How should a design-build project be structured?
Risk management best serves design professionals when it’s put in place prior to the acquisition of risk. Not damage control strategies, but damage avoidance strategies. In the case of design-build projects–arguably some of the riskiest in the business–this preemptive management of risk should include a number of questions asked by all parties involved. Among those questions: How should the design-build project be structured?
At Victor O. Schinnerer’s most recent Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys, Jonathan C. Shoemaker, of the Lee & McShane law firm, answered this question and others based on his own research “on the contractual and professional risks of participants in design-build projects.”
According to Shoemaker, there are many ways “to structure design-build teams, including teaming agreements, joint ventures, partnerships, and newly-formed companies owned by the design-build team.” The following is an excerpt from a post on the Schinnerer website:
[Shoemaker] defines the organization of a design-build team as either a vertical relationship (e.g., a traditional prime contractor/subcontractor organization) or a horizontal relationship. And he points out that the vast majority of design-build teams are contractor-led, with the design firm serving as a subcontractor to the contractor.
According to Shoemaker, a horizontally structured relationship is where a contractor and a design firm come together to form a joint venture, a partnership, or a new company to provide fully integrated design-build services. He defines the most common horizontal structure, the joint venture, as “a business undertaking by two or more persons engaged in a single defined project.” A joint venture structure typically includes:
joint control over the joint venture’s decisions (as opposed to the prime contractor having control);
liability for the joint venture’s losses (as opposed to liability for only the design professional’s losses);
and profit sharing (as opposed to only the profit earned under the design agreement).
Shoemaker also examines the risks to the design professional on a design-build project and discusses how the risks vary depending on the design firm’s involvement.