Are you equipped to thrive in the collaborative culture of the design-build method?
Does JE Dunn have a prior history of utilizing the design-build approach? If so, on what types of projects?
JE Dunn has a long history in completing design-build projects. We have successfully completed projects of all types from Department of Public Safety buildings such as the DFW project to office buildings, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, medical office buildings, dental clinics, parking garages and many others.
Our clients have included public entities such as DFW Airport, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, multiple universities, the General Service Administration, along with numerous private clients.
Design-build projects, by their very nature, are collaborative and innovative endeavors. What were some examples of contractors (GCs and subs) and the design team providing added value through discussion and innovation?
The biggest advantage in the design-build collaborative delivery is the ability to deliver the design in a more efficient manner. Rather than taking the normal phased approach to design with concept, schematic design, design development and construction documents our team identified what information was truly required to support construction starting early and allowing material procurement to begin.
We developed what we called a “super schematic” set of documents that allowed the team to guarantee the project GMP 10 weeks after the initial kick-off meeting. This approach of not being constrained by industry standard milestones proved to be very successful.
The other advantage to having trade partners on board in a design-assist role with our team was the ability to make early decisions about mechanical system choices. The TD team was able to provide cost information that we could include in a total cost of ownership model that allowed DFW Airport to make a value-based decision about the use of variable refrigerant flow HVAC system that will ultimately save the airport significant operating cost.
How does the role of a general contractor change on a design-build project?
The biggest change in design-build for the general contractor is the management of the design. On Construction-Manager-at-Risk (CMAR) or traditional bid projects, we are working together with our design partners but we are not in control of the schedule or coordination.
With design-build you need to be in tune with all team members, whether it is the architect or one of their consultants or the trade partners installing the work, as the design-builder you are ultimately responsible and accountable for all members of your team.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) techniques are essential to design-build projects. How did these tools help move the DPS project forward?
The use of BIM and VDC continue to make the construction of our projects more efficient in the installation. The ability for team members to have coordinated things virtually allowed the work to flow extremely smoothly.
Can you discuss the natural tension that may exist between the contractors and design professionals on a design-build project? Is this tension productive and how do you manage it?
This natural tension is a good thing; we are all working hard to ensure that the client is provided with the best possible project through a painless process. The only way that we know how to manage the process is through constant open communication. The issues that arise and create tension are normally from a lack of trust or understanding of the financial aspects of the project. We provide complete transparency with our budgets and estimates, which allow our design partners to understand how they can provide the best possible solution for the dollars allowed.
What advice would you give to other general contractors considering the pursuit of design-build projects at DFW Airport?
I would tell them that it is way too difficult and they should probably avoid it at all cost – just kidding!
Design-build delivery requires certain skill sets and behaviors from project participants that are different from design-bid-build or CMAR delivery. The design-build team leader must understand the design process and have the ability to manage the overall design-build team.
Additionally, a successful design-build contractor needs to have experience with early engagement of trade partners to maximize the target value design approach. Understanding that pro-active engagement of the various DFW Airport stakeholders is a must. To be successful, a design-builder must make sure that they are communicating with all stakeholders for the project. DFW airport includes many entities that have a stake in the project.
Each of these groups needs to be engaged to understand how the project will be executed and how the process may be different from the normal process, and that the overall outcome is to provide the best possible product for them, the end client.
For a general contractor, what are the advantages of pursuing a design-build project?
Design-build delivery offers cost and schedule advantages over traditional delivery methods, such as design-bid-build and CMAR. Design-build allows the reduction of design schedules through better alignment of design and preconstruction activities without compromising the iterative process of design.
From our perspective, design-build is a more collaborative process resulting in better budget control that can foster fast-track delivery of the construction phase. Being able to offer solutions that are faster, more cost effective with better cost certainty is a differentiator for a contractor with a design-build acumen.
Are there any other thoughts regarding design-build which you would like to share?
The architecture, engineering and contractor community is moving rapidly toward project delivery solutions that will deliver buildings faster and cheaper. The design-build process, due to its collaborative nature, leveraging technology and prefabrication for instance, makes this goal more attainable than traditional delivery methods.