How Wight & Company is disrupting the industry with Design Led-Design Build, an integrated project d
Updated: Jun 10, 2022
By Mark Wight, Wight & Company
August 7, 2020
Architecture has been a hallmark of the advancement of human civilization for thousands of years. The original Greek word translates to “Chief Builder” (arki-chief tekton-builder). However, over the past century the architect’s historic role as “master builder” - the single person in charge of design and construction - has dramatically shifted into one of a commoditized service. This shift has created an unhealthy tension between the owner, the architect and the builder, and drives up the cost of a project significantly.
How did architects go from master builders to providers of a commoditized service in less than a hundred years when the profession is thousands of years old?
About 100 years ago, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) started publishing standard form agreements in an attempt to mitigate risk to its members during construction. Today, the AIA has published thousands of template contracts, and it generates around 30% of their revenue.
There’s no doubt that the AIA did an irreversible and severe disservice to its members when it made the decision to start publishing standard form agreements. The AIA’s decision forced architects to give up authority and control over a project, and most importantly they gave up profitability, in an effort to reduce their risk during construction. Contractually, the standard form agreements do a marvelous job at mitigating risks. But in reality, architects continue to face liability issues because they are generally sued in tort for negligence, not in contracts.
Another outcome of the AIA’s decision is that architects have become divorced from the cost implications of their design decisions. In other words, architects have become notoriously poor at estimating the cost of their work because they have become increasingly separated from the construction process.
The traditional method of project delivery is known as “Design-Bid-Build”, in which design and construction are contracted separately. In this model, the owner hires an architect to design a project, and only once the design is finished does the owner seek out the construction industry for bids on the contract. In this model, the lowest bid wins and that company carries on to build the project.
This is where the problem comes into play. Many times, particularly on large projects, the price that a contractor submits is at or lower than their own opinion of the cost of the work. So the lowest-bid contractor is selected and then, by contract, paid to find problems with the drawings. The contractor obviously is highly motivated to find change orders because that is their profit.
So say you have a $50,000 change order. The price of that work if it were in the original bid was probably half that. But once the contractor has started attacking the drawing, the architect’s hands are tied. All the architect can do is say, “that’s too high,” and the contractor says, “no it’s not, here’s the information I have from my subcontractors.” But the subcontractors are paid by the general contractor and follows their directives. This obviously creates a very contentious environment between the architect and the builder, and the client is often in the middle. When you have that tension it does nothing but drive up the price, erode trust between the parties, and make the job a whole lot less fun.
When I took over Wight & Company in 1987, the company was very small and struggling. Through some luck and hard work, we got a couple of big jobs and started paying down the debt. Then, a couple of years later we disrupted the industry by pioneering a method of project delivery which we now call Design Led-Design Build. This method is a more integrated approach than traditional models, and it more closely resembles the historic role of the architect as a “master builder.”
This multidisciplinary, integrated approach means that you have one team working together from the same company to drive quality and value from the very beginning of the project until the very end. This approach also connects architects to the cost implications of their design decisions and centers the collaborative process as the key to discovering the most creative and responsible solutions. Compared to the more traditional approach, you can save 10 to 20 percent in cost and extraordinary amounts of time.
When Wight & Company first started using Design Led-Design Build in public-sector projects, most people thought it was illegal. The insurance and surety industries didn’t understand how one company that’s doing both design and construction could take on so much risk. So when we first started doing this I spent a lot of time traveling the country talking to insurance and bonding companies to convince them that the risk profile is actually less for Design Led-Design Build projects.
Today, the construction value of Wight & Company’s work in progress is around $1 billion and it is continually ranked among the top firms in the country. We lead the industry with a visionary and vibrant culture that has attracted some of the best and brightest minds in the industry, who constantly work to enrich the human experience and elevate the spirit of community.
Our team includes about 200 design, engineering, and construction specialists, each dedicated to creating meaningful impact in the world today and in perpetuity. And it is the collaborative culture at Wight & Company that has positioned us as one of the only companies who regularly use Design Led-Design Build to drive quality and to save our clients money and time.
Mark Wight is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Wight & Company, an award- winning architecture, engineering and construction firm that has been in business for more than 80 years. Mark earned his Bachelor of Arts from Reed College and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. While Mark was never formally trained in architecture, engineering or construction, he has been a determined student of the industry for more than 30 years.
Under Mark’s leadership, Wight & Company disrupted the industry more than two decades ago by pioneering Design Led-Design Build, an integrated model of project delivery that promises design and delivery excellence at unrivaled schedule and cost savings. This multidisciplinary approach connects architects to the cost implications of their design decisions and centers the collaborative process as the key to discovering the most creative and responsible solutions.