Anyone who reads this blog regularly probably already knows I’m a huge proponent of client partnerships that bring the general contractor into the commercial construction planning process as early as possible. Rather than a competitive bid scenario, where clients choose a commercial construction firm based solely on their estimated costs, we prefer to be brought to the table at the initial planning stages so we can provide a construction perspective that could ultimately save everyone time, money and headaches.
While we’re big fans of design-build construction, wherein the contractor fully “quarterbacks” the project by taking ownership of all elements, from selecting architecture and engineering firms to subcontractor partners, another great option we’re seeing more and more clients choose recently is the design-assist construction model.
Design-assist is a bit of a hybrid of the design-build process. While the commercial contractor is still brought into the fold at the project’s onset, the client retains control of its professional services team and chooses its preferred architecture and engineering firms. This could be because the client is a national retail or restaurant chain with an in-house architect or designated design partner. It also could be a client that is especially protective of its brand standards. Or, it could simply be that like many clients, their first thought when embarking on a commercial real estate project is to start the job by talking with architects they’ve partnered with in the past.
On the flip side, we’ve also been tapped by clients to work with them on a project even before they had an architect under contract. In the case of one grocery retailer, we were brought in to do site visits and evaluations and give very topline construction pricing models based on their general requirements. In this scenario, the client’s priority was choosing a financially feasible location and getting an idea of general costs, rather than design, so we were hired before the architect. The intent was we would ultimately work with their architect in a design-assist capacity as plans were finalized.
In any of these scenarios, the benefit of the design-assist model is that as design is discussed and plans and drawings are in the works, the contractor is involved to provide input and consult on all aspects of the project. Ultimately, this can result in:
- Fewer surprises on costs: In a design-assist project, the contractor is creating a conceptual construction budget concurrently to the architect finalizing plans. At the end of the day, that means clients won’ t be surprised by the cost on a design they absolutely love, since their contractor has been providing estimated pricing based on true, real-time marketplace figures throughout the entire process.
- Saving the sacred cow: More times than not in a competitive bid, if pricing comes back higher than the client expected, they tell the bidding contractors they are over budget and ask what they can value engineer. Since we haven’t been part of the upfront conversations about overall design and don’t know what elements are sacred cows the client absolutely wants to be included, this request could potentially step on overall design intent of the project. But with design-assist, not only is the contractor part of the initial discussion of design, they are also there to provide value engineering and pricing perspective at every phase.
- A more collaborative – and enjoyable – process: Any project, construction or otherwise, is more satisfying when the parties involved are collaborative rather than adversarial. By establishing their team early–on and inviting input from each player at all stages of the process, clients can foster real partnerships among the professionals they are entrusting with their construction project.
We always try to be flexible in meeting our clients’ needs, and by offering design-assist services we’re giving our clients yet another option for working together. If you’re interested in learning more about design-assist construction and if it’s right for your project, give me a call and I’m happy to discuss.
Tel: 847-233-9200 x712
You can reach me at CTaylor@eci.build