Revival of the master builders

Design-build is not new, but old lessons need to be re-learned

Dr Sherif Hashem is a Qatar-based author and programme management consultant
Dr Sherif Hashem is a Qatar-based author and programme management consultant

The broad perception among industry professionals is that design-build is a powerful project delivery approach. The challenge, however, remains how to actuate such power and sidestep process glitches.

In design-build, a single entity is responsible for both the design and construction under a single contract. In design-bid-build, design and construction are carried out by two separate entities under two separate agreements. Contrary to popular belief, design-build is neither a new nor a revolutionary project delivery method.

Indeed, it is the instinctive approach which prevailed along most of human history on earth through the ancient ‘master builders’. All ancient landmarks such as Giza Pyramids in Egypt, Florence Cathedral in Italy, or the Acropolis in Greece are indeed design-build projects. The separation between the design and construction disciplines first came about in the 15th century in Europe and is attributed to the Renaissance artist and architect Leon Battista Alberti.

This separation propagated and persisted for centuries until the spectacular return of design-build in the 19th century in the USA through the design-build wire rope suspension bridges of the German immigrant John Augustus Roebling. Roebling’s work was crowned with his iconic Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, which defined the revival of master builders. Ever since, design-build has been gaining ground and becoming more popular all over the world, including the GCC.

The several centuries-long separation between designers and builders has, however, taken its toll on both the design and construction professions.

Over this period, each profession has gradually introverted into their own societies and almost lost contact with the details and challenges of the other profession’s core business.

Moreover, apart from the key principles of firmness, commodity and delight, the master-builders’ design-build know-how and trade secrets have largely gone astray. As a result, the modern-day industry finds itself mandated to define and formulate such know-how and trade secrets afresh, and that’s an immense task.

My recent book ‘The Power of Design-Build: A Guide to Effective Design-Build Project Delivery using the SAFEDB-Methodology’, published by Business Expert Press, USA (, aims to push in this direction and define design-build in modern terms for modern times.

The book addresses the key challenges facing the design-build process today including the harmonisation of design and construction teams to promote collaboration, the integration of design and construction expertise to generate the best design-build solutions, and the controlled overlapping of design and construction activities to safely maximise schedule compression.

It also provides a range of cutting-edge design-build tools and techniques to help the design-build teams navigate through the vivid design-build environment effectively while the project is zigzagging its way forwards between design and construction domains.

In today’s global market, the primary home of design-build is the Design-Build Institute of America, DBIA. It was formed in the USA in 1993 with a mission to define, teach and promote best practices in design-build.

The influence and impact of DBIA in the USA has been remarkable, with 14 active chapters spread over North America. Such influence and impact is, however, yet to be felt as forcefully in design-build markets and hot spots around the globe, in particular in the GCC arena, which is witnessing a major construction renaissance.

Despite the current popularity of design-build worldwide, this method of construction has not yet nearly reached its potential. The world is yet to see the actual power of design-build as the ancient process revives and matures in modern times.

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