Five men formed the steering committee, chaired by Preston Haskell III, that created the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) in 1993. Those five are considered the institute’s Founding Fathers. From left, Don Warren, Jim Gray, Haskell, Rik Kunnath and Kraig Kreikemeier.

May 16, 2023

How Haskell’s Vision and Leadership Shaped the Formation of DBIA

In his autobiography, founder Preston Haskell vividly recalls how he and a few other pioneers formed design-build's governing body 30 years ago.


Editor’s note: In February 1993, Haskell founder Preston Haskell III and Jim Gray, founder of Gray, Inc., led a meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss forming an organization to provide advocacy for and education on the design-build project delivery. There, the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) was born. To commemorate the DBIA’s 30th anniversary, is proud to republish, in two parts, the chapter of Preston’s new limited-release book, “Building a Life Having Fun | Autobiography of Preston H. Haskell,” that is devoted to the DBIA’s creation. Today, Part 1 traces Haskell’s early adoption of design-build to the DBIA’s birth.

From the outset of my career, I have been almost single-minded about the advantages of combining design and construction in project delivery. The obsession has influenced my post-secondary education, my summer jobs, and my research and reading from a young age.

I was fortunate to be involved in a number of design-build projects during my three years at the S.S. Jacobs Company. Bob Jacobs was remarkably ahead of his time in offering and negotiating contracts in which he would assume total responsibility for the project but possessed no internal structure for doing so; thus, architecture and engineering were subcontracted to outside firms. I was fortunately involved in approximately six of these as superintendent, assistant project manager or project manager. In these projects, I had considerable authority and responsibility for preconstruction management and decision-making. In many cases, this meant coordinating the disciplines at a very detailed level.

In the early years of the Haskell Company, our first contracts – mainly multifamily residential -- were notionally for construction only, but in actuality, the clients looked to me for overall direction of both design and construction. This was what we today call construction management, which I enjoyed doing, but I wanted to move away from residential projects and also wanted to have full and formal responsibility for design and construction in a single contract.

My first opportunity to do both came in 1967, with an apparel manufacturing plant in Alabama. As I had no in-house design resources at the time, I engaged an outside architect, hired a part-time civil and structural engineer, and personally performed process, mechanical and electrical engineering and directed construction. The following year saw design and construction of a large Jacksonville complex for Jim Walters Papers, a manufacturing plant, office building and warehouse, using the same design resources.

By this time, we had a small but compelling number of completed design-build projects to sell from, and my long-held belief in the efficacy of having all of the disciplines under one roof was coming to fruition. But within our industry, many practicing architects – and to a much lesser degree engineers – viewed design-build as a threat to their traditional role as the prime professionals performing or overseeing all aspects of a project. Equally resistant were their national professional societies, such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC). These organizations published articles, refined their model contracts, and otherwise resisted efforts to recognize the growing presence of design-build delivery. Indeed, the Jacksonville chapter of the AIA would not permit membership of an architect who worked for a design-build firm – namely Haskell.

Promoting Acceptance of Design-Build

Thus motivated, I devoted much of my time during the 1970s and 1980s to promoting design-build delivery among owners, owner organizations and public agencies. In particular, I felt that public agencies represented an enormous market, but almost all of them were required by law to follow traditional design-bid-build procurement. Beginning in Florida, I successfully sought legislative and administrative reform that gave state agencies, cities, counties and school districts the option of design-build procurement.

I also found myself pressing the national societies of design professionals to take more flexible positions regarding design-build, with limited results. At one point, I appealed to AIA and ACEC to form “practice sections” for design-build advocacy and delivery. Their unwillingness to do so led me to the conclusion that the best, and indeed only, course of action would be to establish a separate national organization focused solely upon design-build procurement and delivery.

In addition to my advocacy efforts among private-sector owners, professional societies and government agencies, I was frequently in contact with construction firms that practiced, or sought to practice, design-build delivery. This gave me insights and understanding as to which of these firms were genuinely committed to design-build delivery and were prepared to commit resources to its expansion and acceptance.

In late 1992. Jim Gray, the head of Kentucky-based Gray Construction, which had a sizeable design-build practice, and several of his colleagues were visiting us in Jacksonville. During that visit, Jim and I met separately to discuss the formation of a national design-build institution. We readily agreed that we would pool our knowledge, efforts and contacts to do so.

The Birth of the DBIA

In February 1993, in Washington, D.C., Jim and I led a meeting of the principals of thirteen firms with significant interest in or practice of design-build to discuss the formation of such an organization. Virtually everyone agreed to move forward, and to do so we established a five-man steering committee to lead these efforts. I was asked to chair the committee, and we met approximately monthly to expand membership in the Washington thirteen, address finances, establish organizational structure and adopt a name – Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA).

Also in 1993, I read an article in the Journal of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) entitled “Design-Build in the Federal Sector,” written by Jeffery Beard, a senior staffer at ASCE. I made a point of meeting with Jeff during my next trip to Washington. He expressed great interest in the creation of a national design-build organization, and I kept him informed and involved as our efforts went forward. Somewhat presumptively, I asked him to come on board as executive director, which he enthusiastically accepted, provided that I guaranteed payment of his salary.

The steering committee’s efforts culminated in an October 1993 meeting of the nascent membership, approximately 25 strong, in a meeting room at the Chicago O’Hare Airport. I had asked two of my steering committee colleagues to consider taking the reins as chairman, but they insisted that I do so. We elected officers and a board of directors and affirmed the appointment of Jeff Beard as executive director.

Read Part 2

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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