Design-Build Delivers

Elevating the Design in Design-Build

September 18, 2023 DBIA
Elevating the Design in Design-Build
Design-Build Delivers
More Info
Design-Build Delivers
Elevating the Design in Design-Build
Sep 18, 2023

Send us a Text Message.

In this month’s Design-Build Delivers podcast, we spoke with members of the Design Professionals' Advisory and Engagement Committee who helped craft updates to DBIA’s Position Statement on Design Excellence, which was originally released in 2014. We discussed the changes that were made, why a new statement was important now and how design excellence is vital to Design-Build Done Right®.

Rob Barbera
General Manager/Senior Vice President, Turner Engineering Group, Turner Construction Company

Susan O’Connell
Managing Principal, AC Martin

Holly Stone
President, Stone Security Engineering

Access all our free design-build resources and learn more about Design-Build Done Right® at

DBIA members are shaping the future, one successful collaboration at a time.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

In this month’s Design-Build Delivers podcast, we spoke with members of the Design Professionals' Advisory and Engagement Committee who helped craft updates to DBIA’s Position Statement on Design Excellence, which was originally released in 2014. We discussed the changes that were made, why a new statement was important now and how design excellence is vital to Design-Build Done Right®.

Rob Barbera
General Manager/Senior Vice President, Turner Engineering Group, Turner Construction Company

Susan O’Connell
Managing Principal, AC Martin

Holly Stone
President, Stone Security Engineering

Access all our free design-build resources and learn more about Design-Build Done Right® at

DBIA members are shaping the future, one successful collaboration at a time.

Erin Looney  00:10

The Design-Build Institute of America is the only organization that defines, teaches and promotes best practices in design build. We call it Design-Build Done Right®, and it includes multiple areas of focus, which includes design excellence. In this episode of the Design-Build Delivers podcast, brought to you by VinZero USCAD, we have three members of the team that worked on an update to our design excellence position statement. They're here to talk about the changes, why a new statement was important and how design excellence is vital to Design-Build Done Right®. A quick rundown on our guests before we get started – Rob Barbera, Susan O'Connell and Holly Stone are with us. Rob is General Manager, Senior Vice President with Turner Engineering Group at Turner Construction Company. Susan is Managing Principal at AC Martin and Holly is president of Stone Security Engineering. And as always, from the DBIA national headquarters. I am Erin Looney, and this is the Design-Build Delivers podcast.


Erin Looney  01:14

The first DBIA Design Excellence position statement came out in 2014. The stance DBIA took then was that design excellence should be a goal in any design-build project and that what that looks like will differ from Owner to Owner, sector to sector or project to project. So to the untrained eye that may sound ambiguous. I'm that untrained eye right now. But it's not. There's a reason a position statement on design excellence was a coordinated effort. So talk a bit about the purpose and function of a design excellence statement for design-build. Susan, why don't you start us off?


Susan O'Connell  01:49

Well, the new design excellence statement that we've crafted is a bit more expansive than the one from 2014. And I think it opens the door for all the design-build team members to see how they can contribute to design excellence. We give a lot of examples in the document, and I think stepping forward with a bigger but more nuanced statement about design excellence will really help draw more architects to the table and embrace design-build as a delivery model. Currently, the DBIA membership probably skews a little heavy towards contractors, and being such a collaborative vehicle to design spaces and buildings, it makes sense to me that if it was a bit more balanced and there were more consultants and more architects with the contractors at the table that we can only improve and really make a richer organization.


Erin Looney  02:47

So now let's look a little bit more closely at that update. So 2014, that was almost 10 years ago, we're really moving through time way too fast. So what has been revised in this update? Now, you don't have to get too deep into the weeds here – we actually have a webinar coming up with all of you October 4. So for now, what are some of the high level changes in the updated statement?


