10 Reasons for Architect-Led-Design-Build

Some house clients have heard of design build. Generally this means they go to a builder, and the builder has an architect or “designer” they work with.  Yes I put that in quotes.  What’s different about DURA is that we are architects first and architects, by their original definition, build

Here are ten rather compelling reasons for obtaining your design and construction services from an architect that builds.


Ever seen the drawings or concept renders for a project that ended up very different? …Here was a concept: 

Here’s what they got:

Yep. That sort of stuff happens because the architect can’t convince the client (or the client’s construction manager / contractor) to do something different than they’ve done in the past. There is added risk. So instead of following what could be an expensive vision, the client goes conservative. Don’t blame the client - the architect must take responsibility. We do. 


Prior to starting DURA, I worked in some design build arrangements, and even if the DB contractor could get an early concept from architect and provide pricing feedback to the client, there were still communication errors that had a price tag associated with them. They could be too high, because the contractor was giving a GMP and playing it safe, or too low for lack of understanding what components or processes were associated with a certain design. Early pricing, with an Architect Led Design Build team, is a 1 to 1 translation of the design. Period.


In most other arrangements, no matter how integrated they claim to be, there is a handoff. You know, that cringe moment when the customer service rep asks to transfer you to Bob in the billing department and you know without a doubt that you’ll have to explain your story again. Not happening here.


Think about that for a second….OK, times up. Back in the “old days”, design of a patron’s house went to the Nth detail. Everything was selected as much as possible in advance, lest the biblical accusation of not counting the cost before starting be levied against the architect. In the modern era, with the distancing of the architect from the techne (craft) of constructing, contractors took over this phase of project planning and started calling it preconstruction services. We’ve taken it back and made it better.


When the Architect takes responsibility for everything there is no opportunity to put in mediocre effort and blame some other team member. It’s all on you and your name is on the line. Wouldn’t have it any other way. To be fair, a good contractor doesn’t do this and we have had really fun experiences with team oriented contractors. 


OK this one is tricky because it’s not a promise, it’s a description of reality. The Architect designs, the client approves and they work together on the details. If the client keeps changing their mind then change orders are reasonable and are in fact a healthy check on total budget. BUT, if the design is fixed, and the contract price is fixed - the Architect Led Design Builder is financially incentivized to minimize change orders by shopping it harder. Why? #5. There’s no one else to blame. I’ve been in situations in the past where the contractor finds the architect to be easy prey for competency-assassination when they are really just trying to maximize their profit or cover their mistakes. 


In our experience, there are subcontractors out there that think any job designed by an architect means an easy ticket for a Mediterranean cruise. It takes experience and wiles to suss them out. We want all our team to make a profit, but no single party gets to drink all the client’s beer. Sorry, it’s closing time. 


The #1 reason contractors struggle with cashflow is not because they are not charging enough. It’s because they are building something that is not designed, and mistakes are inevitable. Mistakes are the fastest way to lose profit on a job.  Architects have unfortunately earned a reputation for designing pie in the sky stuff. Or drawing fancy drawings. But architects who have learned the hard lessons know the value of precision. Precise thinking, precise doing.  Because they designed it, with precision, anticipating constructability issues, they are in control of the craft. Mistakes are reduced when an architect who builds is driving.


If #8 is the downside, #9 is the upside. Rather than just minimizing mistakes, the architect-led construction team has total control and can deliver impressively precise results. Tolerances and precision can be designed into the project from the very beginning of detailing. Subs can be chosen for their strengths in the mission critical components of the design. Cost control is designed into the project from day 1. Accountability? Well we would be happy to run a cost-plus project as well. Or Cost Plus GMP. 


At the end of the day, you either had fun with your builder or it was a drag but now you’ve got a house. An architect who builds is a creative person who is grounded in doing. By definition the architect is a well-rounded, learned, somewhat obsessive personality that you will likely like. And life’s too short to work with people you don’t like, if it’s in your power to do so.

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