Article Date: 06/21/2013

Attorney Discusses the ‘Do’s and Don’ts' of Design Review for Design-Build Projects

By Steve Rizer


During a recent WPL Publishing webinar entitled “Design-Build Contracts: Understand the Administrative Challenges, Risks, and Keys to Success,” Trauner Consulting Services Inc. Director Richard Burnham stressed to attendees that there are several "do’s and don’ts" to keep in mind when conducting a design review for a design-build project.  


In revealing his list of do’s and don’ts, Burnham recommended that design submittals not be reviewed for approval of technical adequacy. Instead, such submittals should be reviewed for conformance to the contract for the design-build project, he said.


“I think my basic point with respect to design review do’s and don’ts is that … comments ought to be limited in the design-build process to the question of whether the documents that have been submitted … conform to the project requirements, the design-build proposal, [and] the RFP [request for proposal]," Burnham said. "And I think I would shorten that [list] to just say the project requirements because, beyond that, I think the comments can become problematic and begin to drive up costs, and they’re simply not consistent with the notion of design-build.”


To illustrate this point, Burnham recalled the following example involving a design-build project on the West Coast: “It happened to be a public-private partnership project that included design-build …, and the state agency that was doing this project -- actually, the people who were involved in the review of submittals for this project -- were … represented by a union, and that union was strongly opposed to the notion of public-private partnerships. In other words, this group of engineers represented by a union didn’t want this project to succeed, and yet those people were put in charge of reviewing the designs as they were submitted. And those people were used to doing things the way they had always done it on their DOT [department of transportation] projects. And so many of their comments on design development as they were submitted fell under the category of ‘This isn’t how we do it. That’s not how we do it here.’ Well, that is an utterly inappropriate comment for a design review. That may be something that you do in a design-bid-build [project], where the engineer is working for you and you say, ‘No. No. No. That’s not how we do it here in [the] Florida DOT. We do it this way.’ That’s perfectly fine if you’re working with your own designer. But if you’re working with a design-builder and he’s based his price on approaching it a certain way, and you say, ‘That’s not the way we do it,’ that type of comment can have a significant financial impact.”


In addition, Burnham urged owners to “understand that the plans in a design-build [project] may be released for construction before the overall design is complete. And try to remember, if you’re an owner, that, frankly, that’s one of the reasons why you went to design-build in the first place. Now, that does not mean that the design-builder isn’t at risk…. Just because you’ve allowed construction to go forward, you as an owner are not increasing your own risk to allow him to go forward. To the contrary, the design-builder is taking the risk of proceeding before the final design is complete. But stay away from the notion, if you’re the owner, of preventing him from beginning construction before all design is complete because, again, that was something fundamentally a part of the design-build process.”


Furthermore, it is important to respond more quickly to the needs of the design-build contractor than in a standard contract setting, Burnham said.


During the webinar, Burnham also discussed the differences between various project delivery methods; why the design-build method is becoming more commonplace; design-build’s up-front burden on owners; change management; and other topics.


To purchase a recording of the 90-minute webinar, visit


The ConstructionPro Network member version of this article contains additional coverage of Burnham's recommended do's and don'ts for design review and other suggestions. To sign up for a membership, click here.



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