Why Architect-Led Design-Build?

Over
the past twentieth century, Design-Bid-Build had been the predominant project
delivery system for architects. In this system, the architect and contractor
work as two separate entities with the client, where the architect designs, the
contractor’s bid, then one contractor is selected to build. While this project
delivery system has managed, it’s not without its many flaws. As a result, the
architecture and building industry has seen a trend in finding new ways to
improve how projects are delivered. One such method that has re-emerged and
increased in popularity in recent years is Design-Build. Under this model, the designer and constructor are the
same entity or are on the same team rather than being hired separately by the
owner. While most design-build projects are led by contractors, there is
no reason why architects can’t step up to the plate and take on this role as
well. This is a unique opportunity for architects to jump in and provide
leadership in construction, which is atypical to the way most architects
practice. Architects who are supporters of design-build model often compare it
to a process that was common hundreds of years ago, when buildings were
typically completed by a “master builder,” rather than a segmented group of
architects, engineers and contractors.

From
a historical standpoint, the term architect, or arkhitekton in Greek, was the
title given to the master builder who would oversee the design and construction
of each project. In Greek, a literal translation of the term “arkhi,” means
master while “tekton” means builder (Berman, 2003) Thus, the arkhitekton or
master builder would assume the responsibility of the design and construction of
a project.

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While
ancient Greeks closely tied design and construction to the role of an
architect, ancient Rome began to see a separation between these roles of designer
and builder. Inhabitants of ancient Rome had a lifestyle which included many
luxuries, such as art, architecture, trade, power, and entertainment. The great
icons of their time, such as the Coliseum, stand as a landmark in history and
reflect their culture (Miller, 2003). Many historians are amazed at the
complexity of their architecture and technology and wonder how they were able
to accomplish such feats. For example, their plumbing system was quite
revolutionary and the first of its kind, where aqueducts would bring water from
the coast to provide running water, fountains, pools, baths, and sewer systems.
It’s difficult to conceive that the architect’s possessed the expertise alone
to design and build these things. The amount of complexity triggered a change in
roles for the architect, and they likely worked with builders and other
professions to complete projects.

As
the Roman empire collapsed, the world entered the Dark Ages, and the term
architect was seldom used. The simple drive to exist replaced innovation, while
fortification and defense became the culture of this era (Miller, 2003). Tall
stone walls and castle fortresses became more prominent, while elaborate
designs and details became secondary. The master builder began to re-emerge and
once again held sufficient knowledge to construct buildings without additional
engineering expertise.

As
the wars of the Dark Ages ended, civilization went through a re-birth, or
Renaissance. If someone wanted to become an architect, they would complete an
apprenticeship as a cementer and stone cutter. Through this work experience,
they would become master mason or head builder, which was also responsible for
the design of a project (Miller, 2003). Consequently, the architect assumed
ultimate responsibility design and construction, and was therefore referred to
as the “master builder” (Coble, 1999).

Fast
forward to the 1800’s, and the world experienced new heights in construction
technology. New systems such as steel beams, plumbing, and lighting began to be incorporated
into the construction projects of the period that was unlike any others from
the past. Therefore, architects struggled to maintain their expertise in all
aspects of the design and building process. In order to keep up with the
demand, the world needed educated/full-time architects and engineers to
regulate the profession (Landau, 1996). As a result, the master builder was separated
into two distinct professionals; the designer and the builder. This separation
was the first step in the industry fragmentation that we see today.

During
the 1900’s, construction projects steadily increased in scale and complexity. Economic
growth led to new technology and techniques. New technology and techniques then
led to specialization within the profession. The master builder could no longer
maintain its level of expertise in all the trades and aspects of the building
process. The 1930’s had a very large number of skilled professionals, which
were needed for projects such as the Empire State Building. The activities of
the architect, engineer, and builder had to be coordinated together while each
remained in their separate roles. This separation of roles in the building
industry, led to specialization, and by the 1950’s this pattern of organization
had become the mainstream practice in the architectural profession (Kostoff, 2000).

