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Building owners follow either of two construction formats: what I call the AIA Form and Design-build. My intent is to differentiate between the two formats, not to disqualify one or the other -- each has advantages over the other. In the two cases, local authorities having jurisdiction require compliance with applicable codes, laws and ordnances.
Under the AIA Form, a hierarchy of architects, engineers, general contractors, construction management firms, contractors and subcontractors work together (not always as a team) to provide all necessary materials and services to construct or renovate buildings. In general, the architect acts as the owner's agent to design a structure that meets the needs of the owner and satisfies his budget constraints. Engineers draw up detailed plans; write specifications and review materials and methods submitted by the contractor team.
Its weakness, from my point-of-view, is the low-bid selection of contractors. Competition between contractor specialists drives them to seek lowest cost materials and lowest cost labor. Occasionally, contract awards will go to incompetent or below par firms. For this reason, owners require performance bonds to fund a replacement contractor and payment bonds to prevent the levy of liens on the finished property. A secondary weakness manifests long after the project ends -- deficiencies in performance or utility. Under this form, if poorly managed, the owner ends up in a 'finger-pointing' situation -- unresolved problems linger, often for years.
Its strength, from my point of view: it is the better choice for large, complex structures that require a high degree of project coordination with hundreds of suppliers and contractors to finish the building on time and on budget.
Under this format, the owner interacts with only one entity -- the design-build contractor who assumes all responsibility for project design, cost management and final performance. Usually, the design-build contractor has working relationships with long-time suppliers and skilled subcontractors. This contractor often has in-house design staff and/or long-time working relationships with architects and engineers.
Its weakness, from my point of view, can be under-estimated costs. On the other hand, in order to most efficiently manage the project, the design-build contractor often interlaces his projects to keep craftsmen busy and cash flow positive.
Its strengths, from my point of view, can be many, for the smaller commercial and residential projects.
In a broad sense, the design-build contractor is more of a long-term service provider than the AIA Form contractor teams. This contractor depends heavily on referrals by satisfied customers -- upholding a good name is paramount.