Assignment of design to constructors: A discussion and direction


Collaborative design typically occurs during production of the drawings and specifications.
Collaborative design typically occurs during production of the drawings and specifications.

Collaborative design is identified as design-assist within many specifications prepared by the design community. It is similar in execution to delegated design and assigned design with respect to the requirements for letters of commitment and compliance. It is also similar in concept to what some describe as design-build. However, that description associates closely with a contractual condition, and should not be used to describe the actual approach to design-assist used for a project.

Design-assist is a procurement method by which, prior to completion of design, a construction contract may be awarded on a best-value basis where a specialty constructor provides design assistance to the design professional of record using a registered professional or supporting certified/qualified contributor retained using a RFP process.

Design-assist can be delivered using the constructor as a procurement entity when working with construction-managed or design-build methods of contract delivery.

Pre-construction design-assist is a fee-for-service approach to design solutions obtainable through a pre-qualification or RFP process. It provides for competitive procurement, with the final design solution forming a part of the construction documentation as either a “single-sourced with no substitutions” specification where design, products, and installation are included as an RFP requirement, or as basis-of-design products allowing for substitutions when only design solutions are provided (with a clause stating the design-assist entity will review proposed substitutions for conformance to the design during construction).

Post-construction design-assist requires the specification to be written in the form of a RFP, with expected construction costs managed as a cash allowance. The perception is market pricing will apply competitive influences on the outcomes, but experience shows post-procurement design-assist requires additional changes to adjacent assemblies because of the design solutions not being fully integrated or co-ordinated with the project.

Building codes in North America allow registered professionals of record to defer or assign design solutions for building components to “others” through contractual language and specifications.
Building codes in North America allow registered professionals of record to defer or assign design solutions for building components to “others” through contractual language and specifications.

Design-assist is a collaborative process for developing acceptable shop drawings as a component of the construction documentation phase of the work. It follows a simple process: suggest → detail → refine (repeat until solution is derived) → implement → accept → construct.

The design-assist participant will be responsible for:

  • delegated- or assigned-design contributions;
  • submission of construction documentation (such as drawings and specifications);
  • mockups; and
  • samples.

Shop drawings form a part of the construction documentation when prepared during the pre-construction phase. When prepared during the post-construction phase, full shop drawings are co-ordinated with construction documentation.

When properly executed, design-assist reduces design risk to the registered professionals of record, the supporting registered professionals, and the constructor, while providing price assurance to the owner.

The RPR retains responsibility of design in the design-assist process, similarly as to when working with other subconsultants forming a part of the total design work required for the project.


The authors hope the concepts in this article may contribute to an understanding of the issues surrounding deferred design. Now that some roles and duties have been defined, the authors will embark on a deeper discussion of responsibilities, engineering, submittals, and contract administration as they relate to deferred design in the next issue of Construction Canada.


Legal Interpretations

  1. New York State Professional Engineering Association: Practice Guidelines for Professional Engineers, Guideline 4 – Design Delegation, 2017.
  2. Johnston, Allison and Hord Law: Delegation of Design to Contractor, 2013.
  3. Ptizer Snodgrass: Liability for Delegated-Design, Understanding and Avoiding Risks to Design Professionals, 2013.
  4. SAFRAN Law Offices: The Dangers of Design Delegation, 2015.


  1. Revay and Associates Ltd.: The Revay Report, The Pitfalls of Incomplete Contract Documents, Volume 29, Number 1, 2010.
  2. Structure Magazine: CASE Business Practices, The Good and the Bad with Delegated-Design, 2017.


Keith Robinson, RSW, FCSC, FCSI, has worked as a specifier since 1981, and is currently an associate at Dialog in Edmonton, Alta., responsible for research and development of technical specification content. His range of experience includes contract administration, building envelope detailing, and writing construction specifications. In addition to working on projects across Canada and in Egypt, Japan, and Costa Rica, Robinson also instructs courses for the University of Alberta, acts as an advisor to several construction associations and building trades committees, sits on several standards review committees for ASTM and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and is the Registrar for Construction Specifications Canada’s (CSC’s) Board of Directors. He can be reached at

Cameron Franchuk, P.Eng., is a structural engineer at Dialog, where he creates impactful spaces that build communities, but he wears many hats: engineer, educator, and mentor. Franchuk has a deep understanding of architectural concepts and building science. Integration of all disciplines is at the fore­front of his thinking throughout a project, from conception to completion. His work on low­-, medium­-, and high­-rise buildings, parkades, and pedways throughout Western Canada has helped shape communities. Franchuk can be reached at

Gerald Murnane is an associate, contract administration, with Dialog. He has been in the industry for 44 years both in Ireland and Canada. He joined Dialog in 1988. Murnane has an in-depth background in the design, specification, and management of complex construction projects. He is well respected in the industry for his senior construction administration expertise. Over the years he has built strong owner/contractor/designer team-based relationships and has a passion for resolving complicated issues as they arise. Murnane can be reached at

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