Project Delivery: Architecture, Design, & Construction

The Interior Design Industry is growing as we speak. Today it is becoming the social norm for companies, committees, and individuals to hire a design team to professionally handle their construction-based needs. Many people are uneducated on the topic of Interior Design, and need to learn that picking out colors, fabrics, and finishes makes up only a small percentage of what the profession actually encompasses. Whether one wishes to educate themselves on the design industry, or if they are about to go head first into a design project, learning about design project delivery is crucial to understanding the professional design world. Project delivery is the method of assigning responsibility for providing design and construction services. The three most common Project Delivery Systems, Design-Bid-Build, Design-Build, and Construction Management at Risk, are all legally binding services that exist between the owner, architect/designer, and contractor. Each of these three methods differ in many ways, which leaves the owner to choose which method most comfortably suits their needs. Different projects with the same owner may be better completed using different methods from each other. It all depends on what is valued most highly for the outcome of the particular project. Some Common driving values include; cost, budget, schedule, construction-quality, design-quality, and liability. After reading this paper you will understand the pros and cons of each of the three mentioned project delivery methods. You will be able to differentiate what is valued most highly between them, and you will have a better understanding of the design-industry’s professional practice.

Design-Bid-Build (DBB) is the first project delivery method which we will analyze. DBB is the traditional delivery method used throughout the history of the United States. (Handbook) DBB typically involves three players, the owner, designer, and contractor, and two separate contracts. The owner is legally bound to both of these contracts, one with the designer and one with the contractor. To begin the DBB process the owner will chose a design firm, usually based on reputation, qualifications, or past experiences. The design firm then creates a complete set of contract documents based on their client’s (the owner) design and program wants and needs. In order to produce these drawings the design firm works closely with the owner during the programming, schematic design, design development, and construction document phases. As a result the contract documents include drawings, specifications, and supporting information. (Primer) The produced completed set of contract documents are then sent out to multiple contractors with invitations to be bid on. This creates competitive bidding, as different contractors compete for the project. In competition, the contractors consider the scope of the work, estimate the price it would cost them to complete the project, and then submit their corresponding bid. Typically with DBB the contractor is chosen based on the lowest possible bid. (Primer)

Design-Bid-Build is a linear process. The design and construction phases do not overlap, and are done in a sequential order. It is important to note that the Contract Documents are completed and contracts are awarded before any construction begins. The Design-Bid-Build approach provides clarity in the roles of the owner, designer, and contractor. The designer is used as a agent to the owner. Scheduling is both uncomplicated and sequential throughout the DBB process. Another strength to the DBB process is that the cost based estimate submitted by the contractor is based upon the complete set of design documents, and is relatively accurate. The bidding process allows for competitive bidding, and there is no conflict of interest between the contractor, owner, and architect. (Handbook) On the contrary there are some setbacks of Design-Bid-Build. Although in relation to cost it is a plus that Contract Documents are complete at the time of bidding, in relation to time this is a downfall. Since DBB is done in a sequential linear process it takes longer than other methods for a project to be completed. (Handbook)

The Design-Bid-Build approach should be chosen in circumstances where the client seeks intricate involvement in design. DBB should be chosen for the project delivery method when the client wishes all design to be complete before the start of construction, and if they require a fixed price prior to construction. DBB is often the project delivery method chosen when a client has the time to invest into the step-by-step linear process. Although Design-Bid-Build may take longer than the other project delivery methods, it delivers a clearly defined and well-understood delivery process. (Handbook)

Construction Management at Risk (CM @ R) is an alternative approach to Project Delivery. CM @ R consists of a construction manager (CM) who coordinates the design and construction process. The client selects a CM based on qualifications such as purchase price, quality of services, past relationship with the client, and their ability to comply with the law. The CM becomes a member of the project team for both construction and design. (International) The construction manager becomes responsible for the entire project and is under full obligation to all of the projects risks. The Primer on Project Delivery by the American Institute of Architects states, “The construction manager oversees project management and building technology issues, in which a construction manager typically has particular background and expertise. Such management services may include advice on the time and cost consequences of design and construction decisions, scheduling, cost control, coordination of construction contract negotiations and awards, timely purchasing of critical materials and long-lead-time items, and coordination of construction activities.”

