-Bid-Build method, the owner has to go through a series of phases to be able to finally build and complete his project. First the owner would select and hire an Architect who will design the project, and, in concert with consulting engineers, produce the construction documents. Once the project is fully designed, it goes into the bidding phase where the owner then needs to deal with the contractors. With involvement of so many different professionals in the project, it becomes difficult for the owner to coordinate and determine the correct plan of action, which can put the client in the middle of discussions and debates between parties. The owner ends up spending more time in aligning the teams and defining a plan of action.Construction

Because the Architect-Led-Design-Build system involves having a single design firm perform the entire process, starting from design through construction and execution, the client has to deal with only one point of contact for all communication on the project making his own life much easier and hassle free. Coordination between professionals specializing in various individual aspects of the construction process is streamlined because they all are from the same team or firm. Also, in case coordination issues or any other technical issues arise, it is the responsibility of the Architect and not that of the owner, to manage them.

In the Design-Bid method, the owner can end up spending a large amount of time working out administrative issues, managing paper work and bills for the project. In an Architect-Led- Design-Build-Project, the administrative burden for the owner is reduced because all bills come from a single entity. Therefore the amount of time spent on examining and reviewing information is significantly reduced. Change orders due to errors and omissions are virtually eliminated, because the design-builder has responsibility for developing drawings and specifications as well as constructing a fully functioning facility.


Choosing an appropriate project delivery method should be based upon the owner’s comfort level, degree of construction expertise, and availability to devote time to manage the project. Some companies have a project manager or owner who has a construction background and manages new facility projects every day, and depending on the complexity of the project, would be able to serve as the manager in a Design-Bid-Build Project. If the owner is not well versed in the construction process, they may want to consider having a general contractor or a Design-build architect serve as the agent. The General-Contractor-Led Design-build may be more suitable for less complex projects that do not involve a high degree of design work, unless they employ or hire out a licensed Architect, or have a significant amount of experience in a particular field. Conversely, the Architect-Led-Design-build format should usually be geared toward goals that focus on more sophisticated building solutions.

Do you have any building experiences you would like to share? We love feedback. Feel free to leave a comment and check out our other blog posts. Brown & Bills Architects provides architectural design services for bidding to general contractors and when needed, serves as the project manager in an Architect-led design/build delivery method. We are flexible. If you need help or have any questions regarding a building project, call us at (937) 832-1150 or (513) 655-2619.