Rob Barbera  03:09

So as we were updating the document, we broke it down into five, we call them five lenses, right? I would say there was a further emphasis on whole design-build teams, for those teams to be aligned and for those teams to understand project goals, a real focus on integration and collaboration. Innovation obviously, is on the tip of everyone's tongue, it is a component of design. And that plays a much bigger role than before in projects, and that changes with every project every couple of years. So sometimes I've even seen some projects that start and with innovation changes have to pivot and make adjustments throughout within that same design phase because things change so quickly. I would say there was an added focus on the environment, with the intent to promote well being, and always an attention to community and the importance of community and how that could factor in many different directions as a component of design. And then lastly, and of course, in a much more detailed focus on sustainability and resiliency. And I can see more and more of a focus on both those subjects as we get smarter and smarter about it, and how the applications for whatever that might be, tends to be part of every project as we look forward.


Erin Looney  04:39

Yeah, we noticed actually, in our Merit Award winners this year that a lot of them focused on sustainability, particularly in terms of design. So that tracks with what you're saying. So what was the motivation for an update now to this position statement? why did the committee decide, you know, it's time let's take the statement and move it into the future?


Susan O'Connell  05:00

This document and its revision allows all different kinds of contractors, whether you do horizontal work or vertical work and all kinds of consultants, from a consultant like Holly doing her really specialized kind of security work, you know, to someone helping us with, you know MEP in a building, they can see themselves in this design excellence statement. It talks about design excellence from many points of view. It's just not about a beautiful building only that the architect is creating; it is about how each one of those consultants through collaboration helps really create that recipe for the building. And I think that it's just a lot more expansive.


Erin Looney  05:46

And what about you, Holly, your role is extraordinarily specialized. So how is a design excellence update a benefit to your work?


Holly Stone  05:54

You know, the lower tier subs, like myself are being brought into the fold a little bit more, and through the statement, and through the committee that's been created to bring designers into the DBIA even closer, we can start seeing where we fit into the design excellence picture. And that, you know, while the aesthetics are huge, still always a huge portion of design excellence, but but really a good reminder that some of the details that aren't visible, are really part of the design excellence. And in my work, actually, it's the more invisible it is, I've done a better job, it's even more excellent design as we go forward. And then the other thing that's part of the updated statement, it really, really emphasizes to the whole team, that it is a whole team approach. And it's communication deep into the team. So for me, when I hear that, and some of the better projects that I've worked on, when the subs that are small, aren't necessarily filtered through the subs above them, but have a seat at the table, we're able to really give better input. But we're also able to get input from the team and change how we're approaching things based on what everybody else is doing and the preferences of how to approach things.


Rob Barbera  07:17

Look at what has changed over the last five and six years, right? It's kind of crazy, I think the rate of change has been astronomical for a whole bunch of reasons that I think we all know. But things continue to change at a very, very rapid pace. So to me, I can see doing the next update in a much, much shorter time span, because I don't know what's going to be changed from today to five years from now. And whatever those things might be my sense is I have a feeling for where those things could be. But you know, that may not necessarily be the case. And it may be much more in some things that I'm not even thinking of today. So I think it's just about rate of change, and the need to keep up with how owners are thinking now, I mentioned innovation a couple of minutes ago, but that's just one little piece. I just think that it's important for us to be aware of how the industries and the markets are thinking. And this is an opportunity for us to do so and respond and put something out there that's a little bit more proactive rather than responding and being reactive.


Erin Looney  08:23

Are you interested in sustainable design and construction practices but concerned about profitability? USCAD A VinZero company helps forward thinking ENR top ranked AEC firms mitigate risk and drive profit through digitalization using Autodesk AEC technology. To learn more, contact for a free 30 minute consultation. That's


Erin Looney  08:59

So for anybody invested in design-build projects, especially those in design roles, it might be obvious that excellence is vital to success, right. But we certainly can't assume everyone knows what that should look like. Or even that there's a formula for it particularly because of the breadth of the position in the 2014 statement. The committee then described design excellence as reflecting the practice of good judgment throughout project procurement, development and execution, as well as sound decision making within the limitations imposed by budget, scope and schedule. So, good judgment, sound decision making limitations. Those can be rather subjective terms. We are focused on design-build, but we know there are other ways to do what we do. What makes design-build different from design/bid/build in terms of design excellence specifically. So what do you think Rob?