Hiring a CM places responsibility for construction under a single contract. It creates a more manageable and predictable project for the owner, in comparison to the traditional delivery method of Design-Bid-Build. Hiring a CM saves the owner both time and money. The CM is able to produce a guaranteed maximum price, and reduce risk for both the client and designer. Construction Management at Risk tends to be a more professional approach to Project Delivery than other known methods. (International)

A construction manager (CM) may be an architect, contractor, or business administrator. The CM selected can function as a CM advisor, CM agent, or as a CM constructor. A CM advisor does not perform any construction. They act as a constructability and cost management consultant during the design and construction phases. They are an agent to the owner, and there in no conflict of interest. (Handbook) A CM agent provides early consulting, may assemble and coordinate the building trades, and typically provides services for a fixed fee. The CM agent, like the CM advisor, is an agent to the owner. (Handbook) A CM constructor is the CM as well as the General Contractor. Therefore the CM constructor is involved heavily in the physical construction process, the construction cost tends to be agreed upon earlier in the process, and cost-commitment can be based upon early design documents. (Handbook)

Construction Management at Risk does not use a linear schedule, and allows for fast-tracking. Fast tracking is, compressing the project schedule by doing some or all of certain activities in parallel that would normally be done in sequence. (Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms) CM @ R allows for cost and schedule to be addressed during the design phases. Having the CM involved from the beginning also creates less of a need for change orders. (Handbook) One downfall of CM @ R is the additional fee paid to the CM. Having a hired CM also creates an additional set of relationships, leaving room for gray areas in regards to responsibility between the owner, designer, contractor and CM.

Construction Management at Risk reduces risk for everyone involved in a project. By combining the knowledge of the CM and the design team from the start better decisions are made as a collaborative effort. The CM can catch design errors quickly by reviewing drawings in the process, and the design team can offer advice to the CM’s approach to the work. Also reducing risk, the CM is able to take bids from sub contractors during the completion of contract documents before a guaranteed maximum price is given. This reduces the risk for the CM, who is responsible for any cost that exceed the guaranteed maximum price. (International)

A key characteristic of CM @ R to remember is; the client selects the CM based on their qualifications, so the CMs rely on their reputations and past-customer relations for future employment. This motivates the CMs to do an exceptional job, a customer satisfaction becomes a must. Another key feature of CM @ R is the elimination of bid shopping for the owner. This results in lower cost and better relationships amount the owner, designer, contractors, and community. (International)

Construction Management at Risk should be chosen as the project delivery method when an owner and designer desire construction-expertise on their design team. CM @ R is often used when the owner seeks a project completed in a timely manner. A Construction Manager can maintain the management of budget, schedule, and multiple prime fast-track construction for the owner, greatly reducing the owner’s stress level. (Handbook)

The third approach to Project Delivery is Design-Build. Design-Build (DB) is a method that utilizes one entity, the design-builder, in contract with the owner, who provides all design and construction services. This creates a single point of responsibility for the project, and requires the owner to only be a part of one contract. The design-builder may be a single firm with both construction and design staff. It could be an organization with construction staff who hires and architect. The design-builder could also be a joint venture between an architect/designer and builder, or even a business firm who contracts with a designer and contractor. Regardless of the business situation used, the owner only has to consult with one entity, thus relieving much stress and confusion throughout the project. (Handbook)

