Design-Build Breaks Down Barriers

Written by: Tim Graybeal

My dad was a tradesman all his life.  I remember him coming home from work tired and dusted with drywall on his white pants and shirt.  I can still see him walking up to the house carrying his lunchbox and steel thermos. He wore his workday like a marathoner wears a finishers’ medal but even his t-shirt hung loosely looking like it too needed a rest.

Dinner was always a family affair, so after washing up and neatly parting his hair, all eight of us would stack in around the dining room table to eat and tell stories of the day.  Dad would mostly talk about his successes and challenges at work.  He was a stickler for proper craftsmanship and couldn’t stand to see things built poorly.  He would sometimes talk about how the blueprints showed things incorrectly or required something impossible.  Whenever this theme came up I wondered why the people who made the choices about how to do things didn’t just talk to the craftsmen who did them.  It seemed obvious to me, and as a little kid I never understood why that didn’t happen.

When I got out of Engineering school and started to put out hard bid drawings, I quickly got a view from the other side of the drafting table.  Learning how to communicate through the language of construction documents was like learning, well, another language.  Miscommunication and mistakes cost the project money and were terribly embarrassing.  Again, I found myself thinking how helpful a face-to-face conversation would be and wondering why there wasn’t a better option.

My first Design-Build project was a breath of fresh air and literally changed the trajectory of my entire career.  With the builders on the same team, I finally had the opportunity to have that conversation before I decided how something should be built.  I may have gone overboard, but I actually drew 5 separate approaches to the drywall framing and let the subcontractor pick the one they wanted.  I pictured those dads coming home and proudly telling their families about the successful day they had.

When you look at it on paper, the difference between a Hard Bid approach and Design-Build seems like a small thing – the Designer of Record works for the Design-Builder instead of the owner.  This small change, however, breaks down a critical barrier for communication and creates the opportunity for a high performing partnership that can spin out beneficial outcomes in many, many ways.  Deeper value, higher quality, lower cost and faster delivery are some of those important benefits Design- Build teams can deliver.  Even beyond those things, true partnership can produce results that reach all the way to the dinner table.