As
we continue into the twenty-first century, more technologies will be created,
which will affect the industry and require more experts. As we can see
throughout history, the fragmentation of an industry follows specialization. It
is not uncommon today for a construction project to have an architect, general
contractor, 15-20 consultants, 40-60 subcontractors, and hundreds of
manufacturers and suppliers. With so many people involved, the expertise in the
construction process has slowly slipped away from the architect to the builder.
If the architect is to regain its status, it must improve upon its knowledge of
construction techniques, and develop its management skills. Otherwise, the role
of the architect will continue moving toward a sub-contractor position to the
builder and/or construction manager. The industry is looking to reverse the
fragmentation that has sparked these problems and are desirous to have a single
point of contact and responsibility once again.

The
master builder of the past no longer exists. It has fragmented through
specialization, which has eliminated a single source of responsibility and
hindered collaboration due to the growing number of professionals involved that
working independently from one another. To counteract this trend, the
construction industry has been exploring alternative delivery methods and the
introduction of new professionals such as the construction manager. Although
these attempts have resolved some concerns, they have also introduced new
problems and conflicts of roles. This evolution of the construction industry
has left the architect of today without a clear definition or position.

In
response to societal demands and industry trends, design-build has re-emerged
as a popular project delivery system that offers a singles source of
responsibility. According to a study conducted by the Design-Build Institute of
America, about 40 percent of commercial projects are built through the design-build
method, which is a large increase from less than 10 percent two decades ago
(Nancy B. Solomon).

While
most of these design-build projects are led by contractors, more architects are
taking on this responsibility. Some benefits of architect-led design-build include
the following: (1) Architects can earn more money. While the architect assumes
the risk associated with constructing the building, they also receive more
profit, by collecting not only the architectural fees, but also the more
expensive contractor fees. For entrepreneurial minded architects, they see this
as a huge opportunity to earn more money by taking on more responsibilities. (2)
Architects can exercise greater control over their project by making the design
decisions that might otherwise be delegated to a contractor. (3) Architects can
increase the efficiency of the construction process and thus produce a higher
quality building. By having one firm solely responsible for the design and
construction, they can typically increase the efficiency of the construction
process and produce higher quality buildings, because the architect and builder
are collaborating with each other throughout the entire process. (4) Architects
can save their clients time and money, so they can get a higher quality
building more quickly and at a lower cost. While these are substantial benefits,
there are also significant risks that come a long with architect-led
design-build. Many architects are risk adverse, and the potential for lawsuits
increase when the architect assumes responsibility over the construction of a
building. It’s also a lot more challenging to complete this role, as it places
a lot more responsibilities on the architect.

When
it comes to providing leadership in design-build, architects have a distinct
advantage over contractors for several reasons. First, architects know the
design of their project inside and out, and that familiarity with a complex
project can be very beneficial. Since architects designed the project from its
inception, it only makes sense to have that person see the project through to
the end, as they will have insights and knowledge pertaining to the project
that a builder who wasn’t present in the early design stages wouldn’t be as
familiar with. Secondly, when architect’s take the lead in design-build, the
design will remain paramount throughout the project. Whereas, if the project is
being led by a builder, the design aspects may take a backseat to other factors
since they don’t have a design background. As one architect-led design-build
firm, called Tekton Architecture, put it when they said, “We are architects who build, not builders who design.”

Costly mistakes on projects often occur,
but who takes accountability when this happens? By law, errors are permitted on
construction documents, but in the case that such errors occur, the architect
needs to defend himself and prove that they acted with an “overall professional
standard of skill, knowledge and judgment” (Sapers, 1984). Many projects are quite
complex, which result in more errors and emissions, but since there is often
such a large number of professionals involved on a project, it has become
easier to place blame on others, and is difficult to hold people accountable. One of the major benefits that come from design-build
is it provides a single source of responsibility, and studies have shown there
is a decrease in the amount of errors when utilizing the design-build method.

