How does this design build work, and what does it mean to the mason contractor? Masonry consulted the experts in the design-build field to examine this age-old building method and learn how it could benefit your business.
By K.K. Snyder
The building method known as design build is being touted as the return to the “master builder,” in which a single entity is responsible for both design and construction of a project. The comprehensive methods also are being used in the masonry industry, creating faster, more efficient construction options for contractors and their clients.
Developers and owners continue to increase demand for higher quality buildings, delivered more quickly and within budget. Design build provides a solution to meet those demands as design-build projects continue to increase in number and scope within the masonry industry.
Growing steadily in the United States for the last 30 years, the design-build delivery format is an integrated process that has been embraced by the world’s greatest civilizations. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Code of Hammurabi (1800 B.C.) fixed absolute accountability upon master builders for both design and construction, according to the Design-Build Institute of America’s (DBIA) Web site. Master builders accepted full responsibility for integrating conceptual design with functional performance. To assume anything less than complete accountability for delivering a project was unthinkable.
Although modern designers and constructors once considered the process virtually abandoned, there is a resurgence of the master builder’s approach in the new world. Informed owners have begun asking practitioners to take more than just an artistic interest in their facilities.
A modern approach
Steeped in the work ethic exemplified by the ancient master builders, today’s design-build process offers reassurance that the design and construction industry can deliver comprehensive services, according to the DBIA, which was organized in 1993.
Changing an Industry
The diversity of projects constructed using design-build project delivery spans every market segment including:
“At DBIA, we’re teaching a different way of doing business,” says Walker ‘Lee’ Evey, president and CEO of the DBIA for the last three years. “Design build is the best way to do high-performance design and construction, because it lowers cost and offers faster performance, higher quality, less litigation and more satisfied customers.
“Design build is all about teams,” Evey continues. “In terms of how you build a masonry wall, it is exactly the same with design build as it is with the old methods of construction.”
One of the new schools of thought associated with design build versus other methods is the practice of not awarding contracts to the low bidder, but, rather, negotiating to get the best team for the project while staying within budget guidelines.
Evey, who oversaw the Pentagon’s $9 billion renovation project as well as the building’s reconstruction following the 9-11 plane crash, formerly served in Iraq as the senior advisor to the Iraq Minister of Construction. He suggests that when a team is being formed for a new project, those leading the selection process should evaluate entire teams, rather than individual construction companies.
“Don’t even look at price at this step,” says Evey, who teaches owners to communicate goals, challenges, problems and constraints with team members who may offer solutions. “Look at the past performance of the team, and all significant players in the team coming together, including masons, architects, designers, engineering, etc. What have they done together recently; what have they done that is similar; and what are their qualifications? Tell everyone up front what the budget is, and tell them to come back to you and tell you how you can get what you need within your budget.”
The name game
The DBIA is trying to change the use of the term “subcontractor” to “specialty contractor.”
“[Subcontractor has] come to suggest a subordinate role and give some inaccurate perceptions with respect to the very important role specialty contractors play in the design-build world,” Evey says. “That strengthens the role of specialty contractors, like masons, in the award of these contracts.”
There are a number of things specialty contractors such as masons can do to prepare and compete for work, beginning with a keen understanding of what the design-build process entails. Knowing the qualifications of the competition is also useful, as is the ability to qualify as a team. This qualification is a task that can only come after working successfully with the team on a number of projects, continually improving, and earning a reputation in the design-build industry, Evey says.
Truth in numbers
The Construction Industry Institute at Penn State and other groups have conducted studies on the design-build process. Time and again the numbers show that, on average, design build is 6 percent less expensive than design bid build and offers an average 12 percent faster completion time on construction. Design build, overall, is 33 percent faster than design bid build for the entire project process, according to Evey.
Using the teamwork approach, design build brings the different masonry specialists together on projects along with other construction specialists. One of the advantages of design build with regard to the masonry industry is the ability to coordinate various masonry activities, so the timing works in favor of, rather than against, the efforts of the other team members. These efforts are continually monitored and encouraged by the lead in the design-build project, keeping everyone in-the-know and on schedule.
