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How Important Is a Design-Build Approach for Your Project?

design-build project drawing that fades into a photograph
Transforming your living space is anything but trivial. You have a dream for your home, and as you work with a designer your dream begins to take virtual shape. The transition from virtual plans to realization in the actual space of your home is the most critical hand-off of the entire project. A smooth handoff from design to build results in a truly inspired space that brings you and your family delight for years to come. A poor handoff can result in costly mistakes, cost overruns, and unpleasant surprises that linger on and take away from your enjoyment of the completed space. There are essentially two different approaches to the relationship between the design portion and the build portion of your project. The first option is the traditional approach—hiring an architect to design the project, then putting it out to builders for bidding. The drawings are handed off to the selected builder, who takes over the project from that point on. In a software world, this is akin to a waterfall approach: every detail and permutation is considered in advance, requiring re-architecture should things change downstream. The second option is the design-build approach. In this method, you work with the same company from start to finish. The designer and the builders are on the same team, and they collaborate throughout the life of the project. This is like an agile approach to software, where new information shapes development all along the way. The guiding purpose of the design-build approach is to streamline the whole journey of your project with integrated, collaborative teams. The combined expertise keeps the two sides in sync all along the way, and gives a measure of control that isn’t available when the design and build teams are from separate companies. Design-build offers you this and other benefits. Let’s look at some of the intrinsic advantages that are distinctive to the design-build method.

Greater Budget Control

construction drawing of a kitchen

With design-build, you have a single team of people—the design staff, the budgeting department, and the building team—who are all housed under the same roof and focused on the realization of your dream. As a result, designs can be checked against realities of a build budget, with discussions to explore alternate, more affordable options, throughout the project. The designs constantly inform the build budget, and vice versa. For example, if a pricing check mid-design suggests that the project as a whole is going over budget, you can have the opportunity to either approve the expansion or scale back the size or selections. This affords greater control and helps ensure that the project stays within your spending constraints for the entire project. With the traditional approach, the project vision and a realistic budget can diverge at various points along the way, because several parties are running the project independently of each other. There is no collaborative mechanism between the two teams to ensure the project as a whole stays within budget. In addition, the drawings themselves tend to be more expensive in the architectural approach. Architecture firms typically charge a higher hourly rate and bill in strict 15-minute increments for any time spent drawing or communicating. Architecture drawings also need to be exceptionally detailed for an isolated build team, because the drawing details take the place of face-to-face communication. When drawings are sent out for bid, the builders need to have every piece of information included in the drawings. They won’t be working with the architect later, so it’s incumbent upon the architect to over-communicate in the drawings.

Trusted Continuity

buuilders on scaffolding

In an architectural firm, inefficiencies occur as you hand off drawings to the builder. After the drawing phase, the architect essentially never sees the drawing again. If there are any questions left unanswered in the plans, you may be at risk of spending more money—otherwise, the builder will have to make their best to interpret the design. Without an ongoing flow of communication between designer and builder, the final project may not align with the original vision. The design-build approach gives you the benefit of working with the same group of people, from start to finish. The designer you collaborate with in the early stages of the project is available until the end. The handoff from designer to builder is internal, so there’s a built-in continuity that endures throughout the life of the project. As a client, this brings tremendous peace of mind. You know that the people you’ve trusted in the early stages of the project are still overseeing it in some capacity all the way through. Your designer can oversee the project to ensure it’s being built in the way it was intended.

Seamless Efficiency

Design-build introduces an efficiency that isn’t possible with the traditional architectural model. Because the design team and the build team have been working together for years, you don’t need a 30-page set of drawings for your project. The two teams share a set of assumptions, values, and priorities, and those shared understandings keep everyone on the same page. As a result, the project moves forward more efficiently and more seamlessly. The designer doesn’t need to spell out every detail, or explain how they want everything assembled. They know and trust that the project leads already know those things. Likewise, the people in the field know that they can call the design team with any questions. They know when to call, and what to call about. They also know what to expect in the drawings and they can read through them easily. For you as a homeowner, those alignments mean a shorter process and a slimmer budget.

Client Advocacy

builders at a job site

A home build project is a fairly intimate process. You’re inviting a group of people into your home, and it creates exceptional noise, dust and disruption. You’re also trusting them with your hard-earned money, which is an emotional moment. The design-build approach gives both teams the ability to take good care of you emotionally—making sure you’re comfortable and feel listened to, and that your concerns are heard. That continues through the entire project. “The design-build process allows me to be an advocate for my client, throughout the whole project,” said Giraffe lead designer, Steven Varnum. “I think that’s probably what motivated me to leave the architectural firm and come to Giraffe. It’s difficult to hand off a project and leave the clients to fend for themselves.” By implementing a build-design approach to home building, Giraffe has an eye on design at every stage of the process. During construction, we can ensure that the project continues to be built according to the designer’s vision and our clients’ aesthetic values. The final result honors the intent of the design, and the homeowner is truly delighted with their new living space.

Design-Build Is Our Mission

construction crew at lunch

The design-build approach is our central organizing philosophy at Giraffe. We believe it’s the best way to advocate for you, and to create truly great design that will delight you—from start to finish.

Giraffe is unique in its commitment to creating great design for our clients. Our team is made up of people who care deeply about design, and about designing inspired spaces for homeowners. The only way to ensure that happens is to manage the process from start to finish, and ensure that it doesn’t go off-track at any point along the way. Any trade-offs are made with an eye on the bigger picture.

If you’re looking for a homebuilding experience that advocates for your design values, your budget, and your welfare as a client, the design-build approach is the best fit for your project.

We hope you will consider Giraffe as your design-build company. Let’s start a conversation about your project today!

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