- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 02 Jan 2018
In very broad terms, contractors are the organisations appointed by clients to carry out construction works. However, this apparently simple relationship is complicated by the fact that contractors tend not to have all the trades required to construct a building in their direct employment.
 General contractor, prime contractor or main contractor
These are often appointed under a traditional contract to construct a development for which the design is complete.
Civil Engineering Procedure, 7th edition, published by the Institution of Civil Engineers defines a 'general contractor' as '...a contractor who undertakes the whole of the construction of a project, but usually in turn sub-letting parts of his work to specialist or trades contractors and others as sub-contractors'.
NRM2, RICS new rules of measurement, Detailed measurement for building work, defines the main contractor (or prime contractor) as '...the contractor responsible for the total construction and completion process of the building project. The term ‘prime contractor’ is often used in central civil government and the defence sector to mean ‘main contractor’.' (see also Prime contractor below).
The construction manager manages trade contractors, but the trade contracts themselves are placed with the client. This generally requires an experienced client. A construction manager is generally appointed early in the design process so that their experience can be used to improve the buildability and packaging of proposals as they develop.
A construction manager may also programme construction to begin before the design is completed. This requires careful planning of information release so that the construction process is not delayed by lack of production information.
For more information, see Construction manager.
For more information, see Management contractor.
Responsible for the completion of the design as well as construction.
The client enters into a long-term multi-project relationship with a contractor in which competition is introduced at the sub-contract level. Prime contracting is generally only appropriate for very large clients such as the Ministry of Defence which is continually commissioning new buildings and refurbishment work.
For more information, see Prime contract.
NB NRM2: Detailed measurement for building works suggest that; 'The term ‘prime contractor’ is often used in central civil government and the defence sector to mean ‘main contractor’', that is; 'the contractor responsible for the total construction and completion process of the building project.'
For more information, see Integrated supply team.
 Design, build and manage contractors
The contractor is appointed not only to design and build the works, but also to manage them during operation, sometimes providing operational services over and above building maintenance, such as supplying prison staff or sterilisation of hospital instruments.
For more information, see Principal contractor.
- Specialist contractors.
- Domestic sub-contractors.
- Nominated sub-contractors.
- Named sub-contractors.
- Trade contractors.
- Trades contractors.
- Works contractors.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Approved contractor.
- CIS contractors and CIS sub-contractors.
- Commercial manager.
- Construction Industry Scheme.
- Construction manager.
- Construction contract.
- Contractor vs supplier.
- Contractor's working schedule.
- Due diligence when selecting contractors or subcontractors.
- Management contractor.
- Principal contractor.
- Procurement route.
- Tender documents.
- Trade contractor.
- Trades contractor.
- Works contractor.
 External references
Featured articles and news
Whole-life costs consider all costs associated with the life of a building, from inception to disposal. Find out more here.
Reports emerge of injuries caused by Apple employees colliding with the campus' glazed walls.
The winners of NIC's ideas competition on transforming the Cambridge to Oxford arc discuss their concept.
Create new habitats and improve air quality and wellbeing.
New report provides 12 key actions which could close the structural talent gap in the construction industry.
These can be used to find out whether a proposed development is likely to be approved. Read more here.
Studying a built environment degree? Check out our helpful student resources section.
New BRE research paper explores how blockchain technology can benefit the built environment industry.
Timber is a natural carbon sink, but it must not end up in landfill at the end of its useful life.
BSRIA has collaborated with the Department of Health on research into air permeability in isolation rooms.