Tomorrow’s Master Builder

Team surrounds a BIM model on wall screen
Design-to-build combines the best of what we do, as DPR and as an industry, to address the challenges of today and better meet the needs of our customers. Courtesy of Ben Huggler

As extreme external pressures have become the new norm, not just in the construction industry, but across all industries, expectation for degrees of predictability, efficiency and quality continue to rise. In response to these challenges, DPR, members of the design community, sub-contractors and strategic partners have come together to provide integrated expertise and services, looking for ways to build smarter, move faster, and achieve predictable outcomes and great results.

In testing new approaches and continuing to apply successful existing methods of project delivery, we revisited the history of the master builder and started to explore what a modern master builder might be. In this undertaking, it is important to consider not just the known tools and approaches of the AEC industry, but also to identify lessons learned from other industries and consider the influence of new technologies.

The result? Design-to-build, an approach to project delivery borne out of our efforts to address the challenges of today and better meet the needs of our customers. The approach applies our industry experience, the principles of manufacturing, and the data of a digitally driven process.

DfMA machinery
In focusing on the often-repeated components of most buildings, we can leverage the concept of DfMA. Photo courtesy of Matt Pranzo

Bridging the Gap

The distance between a complete set of design documents, by professional and legal standards, and what is required to build in today’s technologically complex world is sometimes known as the “means and methods gap.” Once the purview of master craftsmen and material experts in a small number of materials, this gap today is filled with complex multi-system problems and is often where handovers, translations and interpretations (or misinterpretations) happen. Leaning in with both construction expertise and creative design thinking enables DPR to close the gap with unique solutions that help projects to proceed with greater confidence and predictability.

Commonalities Point to Opportunities for Improvement and Efficiency

The industry has historically focused on the uniqueness of each project instead of the common factors. But identifying the commonalities enables projects to hone and refine repeated elements, such as a framing detail, to improve performance and predictability in delivery. In focusing on the often-repeated components of most buildings, we can leverage the concept of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA).

DfMA is a two-step approach to design that can maximize offsite fabrication and simplify field assembly. The first step, design for manufacture, fine-tunes components or parts of a design to make them easier to fabricate, optimizing efficiency and effectiveness. This is delivered through a process of prototyping, fine-tuning and refinement that results in optimized components. The second step, design for assembly, focuses on the simplicity and speed of assembly. Here, the process benefits from removing the detail required for manufacture and showing only what is needed for assembly so that installation teams can focus on the essential information. Together, these processes can inform each other and improve speed and safety in the field.

Collaborators in a conferences room giving a presentation showing a DfMA rendering
A design-to-build approach is not just enabled by technology, it’s driven by it.

A Digitally Driven Approach to Deliver More Certainty

A design-to-build approach is not just enabled by technology, it’s driven by it. While technology alone can’t solve everything, a digitally driven approach supported by a rigorous and consistent process is powerful. The emphasis on unique characteristics that we see in the physical aspects of a project also often influences the industry approach to process. Pairing data analysis with experience makes it possible to identify actions that consistently improve project outcomes. The resulting benefits are two-fold: One, more projects can implement these lessons learned, and two, it can help eliminate customary actions that do not demonstrably add value. In doing so, a design-to-build approach helps enable the AEC industry to move beyond approximations and vague definitions of success and instead deliver predictable, repeatable successful results.

Fine-tuning the Method of Developing and Delivering Projects

A design-to-build approach offers the industry an opportunity to re-examine the standard parts and assemblies that make up most buildings, challenging the notion that every project is different. That shift in thinking, along with leveraging the application of technical expertise and the principles of DfMA, creates the opportunity to rethink the process even further. Shifting away from the conventional phased process of development and information handovers allows teams to leverage collective knowledge and experience and work in a single integrated process. Imagine working from a single source of truth that is transparent and shared; that process puts the right information in the right place at the right time and leads to predictable success.

While far from a magic bullet, design-to-build is an option for project delivery that DPR is using to deliver more certainty and raise the standard of quality for all types of projects, regardless of size, building type or contract. A design-to-build approach takes the best from the lessons above and assembles those actions into a rigorous, outcome driven process that can be consistently delivered. As we continue to learn and adapt the approach for further improvement, we are fine tuning not just physical buildings, but the entire method of developing and delivering them.

Written by DPR’s Laurel Harrison, design-to-build strategist.