Rob Barbera  09:51

I'm gonna break down design/bid/build into its most basic delivery, right? And when you think what is that Well, In our world, we have and we do at times operate as a general contractor. And when we operate as general contractor, we're typically responding to a solicitation. And that solicitation looks usually like a lump sum solicitation for cost. And when we do that we're operating strictly as a general contract on responding to a set of documents that have been prepared by a design team, which would be Holly and Susan. And that design team creates 100% set of both drawings and specifications that we respond to, our ability to be successful in winning the project is usually based just on cost. And in those cases, that's a design/bid/build sort of application, whatever adjustments are made to that contract are usually done so only by change. And that change is something that needs to be submitted and approved. That's a very, very different process than the kinds of which that we're talking about here in design-build world, right, where we have the opportunity to bring what we think is a much more creative approach to the table, and do so in a variety of ways, which could be either a progressive design-build or, or a stipulated some type of design-build. So design/bid/build is a very different approach than design-build. And not everybody is suited for both. But you really do have to think about how it is you're delivering what the agreement is calling for and how you're going to respond to the needs and the obligations of whatever that agreement says.


Erin Looney  11:31

Of course, Susan, what are your thoughts on this?


Susan O'Connell  11:34

In a way design/bid/build sets up an unfortunate but adversarial relationship between the owner architect and contractor, let's just lay it out, right. It's like the old way of doing things – design/bid/build – is shrinking and shrinking, maybe even more so on the West Coast. Nobody wants to waste time, money, and energy on negative stuff. So what design/bid/build, it doesn't incentivize collaboration at all, like Rob is taking a complete set of drawings and bidding them. But what's so interesting about design-build is even in the pursuit of design-build, to win a job, the team has to be working together and collaborating and innovating with these creative ideas to solve the client's program problems, reach the client's goals. So they're just totally different animals. Design/bid/build is like this strict recipe with all your ingredients already measured out there telling you exactly what to do, thou shalt do that. Progressive design-build is like receiving this beautiful basket of food. And then you and your team get to collaborate on how to make that into the most amazing meal possible. So you can see how those two things are just wildly different.


Erin Looney  12:54

You know, Susan, that's an excellent analogy, even if it's making our listeners hungry. Holly?


Holly Stone  13:00

So when I first got out of college, I went to work for the National Park Service as a site inspector for construction projects across the country. And they were all design/bid/builds. I had never even heard of design-build at that time. And they were very adversarial. They tended to be an us versus them world. And there were claims, you know, they were arguments, and it was not a great environment. And I don't think it produced the best projects that could be produced. When I went to my first DBIA conference, I felt like I'd found like people, there was a lot of talk of, of collaboration of teamwork of how to bring ideas together, it was all sort of together at the table. I think that even deeper into the difference between design/bid/build, and design-build, from my perspective, is the ability to have direct contact with the builder and with the trades. So that when I am, for instance, coming up with requirements for building a metal stud exterior wall, I can actually talk to them and see what their preferences are for configuration, you know, preference for how much change do you want over the facade of a building. And that ability to talk to the trades and talk to the contractor or the builder really allows me to tailor the solutions to the specific project that the specific people who are going to be building it that brings a lot of value to the projects.


Rob Barbera  14:42

We have seen owners that we've worked with in the past in more of a design/bid/build scenario take on design-build as an option now, and we've seen it taken on in two different fashions. One is a more I'll say thought out measured approach where a client obtains training, they go and get training, they go into DBIA. And they understand that they need to get their own legal people involved and you know, do a redo of their own agreement, because you really just can't take a typical design/bid/build agreement and just say, I'm gonna go do a design-build project. There's a whole host of, of components and passages and so forth that need to be adjusted so that they work in concert with how design-build is going to going to be executed. And then there are the others that do the opposite. They just say, Well, I'm going to try a design-build approach. And they really don't change any of those things, then they try and take their same agreements, whether it be with their design-builder, or with their design team. And they they kind of try and move forward in a haphazard fashion. And that usually doesn't go very well. I think it's important that Owners that are considering taking on design-build really think out the steps so that they get good guidance, they get good advice, to go about it the right way. Because I think it makes a world of difference when the projects are set up really well. And an owner is all in on a design-build process that really sets the tone for us, or the three of us to be able to perform as effectively as we can to get the end result you're looking for. 


