What is the Difference Between an Architect and a Design-Build Firm?

June 20, 2024

When embarking on a construction project, whether a new home, a commercial building, or a renovation, you'll encounter various professionals whose roles and responsibilities overlap. Architects and design-build firms are two key players. Understanding their differences can significantly impact your project's outcome, budget, and overall experience.

The Role of an Architect

An architect is a licensed professional specializing in the art and science of building design. Architects are responsible for creating detailed blueprints and plans that ensure the aesthetic, functional, and structural integrity of a building. Here are some core aspects of an architect’s role:

Design Expertise

Architects bring a unique artistic vision to a project. They focus on creating beautiful and functional spaces, considering factors such as lighting, space utilization, and environmental impact.

Technical Proficiency

 Beyond aesthetics, architects ensure that designs comply with building codes, zoning laws, and safety regulations. They also consider structural requirements, material specifications, and integration of building systems.

Client Collaboration

Architects work closely with clients to understand their needs, preferences, and budget. They translate these requirements into detailed designs and plans.

Project Management

 During the construction phase, architects often act as project managers, overseeing the progress to ensure the construction aligns with the design. They may also coordinate with other professionals, such as engineers and contractors.

The Role of a Design-Build Firm

On the other hand, a design-build firm offers a comprehensive service that combines design and construction under one roof. This integrated approach can streamline the building process. Here are the critical components of a design-build firm's role:

Integrated Services

 Design-build firms handle everything from initial concept to final construction. This includes architectural design, engineering, construction, and often post-construction services.

Single Point of Contact

 Clients with a design-build firm have one primary contact throughout the project. This can simplify communication and reduce the risk of miscommunication.

Cost and Time Efficiency

 Design-build firms often promise faster project completion times and more accurate budgeting. Since design and construction services are coordinated in-house, potential delays and cost overruns caused by misalignment between designers and builders are minimized.

Collaborative Approach

The design-build model fosters collaboration among all parties involved in the project. This can lead to innovative solutions and a more cohesive final product.

Key Differences Between an Architect and a Design-Build Firm

Understanding the distinctions between an architect and a design-build firm can help you decide which is the best fit for your project. Here are some critical differences:

Scope of Services


 Focuses primarily on the design aspect of the project. They create detailed plans and may oversee the construction process but only sometimes handle construction directly.

Design-Build Firm

 Manages both design and construction. They provide a complete package, from concept to completion.

Project Management


Acts as an advisor and project manager, ensuring the construction adheres to the design. They coordinate with various contractors and consultants.   

Design-Build Firm

Oversees the entire project internally. The firm manages both design and construction teams, ensuring a unified approach.

Flexibility and Control


 It offers more flexibility in choosing contractors and subcontractors. By hiring specialists for different tasks, clients can have more control over individual aspects of the project.

Design-Build Firm

 It provides a streamlined process but may offer less flexibility in choosing individual team members since the firm typically uses its staff or preferred subcontractors.

Cost and Time Management


The separate design and construction phases can sometimes lead to longer timelines and potential budget increases due to changes or miscommunication between independent parties.

Design-Build Firm

Often more cost-effective and quicker. The integrated approach helps avoid delays and budget overruns by having a single entity responsible for the entire project.

Client Involvement


It requires more involvement from the client during the construction phase. Clients need to coordinate with multiple parties (architects, contractors, and possibly project managers).

Design-Build Firm

 Reduces the client’s need to manage different parties. The firm handles all aspects, providing a more hands-off experience for the client.

Which Should You Choose?

The decision between hiring an architect or a design-build firm depends on your project's specific needs, budget, and personal preferences.

Complexity and Customization

 If your project requires a high level of customization and you want a unique design, an architect might be the best choice. They can offer specialized expertise and creativity.

Simplicity and Efficiency

A design-build firm might be more suitable for straightforward projects where efficiency and cost are priorities. Their integrated approach can save time and money.

Ultimately, architects and design-build firms play crucial roles in the construction industry. By understanding their differences, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your project goals, ensuring a successful and satisfying building experience. At Form Projects, we pride ourselves on our commercial design build services. We offer full-service tenant improvement construction services across multiple industries, allowing businesses to thrive. Contact us today to get started on your company’s future. 

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