Fast Track Development

As hotel construction continues to boom, the demand for resorts among the traveling public remains high, and many owners and developers are compelled to respond quickly. When a schedule does not allow for a traditional design/bid/build delivery process, a design/build approach can accelerate delivery. Overlapping the time and efforts of the design team members with the construction team members — actually combining the skills of these groups — reduces the overall project time. This allows an organized final design process to be completed while early construction activity commences. Since a team can only be as strong as its members, it's important to tap those who have experience in design/build delivery, who can make timely decisions and meet the demands of local building authorities. Extending beyond the initial group, subcontractors hired through bid packages also become design/build team members, allowing the project to move along at a swift pace.


If team members have previously worked together, the design/build approach is even more efficient. Having a seasoned team with the right people can be the key to success. In addition to knowing their disciplines, these experts understand the big picture. An experienced design/build team knows the importance of including pre-planning design elements for future use in the conceptual and schematic stages. For example, mechanical, electrical and plumbing service lines must be included early in a grading and utility package, long before the detailed design of the entire project is done. Service line sizes must be accurately estimated, or perhaps slightly enlarged, for piping, conduits and other systems to account for the unknown, in order to provide the flexibility that will accommodate future design elements.


Essential to the design/build team is the owner/developer or representative who must be ready to make timely decisions in keeping with an accelerated schedule. It is best to have an owner's representative who is experienced with design/build or who is ready to adapt to a streamlined process. It is preferable for the team to work with a single point of contact rather than a large committee that may be prone to a protracted decision-making process. This point person must be available to respond to questions beyond the 40-hour work week and be skilled at quickly arriving at conclusions when major owner/developer decisions beyond the representative's empowerment are needed. Many times, the representative may enlist members of the design/build team to assist in this consensus-building process.

It is helpful when the rep's background includes experience working with architects, engineers and contractors, as well as knowledge of and experience with the particular building type involved. Finally, this individual must be comfortable with his or her position within the corporation, so as to be confident making decisions.


Key design/build team members should include a local building official who understands the project and its schedule and a strong architectural leader who can facilitate permit approvals. Municipal agency permit requirements must be met far in advance. Many times, the building department needs to know in advance that it is permitting construction of a foundation that is the base for a building which meets all safety standards. Designers must demonstrate how they've accommodated construction for fire and life safety systems as well as accommodation of future building exit systems.

Also, it is important that the architect is able to communicate with the building official and follow through intricate systems that are only conceptually contemplated. This avoids having a foundation designed and no permit with which to build.

Of course, the ability to envision and “bring the concept to life” is as important when the architect sells the concept to planning/zoning, community groups, planning commissions and other stakeholders.


Although it should be the team's goal to maintain a minimum number of bid packages, they are sometimes necessary. Generally it is the schedule that dictates when bids (and bid packages) are needed and how they relate to each other based on several factors:

  • Availability of sub-contractors: understanding the bid climate and schedule

  • Time of year: for seasonal or time-critical work

  • The need to identify long-lead items such as elevators. These items may need to be ordered early and may even have separate bid packages.

  • The need to achieve design knowledge in the proper increments.

If done properly, construction is uninhibited while the design flows. Also, it is important to develop proper communication with respect to schedules and big picture subcontracting issues so that design changes won't occur too late in the process. For example, the team may spend extra time in electrical design, determining where to bring service in at the right point in a time-line that works with the bid package process rather than in the normal design sequence.

A seasoned design/build team has the history and knowledge to be aware of potential pitfalls before they occur. This is almost as important as working with a dedicated project owner/developer representative. Such a team can meet fast-track schedules, all with the goal of allowing the owner to open high-quality hotel and resort accommodations in time to capture the changing travel market.

Doug Thimm is a vice president of MHTN Architects, Inc. in Salt Lake City, UT. He is the director of MHTN's Resort and Mixed-Use Design Studio, and can be reached at

Design/Build in Action

An Intermountain West hotel lodge/resort operator had worked with various architects over the years trying to design a hotel/lodge building; however, too many ideas and an inability to reach a final decision meant they never got past the conceptual phase. During this time, sales and development of other parts of the property advanced. Home owners in the development were promised a lodge and clubhouse. As the promised completion deadline for the lodge neared, the developer realized he needed a seasoned general contractor and an experienced architectural/engineering team. A design/build contractor and architect were interviewed. This team presented a plan to deliver various phased bid packages, including earthwork, foundation, mechanical/electrical/plumbing, framing, exterior enclosure, finish and landscape work. The plan was soon approved by the owner and the design/build team was formed. The team quickly established the basis for the design concept and followed through utilizing the experience of the team and the inspiration of the owner. Not only did the formation of a design/build team allow for work to begin sooner, the need to wait for the spring construction season was avoided. The happy byproduct of this collaboration was that a year of delay also was avoided.

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