How are Contractors Defining Design Assist

Cirilo I Rangel, Purdue University


Large and complex building construction projects with critical schedule demands, call for early and thorough collaboration by the building team. This early collaboration, which has now extended to the specialty subcontractor level, provides timely analysis of many critical factors including performance, engineering, architecture, budget, schedule, site logistics, constructability, safety, quality, and lifelong operation and maintenance. Acting as a hybrid of Integrated Project Delivery, and the Design Build construction project delivery methods, Design-Assist, performed by the specialty subcontractor usually under the direction of the Construction Manager / General Contractor, is becoming increasingly popular. Since 2015, the ruling from Coughlin Electrical Constructors, Inc. vs. Gilbane Building Company, has seen courts rule on a sliding scale, the applicability of the Spearin Doctrine which for many years, had placed the risk of defects on the contract documents on the Owner. Coughlin (2015) states “The CMAR’s level of participation in the design phase of the project and the extent to which the contract delegates design responsibility to the CMAR may affect a fact finder’s determination as to whether the CMAR’s reliance (on Owner documents) was reasonable.” This variable of the extent is the basis of the sliding scale. The Design Bid Build delivery method utilized the customary roles of the Architect designing and the Contractor building. The contracts used for this delivery method enforced this approach. With Integrated Project Delivery and Construction Manager at Risk delivery methods now utilizing contractors in the design-assist role, this has caused an industry need to research and examine the need to revisit contract language when performing design-assist. As long as courts continue to consider the level of preconstruction participation on behalf of the specialty subcontractor, contractors performing design-assist may be unknowingly putting themselves at levels of risk typically found unacceptable. This study is meant to focus on design-assist and is intended to be the stepping-stone to future studies in design assist contracting. The purpose of this initial study is to better understand how contractors are defining design-assist and which scenarios best represent design-assist. The research was conducted using a mixed methods approach using an anonymous survey, which provided descriptive information. This study also asks if respondents have experienced negative results as the result of performing design-assist. At the respondent's option, semi-structured interviews were conducted with four respondents to learn more about their experiences and concerns performing design-assist.




Shaurette, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Architectural engineering|Engineering|Architecture

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