Design-Build, really?

Recently I had the opportunity to attend an interview for a remodel /addition for a home in Studio City. We had a really nice chat about the concept of Design-Build and she said that it seemed like we work differently from other Design-Build firms with whom she had met. And it made me realize, Design-Build is getting a bad rap.

When Aaron and I started our firm, we had fairly recently just finished the Master’s program at Southern California Institute of Architecture. I had been working in architecture for a few years before going to SCI-Arc and knew I wanted to go into the design side of architecture. But for Aaron, it was very different. In no way was he going to sit in an office, sometimes for 15 hours straight, and stare into a computer. His plan was to be an ‘outside architect’. So, that basically means he is going to be a highly qualified builder.  He worked for a while for other contractors to learn the basics and then we dove in with our own firm in 2005. Our plan was to establish a group that could keep a better handle on the quality of construction while at the same time, allow the architect more flexibility in the field. For the most part, over the past 12 years, this has worked beautifully.  Aaron gets to be outside and still live in a world of architecture and I get to have sort of my own private building club. The projects move faster, stay closer to budget, and look better (we think).

So, we are a Design-Build firm that is very architecture oriented. In my meeting, I realized many people think of Design-Build groups as contractors that provide a design service, and a pretty limited design service at that. But here in our office, we are primarily architects that provide a construction service. And I think there is a big difference there that shows up in the project. One of my favorite professors at SCI-Arc (Coy Howard) once told me, ‘You can only ruin a building at the very beginning of a project and at the very end’.  He is so right. You have to get the flow of space and the massing of the building correct straight off the bat or you are doomed. You have to be VERY concerned about design from the beginning.

I know there are other Design-Build firms out there like us who focus in a design-first sort of way but there are many more of the other type. The hope is that we differentiate ourselves through our portfolio but I wonder….Could there be another name for what we do? How do you convey to a prospective client that you LOVE design, all you THINK about is design, you LIVE design…in your marketing material.