The Design-Build approach reduces the owner’s risk by establishing a fixed price early, containing project costs, and having a fixed schedule. There is better coordination throughout the project when the owner is contracted with a design-builder. Like CM @ R, Design-Build combines both design and construction expertise. This reduces the amount of change orders, time, problems, and avoids the possibility of redesign. (Handbook) Also similar to CM @ R, Design-Build can be done by means of fast-tracking. The design phase and construction can be overlapped, which results in faster results, and the time required for the DBB approach is not needed. There is a continuous execution of design and construction. (Primer)

A weakness of the Design-Build delivery method is that the contract is signed before all of the contract documents are complete. Also the owner has no option in selection of the builder or designer. Because the builder plays such a mainstream role in the Design-Build delivery method, both the owner and the designer tend to have little control of the final design result. (Primer) Having the design-builder as one entity also creates a potential conflict of interest. Is the design team specifying a certain finish so they can make more money off of the project? It is hard to tell when the owner is using a one-stop-shop approach such as Design-Build.

Design-Build is a good project delivery method to use for complex projects, or when a single point of responsibility is required. When the owner wishes to have little influence in design, the Design-Build approach is the route to take. (Handbook) Design-Build is the project delivery method used in over 50% of non-residential projects in Europe. It is used more than 70% of the time in Japan. In the United States Design-Build is used in many different project types such as hospitals, educational facilities, office buildings, retail centers, and hotels. (DBP)

Over the past ten years the interest in Design-Build has grown throughout the United States. Today Design-Build is considered one of the most significant trends in the design and construction industry. The American Institute of Architects Practice Memo states, “Design-Build is attracting a lot of attention, because owners, including government agencies, are finding it attractive for complex and unusual projects, because it… eliminates some of the major seams in getting a project built.” (DBP) From 1986 to 1992 the total use of Design-Build in the United States grew 172% from $18 billion to $49 billion. (DBP)

In summary, it is fair to say that all three of the Project Delivery Methods studied have their strengths and weaknesses. Design-Bid-Build, Construction Management at Risk, and Design-Build are all applicable in select situations, and work best under particular circumstances. Upon selecting a Project Delivery Method the owner must be informed of their options. They must compare their values with the driving factors of each delivery method to select the one which best suits their needs and desires. Understanding this small part of the Design-Industry’s professional practice can bring someone a long way, and gives them the upper hand over the uniformed who regard Interior Design as hiring someone to pick out colors and pillows. It is a blessing for those in the design industry as well as the general public that Interior Design is becoming more and more popular. As a result of its growing popularity people chose to learn about the industry. In the long run those who do their homework always prevail, why should this be any different in the design-world?

Works Cited

American Institute of Architects. “Primer on Project Delivery” American Institute of Architects & The Associated General Contractors of American, 2004.


“CM at Risk” 3D International. July 2006. (International)

Design Build Institute of America. “An Introduction to Design-Build” Design Build Institute of America, 1994. (DBP)

“Design Build Is the Most Economical, Efficient Project Delivery System” American Institute of Architects. November 6, 1997.

“Delivery Methods” Typical Project Delivery Methods. November 1, 2004. (Handbook)



Published by Author Stacy A. Padula

Stacy Padula has spent the last 14 years working daily with teenagers as a college counselor, mentor, and life coach. She was named "Top Inspirational Author of the Year" for 2022 by the International Association of Top Professionals (New York, NY). In 2021, she was broadcast on the famous Reuters Building in Times Square as "Empowered Woman of the Year." Her Gripped book series is currently being adapted for TV by Emmy-winning producer Mark Blutman. She is the founder and CEO of Briley & Baxter Publications: a publishing company that donates a portion of its proceeds to animal rescues each month. She has edited and published a variety of titles, including Boston Bruins Anthem Singer Todd Angilly and Rachel Goguen's The Adventures of Owen & the Anthem Singer, LaTonya Pinkard of Netflix's Last Chance U's Nate & His Magic Lion, and former NHL player Norm Beaudin's memoir The Original: Living Life Through Hockey. Stacy resides in Plymouth, Massachusetts with her husband Tim and two miniature dachshunds, Briley and Baxter.

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