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In the continuing search for the most efficient way to deliver a project, design-build continues to be the process of choice for many owners. This interest in an integrated approach to project delivery has only been enhanced by the blossoming of such collaborative tools as 3D and 4D modeling and building information modeling software.

The big increase in the combined revenue of ENR’s Top 100 Design-Build Firms indicates the move away from design-bid-build to design-build. As a group, the Top 100 garnered $68.82 billion in revenue in 2006, up 21.7% from 2005’s mark of $56.54 billion. Domestically, revenue was up 22.8% to $44.90 billion in 2006, while internationally, revenue was up 19.7% to $23.92 billion.

Many design-build firms are adapting quickly to these more efficient approaches to project delivery. “We have moved to a studio approach to planning and design of projects,” says Bill Peel, executive vice president of Marshall Erdman & Associates. “Because we are embracing BIM, we felt we had to reorganize to bring all disciplines to the forefront to contribute at the outset. It’s an evolving mindset to best work in BIM,” he says.

Related Links:
  • The Top 100: Overview
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  • The Top Program Managers
  • The Top 100: Complete Report
  • Peel also notes that Marshall Erdman has a materials fabrication and supply group to service its health-care clients. “That’s how we could service our customers during the materials supply shortages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” Peel says. He says this approach would not work for a contractor or design-build firm serving multiple markets. “Since we focus on a single client base, we don’t have to worry about the changing materials demands in many different markets.”

    A recent development that has given a boost to design-build has been the flourishing of building information modeling programs in the building sector. “Technology breakthroughs have helped us, but when you strip away all the rhetoric and hype to the kernel of what BIM means, it all comes down to communication and collaboration, which is at the heart of design-build,” says Walker Lee Evey, CEO of the Design-Build Institute of America, Washington, D.C.

    The advance of design-build can easily be seen in the mainstreaming of the process in the public sector. “In 1993, there was only one state that authorized design-build on public-sector work. Now, the only states that don’t authorize it are Alabama, Michigan and Rhode Island. There are bills in Michigan and Rhode Island that would authorize design-build moving through the legislature,” says Evey. DBIA is working to increase laws requiring qualifications-based selection design-builders, he says.

    The federal sector continues to be a prime market for design-build. For example, on May 21, Heery International announced it had won a $230-million design-build contract with Rochester, N.Y.-based contractor Bell Corp. to build a new $230-million medium-security Federal Correctional Institution in Berlin, N.H. “We will be using a standardized design from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and will be acting as full design-builder on the job,” says Jim Moynihan, Heery’s CEO. “This will be our biggest design-build job so far.”

    Some firms are taking design-build to a whole new dimension. Marshall Erdman has begun to bring capital to projects. Peel says that the firm will design and build in partnership with a client and then help forge a partnership with the client and the tenants. “We will give the client, typically a hospital, the right of first refusal to buy out the project, but we also will give the client the right of first refusal for tenants,” he says. For example, hospitals prefer tenants who are referring physicians, rather than physicians who will refer to other facilities. “We use this model as a value-added service to existing customers to reinforce our relationship with them,” Peel says.

    The interest in design-build is such that DBIA now is being hard-pressed to keep up with requests for educational materials and training. “Three years ago, we conducted 13 training classes. Now, we have 110 classes scheduled,” says Evey. “Things are really looking up.”