Design-Build Construction + Steel Buildings = Decreased Costs and Increased Delivery Speed

Published April 17, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

design-build steel building

Design-build is an old idea being made new, or at least popular, again. It is a construction method that promises to decrease costs, construction time, and stress from the moment a project owner begins a project to the very end.

According to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), the use of this methodology increased 30% between 2006 and 2013 while the use of traditional construction methods has decreased by 29% over the same period.

In 2016, 22 states passed design-build legislation with over 124 bills introduced. In a majority of the United States, design-build is permitted by all agencies for all types of design or construction or permits it widely. Only six states limit the practice. 

Defining design-build

A design-build firm is a construction firm that provides architecture and engineering along with general contracting. The designer and the contractor communicate directly instead of through the owner.

Design-build is a method of project delivery in which one entity, the design-build team works under a single contract with the project owner, to provide design and construction services1. There is a single contract combining the scope of work for both services, which share a unified workflow from the initial concept to project turn-over.

Design-build vs. traditional construction

As noted above, design-build integrates either the architectural or engineering phase with the construction phase. With one contract, a single unit has responsibility for the entire project. The roles of the architects, engineers, contractors, and subs are all contained in a single group.

In traditional construction, the owner would be required to commission an architect or engineer for the preparation of the drawings and specifications and finalize the design. Then the project would be put out for bid, and a separate contract would be signed with the construction company or general contractor.

After that, the owner would act as an intermediary to coordinate work, mediate disputes, and deal with two sets of subcontractors, potentially with duplicate roles.

Comparing a set of common metrics, DBIA calculated the following improvements design-build makes over traditional construction practices.

  • Unit cost decreased 6.1%
  • Construction speed was 12% faster
  • Delivery speed was 33.5% faster
  • Cost growth was 5.2% lower
  • Schedule growth was 11.4% lower

In every metric, design-build outperformed traditional construction.

Benefits of design-build construction

Design-build has five main benefits.

  1. Single source accountability. The architecture/engineering and construction are under a single contract controlled by the project owner. Your financial risk is reduced because only one company is working for you and so is completely committed to the success of your project.
  2. Greater process control with quickly established costs. Design-build provides a firm, established cost much earlier in the process than traditional construction methods. You don’t need to wait for bids, and with high levels of collaboration between the various roles, the cost implications of any design decision are quickly communicated.

    As the scope of work is completed, costs are clearly defined and in control. The owner can get a final price before the project begins. The concept of the project is complete and accurate as well. 

    During the development of the design, the design-build team and the owner can make continuous and concurrent estimations early with accurate, guaranteed construction costs and scheduling. Project feasibility is firmly established and financed in advance of writing the final construction documents.
  3. Reduction in schedule. Design and construction processes can overlap with scheduling finalized before the design. Another reason for the reduction in time is that bidding periods and redesign time is eliminated. You can have earlier utilization and improved economics with a significant reduction in project duration.
  4. Improvements in risk management. Because the conflicts between the architect and the contractor are significantly reduced if not eliminated, a higher quality product results. With one team, everyone has the responsibility to perform at the highest level. There is no finger-pointing or blame games between architect and contractor, a major source of delays, errors, and change orders.

    The design-build firm keeps its resources firmly focused on solutions that provide value and quality on the most cost-effective basis.
  5. Increase cost-effectiveness. Design-build is the ultimate in value engineering for construction. The team accurately evaluates alternative systems, materials, and methods to plan and construct the project efficiently.

    Shared expertise results in optimized lifecycle cost with operating expenses compared against capital costs. Potential issues are discovered before the project begins.

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Using design-build to construct a steel building

Imagine combining the effectiveness and efficiency of the design-build construction method with the efficiency of metal building design and erection. Steel buildings are already prefabricated for quick construction.

Steel building systems have a number of benefits over traditional construction materials:

  • Design flexibility to create any building size or shape
  • A variety of exterior finish options and internal wall panel systems
  • Clear-span construction with large, uninterrupted interior spaces
  • Wide choice of roof systems
  • Prefabrication and delivery to the site with pre-drilled holes, all fasteners and other pieces required to complete the building

With the power of 3D computer modeling and virtual reality walkthrough plus the efficiency of design-build and steel building construction, your metal building could go from inception to completion in no time flat.

Way of the future?

The only thing holding design-build back is the need to educate owners, designers, and contractors in how to best use the method and to promote it to the construction industry at large.

Design-build is most prevalent for military projects, but the transportation and waste-water industries have adopted design-build in numbers higher than the building sector. The industry with the lowest adoption of design-build is retail, which operates on thin margins and could benefit more from design-build than almost any other sector.

Still, in 2014 ten states delivered over half of their building projects using design-build, including Oregon, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, and California.

Fortune 500 companies are jumping on the bandwagon using design-build to construct new, quality facilities, including Frito-Lay, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, ConAgra, and Proctor & Gamble


The Great Recession isn't that far behind us, so it's no wonder design-build has come to the fore as a preferred building method. Combined with steel building construction, design-build puts the design and construction of your next project into warp drive.

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1Design-build definition from Design-Build Institute of America

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