Roadmap for Residences: How Design-Build Can Save Your Firm Money

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“Harder, better, faster, stronger” could be the saying of design-build. This form of project delivery allows a property owner to contract with one entity to design and construct a building. Proponents say there are many advantages to the method.

Design-build is best known for achieving greater efficiency — and ensuring cost savings — over traditional design-bid-build. In another comparison, advocates claim that the design-build method protects clients from translating between separately contracted design and construction service providers. Ohio-based architect Marika Snider adds that integrating stakeholders in this way can also have positive financial effects: “I find that design-build is a great way to build because we have knowledge of both budget and construction costs from the project’s beginning.”

The chorus of enthusiastic voices is increasing, as well, with design-build gains in the nonresidential construction market, according to the Design-Build Institute of America. And anecdotal evidence suggests that that growth is beginning to take place in residential architecture. Twenty percent of the work performed by Snider’s eponymous firm is residential, for example, and is entirely design-build.

The upward trend in residential design-build also gained a boost when the American Institute of Architects added the A145 to its family of AIA Contract Documents. This document codifies an agreement between an owner and design-builder specifically for residences.

Says Snider, who was one of 30 members of the Documents Committee that helped draft the A145, “There are people who want to [launch a design-build entity], but have been afraid of the additional legal issues you take on with construction. I hope this document encourages more architects to engage in design-build, because the legal framework is now accessible.”

Via Singcore

Joshua Ballance, senior manager and counsel for contract documents content at the AIA, details that accessible legal framework: “In the residential design-build arena, the tendency is to go for extremely short forms or something somebody has thrown together without using tried and tested language. Our documents have been tested in the courts, and we attempt whenever possible to use the language from our other documents because we know how that language will be interpreted in the courts. So, there are many benefits to using a standard form, especially one that’s been tested as much as ours.”

For Ballance, length also figures largely into achieving accessibility. “Our standard design-build documents are designed for commercial projects in general,” he says of the A141 — the commercial predecessor to the A145. “That’s not to say you couldn’t use them on a residential project, but it is over 30 pages and has multiple exhibits, which is not the kind of thing you’d want to present to a residential owner.”

According to Bell Architecture founder Michael Bell, abbreviation reflects the scale of a residential commission in which a single design-build entity can execute a project from start to finish. “With larger commercial design-build packages, generally the owner contracts with the design-build entity, which may in turn contract with an architect or contractor — depending on whether that entity is architect- or contractor-led. Simpler projects mean fewer documents.”

The New Orleans–based architect, who joined Snider on the Documents Committee, also praises the A145 for its “educational component.” Because architects indeed take on additional legal risks by performing construction services, the document directs them to specific concerns in this realm. “It’s tough to extricate the Standard of Care from the warranty of the work,” Bell says, for instance. In another example, he notes that Section 1.2, dedicated to statutory requirements, highlights the jurisdictional laws — such as those home warranty acts, as well as consumer protection notifications — that are unique to residential construction. “Anybody who wants to build residential work needs to be aware of that, so we have prompts in the document that suggest figuring out the rules in your area.”

Via Brandt

Snider says that education benefits aren’t limited to the A145’s architect readers. “Clients may have never built a residence before, so the language, format and provisions make this partly a teaching tool explaining to them how the process works,” she says.

Another key difference between the A145 and the A141 is how the A145 handles goals. Whereas a commercial design-build commission traditionally establishes programming and other essentials at the time of contracting, “with a residential project, we understand that owners probably have some idea of their criteria,” Ballance says, “but it needs to be further developed during the design phase.” Once the Owner’s Criteria has been established and the design has progressed far enough, according to the A145’s protocols, the owner and the design-build entity will enter into a design-build amendment that establishes the cost for construction.

“Residential design has long been a tough field for fees; you have to do projects of a certain size to get a worthwhile fee,” she says. The calculus of construction, on the other hand, yields more profit. “People who do design-build as their primary business model say you can do fewer projects and really invest all your time and energy into those projects.” Architect and client alike benefit from the greater focus and, as Bell says, the higher profit margins may ultimately allow architects to provide services to a wider swath of consumers.

“As I helped put this document together, I have mulled [over] the possibilities of working with two or three different contractors. Having seen that there’s a great road map here to enter into such an arrangement — now I’m really looking for that opportunity.”

Download a free copy of AIA Contract Documents Residential Design-Build Document Here!

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