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'For the inexperience client, d&b appears the easy option'

technical & practice: Update on design and build This month's special report looks at the changing shape of design and build and its implications for design and practice

Over the last 30 years d&b has gained so much ground that some clients see it as the optimum way of obtaining value for money in construction management. Ostensibly it has many attractions for clients: single-source accountability, value for money through value engineering, a unified professional team and a more certain programme. But, there are also disadvantages: less control over design, premiums for changes and, in some cases with a novated design team, conflict of interest.

Contract forms

Traditional design and build. Clients contact a contractor with a design capability and ask him to respond to a brief (that may have involved an architect). The interest of the contractor in making a profit should be balanced by his requirement for repeat business. Thus the client should receive value for money, if not an innovative piece of design that fully anticipates his needs and desires.

Contractor design. The client asks consultants to take his brief and develop a design and asks the contractor to tender on the basis of his first completing the detailed design. Unless the tender documents are very tightly controlled and the end result very clearly defined in both detail and general arrangement, what the client gets built may well be different from the design sold to him.

Novation of the design team to the contractor. Consultants take the design to tender stage, tender the project and perform a 'consultant switch', with the contractor taking on the design team, its fees and its design intent. Although this appears a better option for an effective end result, the contractor can easily provoke conflict between you and your client. A precise and well-defined scheme at tender stage helps avoid any ensuing unpleasantness.

Adopt and build. The same as contractor design, but the contractor takes on a design prepared by others, appoints his own consultant team and takes the project forward as a traditional d&b contract. Again, unless the tender documents are very detailed the end result may be surprising.

Adopt under supervision. The consultant team prepares tender documentation, the contractor adopts the design and the client retains his team as consultants to monitor, check and approve the contractor's performance. Provided that the client is willing to pay your fees, this is probably the best way of assuring the end result. Detailed tender documentation is again required but here the contractor's experience of buildability can be fully utilised without necessarily compromising the end product.

Other forms of the contract may include clients monitoring the process under an open-book provision with direct input into the design process, and possibly with supply-chain management in the manner of a partnering arrangement. In some instances clients offer contractors a percentage of any savings they make by value-engineering projects under such an agreement. It is essential clients understand the design implications of proposed changes.

For the inexperienced client, d&b appears the easy option, allowing the client to budget on the basis of a guaranteed maximum price and a fixed programme, but he leaves himself open to abuse as the quality of the end product may suffer.

Rethinking procurement

The Treasury's guidance to the government on the appointment of consultants and contractors states 'there must be a commitment to give a client lead to the industry' by:

openly finding out which designers, contractors and specialist suppliers are the best

tendering with the aim of getting those who give the best service

working with these people as a team, not opponents

making no compromise with the people of suppliers who are uncooperative or adversarial.'

However, this does not embrace all the objectives of 'Egan's Rethinking Construction'. He stated that the principal task of the industry is to 'give public authorities and other customers an alternative to competitive tendering that provides better value for money based on demonstrated performance improvement'. He has also said that this should be a client-focused, single- source service, and identified key activities needed to achieve these:

process change, affecting the nature of the team and the quality of end product

an integrated design and construction process

targets for improvement in cost, programme, productivity and the elimination of defects

the cultural change needed to bring these about.

D&B registration

The Design and Build Foundation proposes that clients could obtain a developer, a full team of consultants or a contractor, from a bona fide register of professionals who are skilled in the process of d&b. Organisations and alliances offering d&b services would be committed to achieving the prime objectives of quality, programme and cost certainty, and wish to avoid the adversarial nature of traditional contracting. Qualification for registration presupposes benchmarking those registered through examination and monitoring. The Design and Build Foundation has just launched a pilot registration scheme (aj News, 27.5.99).

Whether you get involved with registration or not, we have to learn to live with D&B as a principal form of procurement. Whatever procurement variation used, the end product needs to be design-led. For D&B, championing good architecture requires a truly interactive dialogue with all parties, including the client.

Steven Andrews is a director of Michael Aukett Architects.

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