“There is a real advantage in not having so many people fighting against each other and creating havoc,” says Steve Ziolkowski, director of business development for Ziolkowski Construction Inc. in South Bend, Ind.
On board for the initial design and project estimate phases are the architect, engineer and design teams for mechanical, electric and HVAC aspects, says Ziolkowski, who serves on the board of directors for the Great Lakes Chapter of the DBIA.
“The major benefit to this is they do the design work,” Ziolkowski says. “The key component to design build is that, since everyone is on your team, there is much less red tape and much less paperwork. Every team has its own layer.” He notes that the general contractor typically runs the show on a design-build project, with masonry, landscape and other specialties contracted.
Masonry contractors, he adds, are hand-selected, but sometimes chosen through a bid process — a process most try to stay away from when using the design-build method. Additionally, the general contractor maintains responsibility for risk management issues on the jobsite, and every team has an attorney on board.
A role that cannot be overlooked is that of the consultant. “Air and vapor barrier consultants are huge in design build,” says Rob Greer with the Masonry Division of L.F. Jennings Inc., with regard to specialty contractors on a design-build project. “The fact that mold is this century’s asbestos to lawyers, keeping a building’s interior dry is important. Buildings today — residential, condos and offices — mostly have fixed windows and controlled interior climates. Masonry is a superior material for achieving dry buildings. A mold-free building can be obtained with added air/vapor barriers to masonry walls.
“These consultants need to be educated in masonry details and flashing products to be able to correctly design an air/vapor barrier system,” Greer says. “Once the project has begun, the owner-hired inspectors on site would be responsible for the proper installation of the air/vapor and masonry details.”
Because the design-build method is frequently used to construct public buildings, some states have been slower to adopt the method because it requires the passing of a law. Ziolkowski says a prime example is his own state of Indiana, which recently became the 45th state in the country to pass Public Law 74. The law allows for buildings in the public sector, including schools, roads and other projects built under state or local government, to be completed using design build.
Ziolkowski estimates about 20 percent of the projects his company has completed in the last two years were constructed using the design-build method. He says the misconception that design build isn’t good for the masonry industry, or that masonry budgets often get cut since the building wrap is one of the last phases of a project, is merely a myth.
“A good general contractor isn’t going to let that happen,” Ziolkowski says. “If you’re a good masonry contractor, you should be selective of the general contractor you work with. Budget numbers coming in from the subcontractors should be iron clad. You’re going to be held to that [bid]. No masonry contractor should be given the short end of the stick.”
Mason contractors might also see an advantage to design build in timing. Since the walls are constructed from readily available materials, short lead times allow for early starts and faster completion by the masons, which shines a positive light on their contributions to the overall projects.
Additionally, software can be key to the design-build process, and a number of programs exist to assist with every aspect of this method, says Clint Auderer, product manager for Dubuque, Iowa-based software developer and vendor Digital Canal Corp.
“Design-build software has been around for quite a while,” he says. “Our clients are mostly engineers and architects, but also contractors, builders and even lay people.”
Among Digital Canal’s most popular programs are Digital SolidBuilder, a design software, and BidBuilder, an estimating software. The company also offers training on the programs.
Like all aspects of the development and construction industries, design build is facing increasing needs to define and adhere to green building regulations and standards, many of which are sketchy at best, while others are yet to be established.
“Green and LEED are top on the list of hot topics today,” says Greer. “If you want financing, permits and zoning changes, you must be prepared to go green and [become LEED certified]. It only makes sense that building by conserving is next for the generation of structures to come. From alternate power sources to recycled materials, the green and [LEED-certified] items will become more and more desirable to the owners.
“The contractor must be educated in these areas to compete in today’s market,” Greer continues. “Masonry is a tremendous green product and has tremendous capabilities for heating and cooling. Masonry materials can use recycled products, making them more cost effective and desirable.”
The DBIA estimates that more than 50 percent of non-residential design and construction will happen via design build by the year 2015. Today’s design-builders want full accountability for architecture, engineering and construction. By knowledgeably pursuing design quality, and effectively controlling costs and scheduling, a mason design builder assures that concept-to-completion is more than idle discourse.
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