Design-build: What hotel owners should consider

NATIONAL REPORT—Design-build isn’t always the best project delivery method to use, but it can be if the owner is willing to trust the construction firm’s expertise.

“The design-build approach is beneficial to hotel clients because they have a trusted partner advocating for them and overseeing the project right from the start,” said Lee Dellicker, partner, president and CEO of Windover Construction, a full-service construction management firm.

Design-build isn’t anything new; it’s a project delivery method with a long history—dating as far back as Egypt’s pyramids and the Parthenon in Greece, where builders of the day used what’s commonly known as the master-builder approach. “Many of the world’s greatest structures arose from the master-builder model, which blended the roles of architect, engineer and builder into one,” he explained. “We like to think we share a common code with those master builders—holding quality, schedule and budget as key elements of our industry. Fast forward to today, design-build offers a master-builder solution that honors these ancient industry pillars and continues to be a solution that delivers sophisticated design, complex logistics, faster timelines and tighter budgets.”

Where design-build differs from other project delivery methods is in the contractual relationship between parties. The design-build entity takes single-source responsibility of the entire contract when a project follows the design-build approach. “Because of this arrangement, design-build is an approach that puts a great deal of responsibility on the construction manager,” Dellicker said. “It’s a sign of real trust between the client and the builder.” In this arrangement, the designated construction management firm chooses trade partners for the project—including architects, engineers and interior designers.

Gaining the owner’s trust is essential; however, not all owners are comfortable with an entire design team operating under contract to a single contractor. “Some owners like the idea that the architect in the traditional design-bid-build option will be their advocate, and fear that if the architect is working for the contractor, they’ll lose leverage,” said Michel Gibeault, VP of business development at High Construction Company. “In addition, the builder must understand who owns the design risk. Items missed on the documents or code-related issues are now the contractor’s to bear—not the owner’s, as under a construction management or general contractor delivery method.”

Design-build isn’t an attempt to cheapen the process and cut corners. “It’s quite the opposite,” Dellicker noted. “It is a way to leverage the experience of all the partners to enhance the design and achieve the vision while staying on budget. It allows for more value-based decisions. Unlike traditional project delivery where issues can result in conflict between the various stakeholders, design-build facilitates a strong teamwork mindset that problem solves far more collaboratively and catches issues far more quickly than in a traditional approach, thereby saving time and money in the long run.”

Design costs may be less if this delivery project method is selected (but this doesn’t mean the owner should expect a large discount). “You get what you pay for,” Gibeault added.

The decision to go with the design-build approach doesn’t impact the size of a team for a project. “No extra team members are needed or additional departments required,” Dellicker said, adding that there is an exception. “For the Beauport Hotel project, we did bring on a full-time individual to manage the procurement process as we were procuring more than what’s typically done on a construction project,” he pointed out. “We were responsible for procuring everything to make the project truly turnkey upon opening day, including FF&E and small details, right down to the linens and silverware, so, as such, our team required extra support to coordinate these various elements.” There’s no set team number for a design-build project; it depends on a project’s size and complexity.

A department every full-service construction management firm should have—if they’d like to succeed with a design-build approach—is an estimating department. “Estimating in the design-build option requires estimators who can ‘fill in the gaps’ because the documents are so early in the process,” Gibeault said. “The estimating team needs to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of assumptions. The key is for the team to share all of that with the owner and the architect.”

For design-build, as is the case with any good building approach, there are several fundamentals to follow when executing projects, according to Dellicker: set expectations early; communicate, communicate, communicate; and clearly define team roles and responsibilities. Specifically geared toward design-build, best practices include picking the right team; empowering the team’s ability to take on project ownership; spending time to truly listen to the client’s needs and vision; and focusing on communication skills.

“The design-build process will be unsuccessful if communication breaks down or if the team players do not trust one another; for these reasons, the biggest challenges when it comes to design-build are maintaining solid communication and maintaining team solidarity when issues arise,” he said. “If fingers are pointed and blame is placed, the team is no longer acting as a single entity, which is the most crucial component.”

Gibeault agreed regarding construction companies focusing on good communication, but added the importance of “ongoing estimating throughout the pre-construction phase.”

While not all projects are ideal for the design-build approach, some are better candidates (repetitive projects, for example). “Hotels are a good example because prototype drawings dictate a large part of the design and the rooms are repetitive,” he said.

“The approach remains the same regardless of project type,” Dellicker said. “Design-build is just good design and construction management with single-source responsibility to the client—a collaborative approach with all key partners working together. Every project will have its own unique set of challenges, but the design-build process to navigate those challenges is the same project to project.”

Despite benefits to the project delivery method, design-build may be losing momentum. “I think it’s actually getting less popular, unless the design-builder does more or less the same building over and over, and the owner can see the benefits,” Gibeault noted. HB

To see content in magazine format, click here.