It is rumored that self-taught architect, Thomas Jefferson - frustrated by excessive RFIs during the construction of Monticello - crafted an “Architect’s Assertion of Liberation” declaring a separation of design and construction disciplines. Believed to be similar in structure to Jefferson’s far more famous work of 1776, we can imagine the Assertion maintained the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all architects are licensed to serve clients as trusted advisors with certain creative rights including design autonomy, artistic integrity and the freedom to find unique solutions to programmatic challenges.

In the intervening years, the Assertion has come to pervade our profession. While this treatise likely detailed the importance of maintaining specific rights, it likely ended with a rejection of the Design-Build Project Delivery Method as the antithesis of our moral code and a design equivalent of “taxation without representation.”

With or without Jefferson’s document, architects have held these truths and cursed the day we would be placed under the thumb of the contracting community and shunned to the “back of the classroom” in our client meetings. However is it possible, that a carefully crafted joint design-build team approach could enhance the Architect’s roles as trusted advisors and realize the truths of our profession? A closer look is in order.

When placed in a contractual arrangement - one step removed from the client - architects have often feared that this distance would hinder the design process and create an impediment to any form of design autonomy. In my experience, this does not need to be the case. An effective build partner understands that their success is now dependent on the ability of the architect to interact and interpret the needs of the client; with an active participant in these discussions, effective build partners understand the ability to provide the cost and constructability information that helps maintain the artistic integrity of the design and reduces the risk of a designer’s guesswork at these parameters is one of their most valuable tools. Contractually binding the builder to the successful execution of the design also makes the right partner a more willing participant in the pursuit and exploration of creative programmatic solutions that can both meet the needs of the client and the budget/schedule.

With architect and builder working together, the role of the architect as trusted advisor is reinforced with the owner. A complementary rather than adversarial approach by the design-build participants allows the architect to be viewed as an objective advocate of aesthetic issues and an experienced and valued voice in the facilitation of program related goals. While no team is flawless, it can be argued that an effective design-build team represents a more perfect union.

Article by Joseph J. Baruffaldi, Jr. AIA, Principal, Project Director