The Values of Design/Build

As a residential architect and head of an established design/build firm, it has been challenging for me to approach this column, “Jauregui On Design,” from a design perspective only. It’s like designing with one arm tied behind my back. With the indulgence of the magazine’s readership, I’m going to direct this article to my fellow design/build companies.

One of the queries we often get from prospective clients is what advantages do we offer over the traditional method of working with an architect and builder independently. I will approach this from a perspective based on my own company’s organization and services.

The first thing we communicate is how advantageous it is to have both the architect and builder at the design table. There are many upsides to this collaboration for the client, and it becomes an easy sell when comparing it to the standard method of contracting services separately.

First, the client benefits from having the architect’s design expertise and the builder’s knowledge of cost together at the design table. It results in a financially feasible and well articulated project. Clients are provided a realistic cost estimate upfront and kept informed via periodic cost updates. Ultimately, clients benefit by becoming empowered with information that allows them to direct their investment where it makes sense for them.

A second advantage is the elimination of finger pointing because the project is wholly managed by one entity. “The buck stops here” has never been truer. For the client, this results in a smoother process and ultimately less stress when conflicts remain internal within the company.

High-quality documents are fundamental not only to a successful project but also to the long-term health of a design/build company. These documents are critical and should be emphasized as the basis of the agreement among parties. The perception is that design/build companies have the ability to design as they go, and therefore may not require well developed drawings. This opinion is more prevalent in builder-lead companies rather than designer-lead firms. Builders may be happy with builder sets that allow for interpretation in the implementation and dismiss a well detailed design as unnecessary. This is dangerous in a contractual context for a design/build company because the buck does indeed stop with us.

All details of construction should be documented and integrated into the construction contract prior to construction start. It is the complete set of drawings and specifications that will define the responsibilities of the designer/builder to the client, and serve to determine what a change order is, or is not.

Other benefits of an integrated design/build company include: 1) the builder is familiar with plans prior to construction start; 2) the designer is effectively “on call” for the project; 3) change orders can be implemented without disrupting the flow because all the team is at hand; and 4) the client/builder relationship has evolved to a level of confidence and respect.

Entering into a design/build contract requires significant good faith on the part of the client as they entrust us not only to build a high-quality home but to provide a great design within a competitive cost. At the end of the day, it is the level of integrity brought to the table by all parties that ultimately will determine a successful relationship and project. As design/build professionals, it is our reputation, expertise and longevity that will set us apart from the competition.

Luis Jauregui, AIA, is a registered architect and a member of the local and national chapters of the American Institute of Architects for more than 20 years. He has been an active leader within the Homebuilders Association of Austin, Texas, serving as president in 1999, and as director at the local, state and national homebuilders’ association levels. Jauregui was appointed to the National Committee on Labor Shortages and was instrumental in the formation of Austin’s Custom Builder Council and served as its chair in 1997 and 2001. He has served as chairman for HBA’s Parade of Homes committee for several years, and is regularly solicited to judge residential award competitions throughout Texas and the United States.