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The Design-Build Advantage

Design-build advantage

By Vice President Ben Nichols

Back in the 1970s, we were contemplating taking a chance on a new project delivery method. What we did not expect was how well design-build would align with our culture and values over the next 40 years. The design-build approach brings the designer and builder under a single agreement with the project owner. This collaborative approach builds an integrated team that works towards the same goals for the project’s success, and the relationship between all parties is established before the project design is complete.

While we worked on some projects that integrated design-build aspects, our first official design-build project was in 1979 called Primrose Place. Located off Caton Avenue in Baltimore, Primrose Place was a new highrise senior living community that would create 125 new apartments for our client, The Humphrey Company. Former Harkins CEO Dick Lombardo fondly looks back on this project and remembers how proud he was of how well Harkins was able to navigate the design-build process with no prior experience.

Design-build advantage quote

Since that first project over four decades ago, Harkins has expanded its use of design-build to the public sector and now specializes in providing design-build services to our government clientele. The six main benefits from the design-build approach include:

  • Single-point of responsibility: One entity drives the flow of work from inception all the way through completion to ensure that the building incorporates all functional requirements, is aesthetically pleasing, and is built on time and within budget.
  • Budget management: The onus is on the design-builder to maintain the budget from bid time through construction and protects the owner from cost changes resulting from mistakes in design.
  • Accelerated project completion: These projects can typically be completed in a shorter amount of time since the owner only has to select a design-builder instead of procuring a design team, completing the design, and then bidding out the completed design to general contractors.
  • Quality control: This method helps to remove uncertainty that may arise in material and construction specifications and allows the design-build team to pick what is best for the project in terms of functionality for the owner and constructability for the team.
  • Improved communication: Specific design and construction details are continuously being developed throughout the entire process, and the focus is on giving the owner a product that meets their prescriptive functional requirements.
  • Builds the best team: This approach enables us to identify the right team, negotiate with established trade partners, and bring key participants to the table early.

We are proud of our rich history in providing design-build services, and we look forward to continuing to utilize the design-build method to deliver exceptional buildings and best live out our company’s vision of being the premier long-term partner.

Harkins Expands with a New Charleston Office

Harkins Expands Charleston

Harkins has expanded to two offices in our Southeast region: one in Charlotte, NC, and now one in Charleston, SC with our JV Partner Property Environmental Management (PEM).

The new office is located in the Venture X Charleston – Garco Mill building off of O’Hear Avenue. This modern, coworking space offers a shared, flexible workspace with a community of like-minded business professionals. The building offers high exposed ceiling windows and an outdoor pavilion adjacent to a one-acre park. There are large lounge areas for hosting events of up to 100 people, along with hi-tech meeting rooms for collaborating with our client and design teams.

PEM-Harkins is currently working on the DOS Parking Structure project. This 431,000 sf design-build precast parking garage is made up of seven-stories with 1,326 spaces for the General Services Administration with Stantec.

Harkins’ First MLK Day of Service

Harkins employees kneeling down in front on a turf field behind a dog.

Harkins celebrated its first MLK Day on January 18th. The holiday was added to the Harkins calendar this year on behalf of the newly established Equity Affinity Group, to foster a culture of diversity company-wide.

Celebrated as “a day on, not a day off”, MLK Day has evolved into a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. Although the pandemic made it a challenge to physically volunteer, our employee-owners found various ways to take part and give back to charities or causes they felt strongly about. Many stayed home to make Valentine’s Day cards for nursing homes or collected items for local food banks, and some made it outdoors to help pick up trash in their neighborhood or clear a path for volunteer dog walkers at the Senior Dog Sanctuary in Severn, MD. We also had employees put together over 400 snack bags to provide students in AHC’s teen program with some brain food as they study during virtual learning.

We are so proud of our employees for going above and beyond to give back to the communities we build in. Thank you to everyone who contributed their time and energy on this special day!

Event Pictures

Getting to Know Jorge Otalora

New Corporate Safety Director Jorge Otalora

Please join us in welcoming Jorge Otalora to the Harkins family. Jorge started on November 9th as Harkins’ Corporate Safety Director. With nearly 20 years of industry experience, he is passionate about the education and implementation of safety.


I am an active member and officer for the American Society of Safety Professionals and the Hispanic Safety Professionals group. I am also currently the chair of ABC Virginia’s Safety Committee and a member of the ABC National STEP Committee.

I have held safety specific positions at prominent Mid-Atlantic general contractors such as Hoar Construction, KBR Building Group, and BE&K Construction Company.


Having the opportunity to foster safety values and coaching workers on safety practices and behaviors and knowing that this will reduce the likelihood of having injuries and accidents.


When I started in the construction industry almost 20 years ago, safety was just a word I heard in meetings and toolbox talks. As the years have passed, I have received more training and knowledge that has incorporated safety into every aspect of my life. I am consistently finding opportunities to bring awareness towards our everyday safety now.


In my free time, I enjoy playing soccer, volleyball, golf, and watching movies. I recently got into photography, on and off the jobsite. I take pictures and try my hand at digital retouching enhancement and restoration by using Photoshop and Lightroom.

Jorge Otalora with team

Harkins Breaks Ground at Aspen Heights University City

Aspen Heights University City apartment building rendering
Charlotte, NC

Harkins’ Southeast Division is excited to announce that they have broken ground on Aspen Heights University CityThis is our first project for Aspen Heights Partners and our 11th project designed by Kitchen & Associates.  

 University City will be new student housing development located 1.5 miles from UNC Charlotte: The University of North Carolina at Charlotte campusConveniently situated on a 24-acre hillside site adjacent to US Route 29 and within Interstate 485, the community will consist of four apartment buildings and 29 townhome buildings totaling 730 beds. The buildings will be clad in cultured stone with fiber cement lap siding and sloped shingle roofingThere will be 188 unitsmade up of a mix of two-, three-, four-, and five-bedroom units. This unit mix variety, as well as the 1:1 bed/bath ratio, will provide best-in-class housing options for UNC Charlotte students. 

There will be a maintenance building and a 12,000 sf clubhouse inclusive of a variety of shared amenity spaces, such as fitness center with a yoga studio, clubroom, Zen courtyard, a basketball court, sand volleyball court, and a large pool with a deck and grilling areas.  


Block quote Larry Aspen Heights University City

Aspen Heights University City townhome rendering

Rendering of the Aspen Heights University City townhomes.