Susan O'Connell  16:30

It's incredibly important to train your team. I've thought about it a lot like how does a team need to interact to achieve design excellence? You go to conferences, and all the time you hear the word trust, trust, trust, you got to trust your team. Trust allows teams to kind of use a really potent tool, situational leadership. And I think that the way a design-build pursuit and project go, the team collaborates together on the pursuit, they win it, it's like a big high when you win it, you get to know each other incredibly well on that pursuit when you're innovating and collaborating. And in the design phases, it's almost like the architect kind of leans in steps forward takes the lead a bid on process and the conversation as we're designing. And really good contractors trust that encourage it support it, my most successful teams have been like that. And then as we're getting into the nitty gritty details of how we're going to build this and construction documents and getting into construction, well, clearly, the contractor steps forward and is leaning in and guiding the team. And we're all supporting the contractor with that. So I think situational leadership is an amazing tool that design-build teams use very well to get the best out of each person, each team member at the right moment.


Erin Looney  17:57

Rob, Susan, you both mentioned training – and Rob you even plugged DBIA for us. So thank you, that brings up a good opportunity to remind our audience that anyone in the industry can take advantage of DBIA workshops, webinars, coursework, other programming through Design-Build Done Right® education and DBIA certification. So what we're talking about here, and so much more, it is supported by DBIA. Now one of those things you'll learn about through our education and our certification is the whole team approach, which Holly you mentioned earlier. So how does that philosophy help design build teams make good decisions in terms of design excellence?


Rob Barbera  18:34

You know, in design-build, the thing that really has worked for me, is when we get the opportunity to work with a team, and we have an understanding of what a particular issue might be or what a challenge might be. And we know before we walk in the room for a meeting with a client, exactly how to address that issue and give that client the option so that they can make a sound decision. And we know that because we've aligned with our design partners ahead of time. And while you can't do that on every, every single subject, because there were just too many of them in any given day. But if we're doing our jobs really well, I think we're aligned and understanding how we're going to address these problems. And what alternates and options we have at our disposal before we walk in the room together so that we can be aligned. And we can present those options and solutions in such a way that it looks like it's just one voice talking. And I think that's the way it should be sure when it comes to the design components of whatever that solution would be. I would turn to Holly and I would turn to Susan and I would say, you know, you guys got this, you take the lead. And then whatever input that we would provide, obviously, it would be on the building side or on the execution side. But I just think that getting aligned and understanding how to present those types of solutions ahead of time is key.


Erin Looney  19:57

So let's go ahead and turn to Holly now


Holly Stone  20:00

With the group speaks with one voice, as Rob just described. For me, that means I've got to get, put my voice in there that everybody can hear. And then we can create a good solution before it goes to the client. On the projects that are not as successful that I've worked on, I've been filtered through, you know, probably the structural engineer of record, and then the architect, and then that goes to the builder and the owner. Rather than me being able to present here's what we need to do, here are some solutions that can achieve that. So the one voice for me, the joy is when my voice is part of the one voice as well. And I really think that those lead to better projects, and I think when it happens, it's magic.


Erin Looney  20:47

And Susan, what's the magic for you?


Susan O'Connell  20:49

One of the hardest things our clients have to do is to make these really big decisions on dollars and scope and schedule. And the one voice for me means that our team has collaborated, we've done all the research, we've looked into all the options. And we're coming to a meeting with one voice guiding the client in the right direction. With design-build in this kind of collaboration, we walk into the room, we lay it all out, and we tee the client up to make excellent decisions that benefit the program, the budget, the site, and most importantly, their goals and vision for the project. So it makes a really smooth running team. And you start making those decisions together. And you get better and better at it and faster and faster at it and you have a level of communication with the client that was never possible in design/bid/build. They get to see the team in action, analyzing information, presenting it, so they can make good decisions. And that's the beauty of one voice and the joy, like Holly said, like when you've gone into the room, and you've got a bunch of big decisions on direction, and the team knows where to go, that is an excellent feeling.


