Architects Involvement in the Construction Process:
Is Design-Build the Future? // Luke Custer


Architects rarely have direct input on the construction and detailing of a project.

In a recent article from the popular online blog site Life of an Architect, certified architect Bob Borson defines what it is to be a practicing architect. It is his opinion that the role of the architect varies depending on the size of the firm, and he states that their responsibilities range from “the drawing a building…to writing spec sheets.”(1) This definition however, seems to be missing the importance of the architect during the construction phase of the project. In regards to arguably the most important phase of a project, he merely describes the architect’s role to be “meet[ing] with clients” and “visiting construction sites.”(2) This definitely highlights the most paramount issue facing the practice of architecture today.

Architects are intensely involved in every aspect of design but then seem to take a step back once the construction process begins. This notion was expressed by Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek when he stated that “most architects are not interested in construction,” and that they “do little more than produce drawings and leave others to work out how to build them.”(3) This lack of interest may be the case with some firms, but for many firms the withdrawal stems from a concern for liability. CplusC founder Clinton Cole explains this liability by stating that “as both architect and builder you have to resolve any warranty issues six to seven years after it is handed over to the client.” While such a process may appear cumbersome, Cole is quick to highlight its benefits by explaining that this “obligation gives invaluable insight into how my buildings age, leak, crack, move and wear.”(4) Architects mistakenly believe this liability to be a burden. It really offers architects a unique opportunity for a discovery based design process. A process that provides enormous insight to those who exercise it for use in the future.

A poor brick connection detail.


Beautiful Ornamentation Detail.

Unfortunately, a majority of architecture firms do not see it this way. They remain separate from the “burden” of liability and simply acquiesce to Borson’s notion that “architects simply design.”(5)  Eek weighs in stating that “most architects are in fact not architects, because most buildings are drawings which are filled in by engineers trying to achieve the drawing of the architect.”(6)  Fortunately, alternative means of practice are becoming more accepted. According to the Design-Build Institute of America, “about 40 percent of all nonresidential construction projects in both the public and private sector now use a design-build approach.” This is in contrast to the “fewer than 10 percent two decades ago.”(7)  The popularity of design build is onthe rise, and many architects, such as Harold Adam (chairman of RTKL Associates), are experiencing that “you are now seeing more complex projects being done by design-build.”(8)  This is also apparent in a simple evaluation of design build firms such as GLUCK+. Their philosophy stems from the notion that “better buildings result when architects take on the construction process,”(9)  GLUCK+ is not only showing that architects can actively manage the construction process but also do so across a number of project types from housing, touniversity buildings, and even hotels. The same can be said for firms like Kennedy & Violich Architecture, who aren’t as involved in overall construction management as GLUCK+ but still use close ties with sister companies like MATx to create detailed prototypes and mock-ups for detailing purposes. The diversity of these firms’ work, coupled with the awards bestowed upon their projects is quickly extinguishing the belief that “design-build projects are merely confined to small housing and warehousing;”(10)  a claim made by Harold Adam.

Shade structure prototype

As active designers, we should be compelled to construct and design every aspect and every detail of every building. As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once stated “God is in the details.”(11) This sentiment should resonate with every architect currently in the profession, and students too. Thoughtful, well-executed details are crucial to a project’s success, and go hand-in-hand with the construction of the project. This is due in a large part to the previously mentioned philosophy of self-discovery. Construction and prototyping, such as those done by Kennedy & Violich, lead to the discovery of details that become significant to the aesthetic definition of a project. This discovery is currently being experienced by the Design + Make Studio working on the Preston Outdoor Education Station as we begin the construction phase of the project. This discovery which is illustrated by the Design + Build Studio, as well as the previously mentioned GLUCK+ and Kennedy & Violich, will hopefully guide other firms to the knowledge and understanding that involvement in construction is crucial if the practice of architecture

is to survive.

(1)  Borson, Bob. "What Does an Architect Do?" Life of an Architect. 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

(2)  Borson, Bob. "What Does an Architect Do?" Life of an Architect. 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

(3)  Tucker, Emma. "Architects Are "not Interested" in Construction – Piet Hein Eek." Dezeen. 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

(4)  Bennett, Linda. "Why Architects Need To Get Back Onto The Construction Site." Architizer. 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

(5)  Borson, Bob. "What Does an Architect Do?" Life of an Architect. 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

(6)  Tucker, Emma. "Architects Are "not Interested" in Construction – Piet Hein Eek." Dezeen 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

(7) Solomon, Nancy B. "The Hopes and Fears of Design-Build." 2005. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

(8)  Solomon, Nancy B. "The Hopes and Fears of Design-Build." 2005. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

(9)  GLUCK. "Architect Led Ddesign Build." Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

(10)  Solomon, Nancy B. "The Hopes and Fears of Design-Build." 2005. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.

(11)  Doug. "Mies Van Der Rhoe | God Is in the Details." Chasing Light. 14 Oct. 2009. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.




Bennett, L. (2013, August 29). Why Architects Need To Get Back Onto The Construction Site.      Retrieved from Architizer.

Borson, B. (2013, March 04). What Does an Architect Do? Retrieved from Life of an Architect.

Doug. (2009, October 14). Mies Van Der Rhoe: God Is in the Details. Retrieved from Chasing      Light.

Sobol, E. (2011, April 19). Saynatsalo Town Hall Jyvaskyla Finland Alvar Aalto.

Solomon, N. B. (2005). The Hopes and Fears of Design-Build. Retrieved from


Tucker, E. (2015, October 29). Architects Are "not interested" in Construction - Piet Hein Eek.      Retrieved from Dezeen.

Tysto, C. (2014, March 25). Corbels in Some Indianapolis Detail.



Written by Luke Custer