Design to Compete

Design/build has emerged as a relatively new buzzword in the past decade. It initially was associated with large projects in which design firms and construction companies teamed up to create a new project delivery method that has proven effective and very popular.

Design/build firms stem from several organizational roots. Some are assembled only for temporary, per-project operation while others are long-term ensembles dedicated to this endeavor. Among the myriad organizational types, most common are those firms that are driven by either a construction principal, an architecture principal or a combination of construction and architectural partners. Regardless of the company make-up, it is my experience that architects contribute the critical element by which design/build companies can achieve distinction.

Prospective residential clients always want advice on whom to contact first; the builder or the architect. The question becomes irrelevant when a design/build firm is chosen for a project. The process as a whole becomes simplified when a single-source provider is at the helm. This all-in-one expertise is a huge part of the design/build appeal. As more and more clients seek out these companies, it will become the rule rather than the exception.

A company with a strong architectural image in a given market will stand out from the competition, provided there is balance among the disciplines. You can’t be in the game at all if construction quality is not an inherent absolute. It’s not the craftsmanship, however, that will set you apart from a dozen other top-notch builders.

The best asset of a design/build firm is a very strong design presence. Designing to budget, timely delivery and meeting of expectations are all components of a successful design/build company and subjects for future discussion. However, the crème de la crème design/build firms will rise to the top, not for construction finesse but for the infusion of exceptional design detail of the product.

Becoming a design/build company will strengthen your market position. To lead the pack, it’s vital to commit to quality design and strive to compete with that of a design-only architectural firm. If you are an architect-driven company and the architect is not a top designer, you’d better sharpen your skills or hire the talent. If your firm is a builder-driven company, not only do you need to hire the best possible design talent for your project, but you need to allow these designers to become decision makers within the company.

Whatever the make-up of a design/build company, its success will ultimately depend on balance among the disciplines. The key to excellence and growth is change. Focus on great architectural design and become distinguished in your geographical area and market niche.