Erin Looney  22:11

We've spent a lot of this episode on collaboration, right. And that's not an accident, we're not done yet, we're still going to talk a little more about collaboration, because it is the heart of design-build. The 2014 statement says the foundation of design-build delivery system is a culture of team alignment, open communication and mutual respect between the project owner, the architect/engineer and the contractor. So how does that look? How does the design-build team need to work together to achieve design excellence?


Rob Barbera  22:42

Number one, having a clearer understanding of the intent and purpose of the project and the client's vision and being able to understand what those priorities are. And I think if all of the team members understand that, then we can be aligned, you got to know what do they want to achieve? And the second half of that is, how is the client going to measure success on this project? What's going to be defined as a successful project at the end of the day. Again, without asking, without understanding, and without talking through that? How do you really know? You think you know, you have all that information and you have a solicitation. You've tried to be as creative as you possibly can and delivering a solution for them and all those things. But really, at the end of the day, well, how are they going to measure success here? And I think I do think you need to talk through that.


Susan O'Connell  23:36

I think that what Rob said about understanding the client goals, and maybe even prioritizing them with the client is incredibly important. We had a major university wanting to build student housing. And clearly the AVP kind of campus architect had this vision of this amazing dining hall, kind of like a la Hogwarts or something, right. And we just knew right away that the budget was just not there. And we've won the job. So what do we do quickly, we sketch up some dining hall things, we put some numbers to it, we show super clearly in an A three that they cannot afford it. But at the same meeting, we pulled out a whole nother set of ideas about Look, you can't afford a dining hall. But you can have a coffee shop and you can have a food truck court. And you can have like this little grab and go kind of kiosks. So in a way we we gave the client the news that you just can't afford that kind of very traditional dining hall. But we came to the table with all these really interesting ideas of how to feed the students in other ways that the client eventually absolutely embraced and loved. I'm walking around the job in the last two weeks of construction and a painter sees me, you know, looking at his work and I'm in this kind of social area, and the painting subcontractor starts to explain to me, the architect – he doesn't know I'm the architect – why it was designed this way. And I'm like, you know, it's like the clouds opened up for me. And I'm so happy. I just told that story to everyone for weeks afterwards. So the reason that you understand the goals and write them down and speak about them and prioritize them, is because that's a little piece of your roadmap, if every great idea is measured against those goals, the team is going to be successful.


Erin Looney  25:29

Oh, yeah. And you know, with the university,too, that messaging about the intentionality of the spaces, that's going to get to the students, the faculty and parents, guardians, the rest of the university community, and community is so important for higher education, you know, in spaces, like you just talked about Susan, they really helped build that. 


Rob Barbera  25:47

When you get back and you watch these facilities open, and you get to see the facility in operation actually working. And then you start realizing, this is what we talked about. And it's actually working the way we said it was going to work. That's a pretty cool moment.


Holly Stone  26:06

At the really base level, it's interact early and interact often. And from our perspective, I like to say if I can get in front of the team, when the design is just a twinkle in the eye, rather than pen on paper, I can really help them move forward and create a holistic design that incorporates my part of the work and the security and the protection that is needed. Part of that interaction is me educating the team what the particular requirements are for this structure or this facility, and what the possible impacts are to all the other disciplines. Because every project is different. So being able to educate the team upfront helps them know that baseline and they work to that baseline. And then the other thing is, if people are open, if the other designers and the builder, if everybody's open to different ideas and how and approaches for instance, my goal is always to decrease the amount of money that's spent on building hardening. So that money is spent in other places. I don't want to gobble up resources that I don't need to but you know, clearly always meeting the requirements. And so when I go into design meeting or late, you know, lay out the things that I think in from the beginning helps save money. Sometimes people are open to it. But if it comes too late in the design is set, it's hard for people to make that mental change.


Erin Looney  27:39

Of course, Holly. Yeah, working together from start to finish is key in design-build. 