One
well-known architect who adapted the design build methodology is Peter Gluck. As
a graduate from Yale, Peter Gluck had a strong influence on his alma mater, as
they were one of the foremost schools to establish a design-build program,
shortly after he graduated and began building designs of his own. Gluck and his colleague David Sellers,
got together in 1963, to build a vacation home for Gluck’s parents in
Westhampton, New York. This home was a great opportunity for them to learn how
to build, as Gluck said, “Private houses are a great way to experiment” (Zacks, Stephen). I assume his parents gave him them a little more wiggle room
during construction, to learn through trial and error, because it’s only
natural to assume that first-time builders are going to make mistakes, but the
project turned out to be a great success. Peter Gluck and David Sellers were
able to finish this home in two summers, and it got featured in an article in
Progressive Architecture in 1967. The article described Peter Gluck as “plunging
headlong into architecture–designing, building and developing.” (“Light and Air
Houses”)

So,
what was it that spurred Gluck to begin architect-led design-build? Regarding
this decision, Peter Gluck said the following, “Yea so…why were we doing
this? I think there were two impulses: One was that in the 1960’s there was
this kind of attitude that you can do anything. So if you wanted to be an
architect why don’t you just go out and build stuff. So that was a kind of
ethos of the time. The other impulse came from when we looked at the work of
architecture offices, people that were coming in as critics at the school, we
realized that they didn’t know “Sh*t from Shinola.”

While
Peter Gluck learned a lot from his architectural education at Yale, it’s clear from
his criticism that he has major issues with the educational system. In addition
to his issues with the educational system, Gluck has an issue with the
architectural profession as a whole as it is currently practiced. Gluck
mentioned how too many architects tend to complain about the failures of
contractors, but he puts the blame on the architects themselves when he said, “Most
architects have no idea how a building is laid out, let alone how to put in
notation that is compatible with existing equipment,” he says. “It’s amazing if
you look at a set of drawings by one of these guys; some of the dimensions are
of absolutely no value. If you’re not overseeing the job site, you have no
means to understand that. All architects are certainly capable of it, but
there’s never any opportunity for them to know. They’re basically forced to be
ignorant, which I find inexcusable” (Zacks,
Stephen). Gluck also takes exception with the educational and
professional system that fails to train architects how to build. He finds it
frustrating that architectural graduates face such a steep learning curve when
the begin, and wishes they had the knowledge to close that gap, but they don’t”
(Zacks, Stephen). According to Gluck, “It’s
a broken-down system that impoverishes the profession, adds a huge premium to
the cost of doing good design, taxes building quality, and makes it almost
impossible to do social projects affordably.” (Zacks,
Stephen)

For
young architects who are fortunate enough to work at Gluck’s firm, it serves as
great on the job training for discontented architects who want to learn how to
actually build something. They’re expected to learn quickly, but by managing
their own projects, they’re able to close that gap quicker than other firms who
don’t participate in the construction phase. Gluck said, “One of the biggest
problems is that architects spend so many years in such a refined, isolated
world—one school environment after another,” he says. “They never really get
out into the real world.” (Zacks, Stephen)

The
architecture profession is currently heading in the wrong direction, and it
needs to make a course correction for it to thrive. To achieve this,
architect’s need to increase their responsibilities and embrace architect-led
design-build. Much of the market is no longer relying on the services of
architects as sees them as an unnecessary extravagant expense.

For
centuries the architect was the master builder; the one who was responsible for
both the design and the construction of a project, with sufficient construction
expertise to oversee the project from inception to completion. However, in
response to societal changes in innovation, technology, and construction, the
building industry became fragmented and the role of the architectural
profession changed from the master builder to designer. The separation of roles
between builder and designer has created many problems within the profession,
as it has created an ever-widening gap between the designer and builder, a gap
that historically didn’t exist, and is unnecessarily wide today. Through the architect-led
design-build approach, architects can stake it’s claim in the profession and regain
is title as a master builder. Thus, they will be better equipped to provide
much needed leadership in the architectural profession.

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