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Architecture and Design: Design Development 101


For our next installment on understanding the role of an architect, we investigate the step known as design development. We recommend starting with the first installment to get the best understanding of the whole design process. This series aims to explain all the steps of the design process in order to understand how architects add value to projects.

Design Development – The Basics

Schematic design is all about getting ideas on paper that represent the goals outlined during programming and fit within the restraints defined through site planning. While schematic design focuses on broad goals and larger concepts, design development hones these ideas into realistic and tangible options. Think of design development as the point at which decisions are made and concepts are solidified into actions. During the course of schematic design, a client may be presented with a handful of viable options which each have various pros and cons. It is during the design development stage that the architect and client scrutinize their options and select the best one for further investigation. Once a schematic design has been identified as the best solution for the given problem, the project begins to take much clearer form. Design development is the part of the process which forces all decisions to be evaluated for their practicality and execution. This step requires extensive product research and logistics evaluation.

Design Development – Digging Deeper

During programming, goals were set out for the project and they were refined and evaluated during schematic design. In the design development stage, these goals begin to translate from a conceptual standard into tangible physical products and material choices. Materials for the exterior and interior are evaluated for their beauty, durability and price. Each component that will go into the building is considered in relation to the goals set forth during programming and to the parts it will join with. Design development often unearths a myriad of considerations that must be prioritized in order to make selections and keep the project on track. For example, an early programming goal may have been to use materials that are sustainable. The idea of sustainability encompasses a wide array of topics, from life-cycle impact to occupant health concerns. When sustainable products or finish materials are suggested for use in a project, the architect must weigh things like recycled content, product availability, durability, proximity to the job site and health impact. If the architect wants to specify a wood floor, it becomes a challenge to determine whether a locally sourced wood or an exotic wood is the best choice when considering sustainability. The locally sourced wood may reduce the carbon emissions from shipping, while the exotic species may grow more quickly than the local tree and replenish the supply faster. Likewise, the exotic species may be better for outdoor applications because it is naturally resistant to insects or weather while the local species is more cost effective. Design development is the step of the design process which forces the architect and the client to decide the final priority of their goals and refine their tastes to align with them. For many clients, the budget is the top priority, while for others, aesthetics will win hands down. It is up to the architect to research products and suggest suitable solutions that meet as many of the goals as possible. It is up to the client to remain flexible and understand that there will be a need for compromise for many decisions.

The design development step is also one in which logistics are carefully considered. As each product and material is researched and selected, thought is given to how it will impact the actual construction and implementation of the project. In an architectural project, each decision affects a host of other decisions and components. Increasing the width of a window can affect the material choice on the exterior as joints and alignments will now shift. Selecting an expensive interior wall finish may result in a lower budget for other materials later on. Designing a complicated detail where a window meets a wall can have an impact on the speed at which it will be installed. It is important that the design development stage is not rushed so that as much forethought can be given to the project as possible. Planning and forethought drive design development and has a great impact on the construction documents from which the project is built. For architects who practice a design-build business model, this is often the step at which the construction company will begin to get involved, offering preliminary cost estimates and advising on the refinement of the initial ideas. For some architects, they both design and build their projects. For others, they hire another company to construct their project but choose to involve them earlier in the process than a traditional design-bid-build method. A design-bid-build method waits to involve contractors until the entire drawing set is complete then asks several construction companies to estimate the cost of the project. It is easy to see that involving the construction team early can help shape the project to be efficient and cost effective.

Next month we will take a look at Construction Documents and its role in the design process. Always remember to ask lots of questions when working with a design professional. No question is out of bounds when your goal is success.

Brinn Miracle is an architectural intern, journalist and residential designer. She writes about architecture and design topics at her blog,

1 Comment

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    January 24, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    “Architecture and Design: Design Development 101 | Archability” ended up being a splendid post, can not help but wait to read much more of ur posts.
    Time to waste some time on the internet lol. Thanks for your effort ,Ludie

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