Holly Stone  27:44

Yeah, the other thing is being creative in how to solve the same approaches. I love when one of the other people on the team comes to me with what if we do it this way. And I was working on a project in Denver, and it's still one of my absolute favorite projects is from the early 2000s. And in the lobby of the building, the input from the government had been we can't have glass, we have to have concrete in this location, or some others solid, solid media. And it was it was like a 40 foot high was the Grand Lobby when you go in and you're supposed to look through it. So we spent a lot of time trying to figure out can we reconfigure what can we do to not a make it look like a prison and but the you know not to have it take up all the resources, and one of the design team came up with let's do a green wall there. And this is before green walls were cool. And the government loved the solution. It was really easy. And it saved a lot of money in the final outcome. And it was just great that somebody else came in because I would have never thought of that. Because that's not the kind of design that I'm usually thinking about. So getting the solution from one of the other team members is always is always very special.


Erin Looney  29:02

So our last question gets a little into the nuts and bolts of a position statement and its function. You know, it doesn't exactly prescribe behavior, doesn't exactly direct teams on exactly what to do. But it does set a general guideline for what to aim for, how to know if you've prioritized design excellence in the project in this case. So talk more about what makes a given design-build project successful in terms of its design. So Susan, what should we take away here?


Susan O'Connell  29:32

You know, Erin, it's a lot of things that we've talked about. it is being one voice, it is collaborating and trusting in your partner, so that when it's time for Holly to lead the conversation, we let her lead when it's time for Rob to lead, or if it's time for my team of architects to lead it. Having an owner who has kind of changed the attitude a little bit about design-build and have this really positive attitude about we're going to solve this together, we're going to collaborate actively together and solve it. And probably my, my best story around this is a client who was writing us a letter of recommendation for a DBIA award. And they said, I can't quote him entirely. But it was something like, he was so happy sitting at the table with all these voices helping him make a decision. He loved it when the contractor talked about aesthetics when the architect was talking about cost. And he said that it was clear that people were not coming just from their own position. They were trying to make the best building together. So they were taking on each other's roles, not about what he said, or she said, or they said, but about what was the right decision right now in the moment. So that switching of roles and being one team has been the most evidence on our most successful design-build projects.


Erin Looney  31:04

And Holly? 


Holly Stone  31:06

The most successful design-build projects that I have been on are the ones where we care, not only about, you know, getting the project done and meeting the expectations and all that, but we care about making sure each of the team members are heard. And that includes the Owner and the occupants if it's different than the Owner and includes the builder and the whole design team. And make sure that everybody sort of if they understand what each person is saying and why they're saying it, the ability to come up with a fantastic solution is just elevated. So generally, people aren't very happy when I give input, because it does tend to dampen some of the grand schemes that might be there. And I try very hard not to do that. But I worked on a project, and it was at the very end, and the lead designer for the architect gave a speech at the end. And And his comment about me was that I made blasts fun. And to me, that was one of the best compliments because nobody saw me as the problem maker. I was really there to help them create fun and creative solutions. And to me that was, that was lovely.


Erin Looney  32:30

And Rob, we're gonna give you the final word today,


Rob Barbera  32:33

I would just say, get aligned. Get along with your team members, and they are your members and your partners, and, and be empathetic. And to me those are the things that everything else will build from. And that'll build trust, that'll build a whole bunch of other things. And it will make it fun. And it can be fun, and it should be so I think I think those things are, are critically important. And with that will come success


Erin Looney  33:09

if you want to learn more about how design excellence is related to design-build success and hear more about the updated design excellence position statement – due out this fall – join Rob, Holly, Susan and Gia Mainiero in a DBIA Design-Build Delivers webinar October 4 at two o'clock. Follow DBIA on social media  @DBIAnational for more information. Happy to have our guests Rob, Holly and Susan and our listeners on the Design-Build Delivers podcast and happy to have support from USCAD Learn more at

A More Expansive, Flexible Position on Design Excellence
Bringing More Voices into Design
Design Excellence in Design-Build v. Design/Bid/Build
Situational Leadership, Intentionality in Design-Build
How the Whole-Team Approach Affects Design Excellence
Transforming Student Dining at One University: How the Whole-Team Approach Led to Creative Solutions
Interact Early and Interact Often
Bringing it All Together: What Does Design Excellence in Design-Build Really Look Like?