What Is Design-Build?

It’s the fastest growing and most popular method used to deliver construction projects in America.

Design-build saves time and money by encouraging innovation and collaboration

Once upon a time, design-build was considered an “alternative” way to deliver construction projects. Not anymore. These days, nearly half of all the nation’s projects are delivered using the design-build delivery method.


The Future is Bright for Design-Build

When researchers at FMI first looked at design-build utilization in 2018, the news confirmed what many in the industry knew first-hand, design-build wasn’t an “alternative delivery process” anymore. The latest market analysis forecasting through 2026 shows that is especially true today as impressive design-build growth will continue, despite unprecedented COVID-19, supply chain and labor shortage challenges.

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Design-build is the best performing delivery system for both schedule and cost

CII/Pankow has revisited the nation’s seminal design-build performance research 20 years later. Design-build continues to out-perform other delivery systems in cost, schedule, growth measures, construction and delivery speed.


Why choose design-build?

Design-build saves time and money while allowing for more innovation, collaboration and better projects.

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Johnny Gaffney, Pinnacle Veteran Services

"Design-Build is the most logical and cost-effective approach for almost every project I do. The DBIA Design-Build Done Right Primer articulates the value proposition to an owner far better than I ever could.”

Design-Build Benefits

Project Success Leads to Rapid Growth

The use of design-build has grown rapidly in the past decade and now delivers nearly half of America’s projects. New research predicts that growth will continue at 18% through 2021.

It’s easy to see why when you look at the benefits design-build delivers.

Data Sourcebook

Busting Design-Build Myths

MYTH: Design-build weakens competition when choosing the project team


Just the opposite is true. With the traditional delivery method, design-bid-build, the primary, if not only, factor considered in the competition is price. The Design-Build selection process, conversely, puts in place a rigorous competition procedure that focuses on qualifications, experience, technical approach, price and other factors. This encourages a better competition that allows many qualified firms of all sizes to participate.

For example, in a typical design-build Best Value selection, the Owner first issues a Request for Qualifications asking interested firms to submit their basic information, such as resumes of employees and experience with similar projects. This is a low-cost process that encourages firms of all sizes to apply. Then the Owner uses their preferred selection criteria to identify 3–5 of the most qualified bidders to submit technical proposals. The successful proposer is selected based on a number of factors including past experience, ability to innovate, cost, and any other specific factor the Owner chooses (e.g. the number of local sub-contractors used, the environmental approach, etc.). This competitive selection process is just one reason why Owners are more likely to report high-satisfaction with design-build projects.

Design-Build Done Right® encourages greater competition and focuses that competition to deliver superior projects.

MYTH: Design-build excludes small firms from leading projects


Design-build can be used on projects of any size and type, and there are myriad examples of design-build project successes of all sizes. Further, nearly 80 percent of U.S. states grant local governments authority to use design-build on their small, local projects. Even when a larger project is procured as a design-build project, smaller firms often band together to create a project team that is more able to handle the demands of a larger project.

MYTH: The Owner forfeits control in a design-build project


In a design-build project, Owners are completely engaged in the process because (unlike design-bid-build) reward structures in a design-build contract encourage Owners to give thoughtful consideration to desired behaviors and the manner in which success will be defined. Additionally, there is a single point of responsibility on a design-build team making it easier for the Owner to coordinate, convey concerns and make adjustments. Many Owners across the United States are clamoring to have design-build as an option because they want to reap the benefits of increased innovation, less litigation and faster delivery speed.

MYTH: Factors beyond price lead to favoritism in the contract award process


Favoritism or patronage is the opposite of design-build best practices. While design-build allows for the considering of factors beyond just price—such as team qualifications and project innovation—this is done to achieve best value and superior projects. In fact, the consideration of these factors has been shown to drive down cost, since they ensure that the team is reliable and produces quality work; something that is virtually impossible to decipher from contract price alone.

MYTH: On large projects, out-of-state companies take work from local companies


Actually design-build is better than design-bid-build at addressing this fear. Traditional large design-bid-build projects will see both in-state and out-of-state contractors submitting ridiculously low bids in order to win the project, then force their sub-contractors (which are often local) to lower their costs so they can meet the low-bid they offered. Because the primary focus is price, there is little incentive to truly collaborate with local firms.

On large design-build projects, big companies may compete for the job; however, it is most likely that they will form a partnership with local companies that have the local resources to build the project. The result: strong design-build teams that deliver high-quality projects and support the local economy.


Design-Build Isn’t New

For centuries, Master Builders created some of the world’s most iconic structures. The modern era then gave us silos and specialties which, over time, created an “us versus them” environment which pitted project team members against each other leading to delays, overruns and lawsuits. Design-build offers a better way.

Everything Old is New Again…

While many believe that design-build is a modern innovation, nothing could be further from the truth. What is true is that, in 1993, the founders of DBIA settled on the term design-build as the official name for the integrated project delivery method their companies had been using more frequently than the traditional low-bid approach. However, while the name may have been new, the design-build method had been used for thousands of years under numerous other descriptors.

The original term for this delivery method was master builder, or master mason. This referred to the actual person leading the project such as Ictinus and Callicrates, builders of the Parthenon in Athens; Abbe Suger for his twelfth century Gothic Royal Abbey Church of Saint Denis outside Paris; and Filippo Brunelleschi for the Dome of the Florence Cathedral in the early 15th century. They each provided a seamless service that included what we now refer to as design and construction or, more recently, as design-build.

The singular responsibility for design and construction had been codified long before these master builders in Hammurabi’s Code. The Roman writer, engineer and architect Vitruvius wrote the original design handbook in 40 B.C.E. The handbook assumes that the responsibilities for design and construction were vested in a single individual.

The services of designers and builders began to separate after the dawn of the industrial revolution. Because of the complexity of new industrial facilities, design expertise and specialization were required from the designers, but not to the same degree from the builders. The Industrial Revolution also called for dividing the production process into basic, individual tasks. The dramatic difference between the intellectual process of design and the physical act of construction made the design and construction industry easy to separate.

As building systems became technically more demanding, the design and construction fields began to overlap more frequently. This led to the use of the term design/construct. One of DBIA’s founders, Preston Haskell, described why we didn’t decide to use that term: “During the first meeting of the steering committee, we talked about what we should call the new organization. At that time, ‘Design/Construct’ and ‘Design-Build’ were used almost interchangeably to describe the project delivery method. Design-build flowed off the tongue better, and we decided upon the name Design-Build Institute of America.”

DBIA has ensured that design-build remains in the industry’s lexicon by defining, teaching and promoting the process at every opportunity we have. The term is now the accepted way to reference a single-contract, team oriented and collaborative approach to delivering projects and has since been written into legislation, submitted as testimony and used throughout the industry.

You can find more about design-build’s history and evolution in the books Design-Build Essentials and Design-Build: Planning through Development.


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