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Architecture Firms vs. Design–Build


You are planning to build your dream house, and you need a team to make it happen. There are different paths to choose from: you can hire an architect and a builder separately, or you can hire a design–build company. This choice will have real consequences for your process and the resulting home.

The Problem With Design–Build

Working with a design–build company, your designer is ultimately accountable not to you but to your builder.  You may not be aware of the myriad choices and technical decisions that your design team will make, but those decisions can lead you to completely different designs and to completely different construction materials and methods. Believe me, you want an architect that answers only to you.

In a design–build project, the price decisions come from the construction company alone. Regardless of what you may believe you saved in design fees, the construction cost differential can more than outweigh that percentage. And the product may be lower quality: because the design-build company IS the construction company, they can cut corners on parts of the construction to save themselves money. This makes a lower quality product that the owner will be forced to live with for the long term.

In an architect-led project, there is always the option for competitive pricing between multiple construction companies. This allows for bidding and an overall lower price for the owners. An independent design team gives leverage to the owner in the critical period before construction begins, offering a check-and-balance with the ultimate ability to walk away from an unacceptable price. Typically, however, we work as a group to solve budget issues in an open and cooperative manner.

Why Architect-Led Projects Work Better

From the beginning, the owner will have an advocate in an architect. The architect can help the owner navigate the building process and can speak on their behalf to ensure they get the best solutions for their situation, regardless of how it affects the bottom line of any company involved.  When an architect leads the project, we are focused on maximizing the Quality/Schedule/Price triangle to find the best outcome for that particular client and circumstance.

In an architect-led project, the focus is on the planning. The architect will create schemes and layouts that detail down to the inch, as well as rendered sketches and even 3D models for the owner to review.  The owner can see exactly what they’re getting before the first nail is in place.

Furthermore, planning is the key for efficient project management. With detailed, accurate plans created by an expert, one can be sure that the project will be completed properly and with few issues. Then, during the construction process, the architect will be involved in making sure the building is going up in accordance with the owner’s vision and the completed construction documents.


At first glance, design–build may seem simpler, but simpler is not necessarily better for the owner. Design alone is an investment for the future: investing in the planning stage of the home design will ensure that the owner can see the project before the building even begins.

Having an architect on your side ensures that you have an advocate from the very beginning, to make sure your vision for a new or improved home is finally realized.

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