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Architecture and Design: Construction Documents 101

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In the next installment on understanding the role of an architect, we investigate what is included in the construction documents phase of work. 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.

Construction Documents – The Basics

The process of design is often difficult to dissect and explain because each step is dependent upon all other steps in order to ensure a successful project. Design is often thought of as a continuum rather than a series of individual steps. Design, therefore, cannot be considered in a vacuum, and many parts of the design process tend to blur together. Construction documents is part of the design process that is often lumped together with materials specifications and the bidding process for the sake of simple conversation. However, specifying materials, creating a set of construction ready drawings and getting these two items priced accurately are all unique components to design. The creation of a set of construction drawings is both highly detailed and highly important, as these drawings are considered a pivotal component in executing a construction contract and getting a project built. Construction documents in a traditional sense of the term refers to the set of drawings that an architect or draftsman creates which shows the final decisions made from the steps of programming, site design, schematic design, and design development. The drawings will show things like the floor plan, exterior and interior elevations, and plenty of details showing exactly how the building should be put together. Construction documents employ the use of both graphic illustrations and technically composed sentences or phrases to convey the intention for construction. It is this set of drawings that provides a contractor or builder a guide as to how to build the project at hand. It is also the set of documents used to create final project pricing and becomes the authority on what will or will not be included in the final built product.

Construction Documents – Digging Deeper

Creating an accurate set of construction documents is of the utmost importance, as the drawings will become the authority on all future matters that arise during construction. If there is ever a question as to what materials go where, the construction documents will be referenced. Architects, designers and draftsmen must ensure that every component in their building corresponds correctly to all other components to avoid potential conflict in the field. For example, if a client requests a change be made to the location of an exterior door, the architect must verify that all drawings have been updated to reflect this change. The floor plan would be adjusted to show the door’s new location, while both interior and exterior elevations would also be adjusted to show where the door moved to. The door’s new location may create other conflicts, such as interfering with adjacent windows or requiring alteration of the roof above to provide an exterior porch or covered entry. A seemingly ‘simple change’ in design leads to a host of necessary alterations in the construction documents, and it is very important for the architect to coordinate all design elements for accuracy. This is one reason why it is important for clients to understand that changes made after approving a design development scheme can result in a multitude of time-consuming alterations in the construction documents. It is much easier to make changes during the schematic and design development phases than in the middle or end of the construction document phase. It is important to discuss how changes made late in the process will affect the designer’s fee well before arriving at the situation.

Accuracy of construction documents is highly important to the project’s success because it allows for contractors and quantity estimators to quote fair and accurate prices. A set of construction documents that is drawn neatly, clearly and correctly with an appropriate amount of details (graphic or written) assures the estimators that their prices are accurate. Poorly drawn, incomplete, or ambiguous drawing sets will cause estimators to include extra padding in their prices since they may not be certain of the efforts necessary to construct a detail as drawn, or are not confident in the drawing’s accuracy. Inflated quotes are often the result of drawings which cannot be easily interpreted and planned from.  In addition to accurate pricing, a complete and accurate set of construction documents allows for faster and more efficient construction, which saves the client time and money and allows all parties to remain profitable. If a set of construction documents is errant, or ambiguous, valuable time must be spent answering questions and providing additional drawings to clarify the designer’s intent. While it is normal to have a few Requests for Information (“RFI” – contractors will ask questions when they are unclear about something in the documents), a host of RFIs would indicate that additional time should be spent in the creation of construction documents.

Next month we will take a look at Materials and Specifications 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, www.architangent.com/blog

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Architecture and Design: Design Development 101

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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, www.architangent.com/blog

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Architecture and Design: Schematic Design 101

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For our third installment on understanding the role of an architect, we investigate the step known as schematic design. You can start with the first installment to get the best understanding of the whole design process. This series aims to break down the design process into smaller steps in order to understand the role of an architect and how they add value to projects large and small.

Schematic Design – The Basics

After the initial programming and site design phases, the designer will compile all of the required and desired elements into a set of conceptual sketches. As the word ‘schematic’ would suggest, these conceptual sketches aim to show the relationship between parts in an informal and loose manner. The schematic drawings may include a number of different iterations or schemes, each having a unique feature or focus. For example, schematic design concepts for an office building may show one option that features windows oriented towards sweeping views while another concept depicts windows arranged for maximum solar efficiency. Each schematic sketch or drawing will respond in some way to the list of programmed spaces, the qualitative goals, and the site on which it will be located. During the schematic design phase, many ideas will be brought up, discussed, reviewed and refined. It may take several attempts before arriving at a particular concept which seems to best embody all of the goals and requirements. Throughout the schematic design phase, the needs and goals of the client will be re-evaluated in connection with how they will best develop into real spaces. Sometimes program requirements or goals are in conflict with what is spatially feasible, and may require some adjusting. It may even be necessary to re-draft the program after making a first pass at schematic design to ensure that expectations are clearly stated based on any new design criteria discovered in schematic design.

Schematic Designs on Trace Paper

Schematic Designs on Trace Paper

Schematic design is the stage that is often the most exciting for clients. They can begin to see sketches and quick physical models of their dreams coming to life. Sometimes, clients will be inspired by the designs presented to them and consider increasing their project scope. While some schematic designs may indicate a change in scope is necessary, it is always important to refer back to the original program to ensure the project stays within the guidelines of needs, goals and budget requirements. As the project is visualized through sketches, models and inspiration images, clients can quickly get an idea of how their building will start to look.

Schematic Design – Digging Deeper

Schematic designs may consist of approximated floor plans, simple elevations, quick 3D views and conceptual rough sections. Floor plans will be drawn to scale and may include suggested interior arrangements including furnishings or finish options. The drawings will indicate the general location of fenestrations (windows, doors) in addition to any big ideas the concept was based on. Accompanying drawings which help the client visualize the main features and really ‘sell’ the concept will be included as well. For example, if a driving concept for a house was to provide abundant natural light, the schematic design would clearly indicate the window placement and possibly include perspective drawings of the windows, doors and any amazing views. These drawings could be hand drawn or provided as a 3D ‘mass model’, either virtually or in person. Mass models are a good way to understand the relationship of volumes in the vertical plane, similar to the way that floor plans help us understand the relationship of rooms in the horizontal plane. Mass models consist of simple geometric forms that represent designated areas and spaces. A mass model that shows a two-storey living room may be constructed as a tall box with a triangle roof, which could indicate a lofted ceiling underneath.

The Axis - mass model - design by Brinn Miracle

The Axis – mass model – design by Brinn Miracle

Many times, architects and designers will meet with a client multiple times during this phase. The architect or designer will present several concepts to the client, and they will discuss the merits of each. Listing out the pros and cons of each concept will help inform the refinements necessary to reach a finalized schematic design that the eventual building is based on. After several ideas have been reviewed, revised and carefully considered, the best concept is selected for design development. For some, it may be easy to select a clear ‘winner’ among the schematic designs from which to develop the project. For others, it may take many weeks or months before arriving at a conclusion. Sometimes it can even be a combination, where an overall concept is selected early, but a portion of the building is revised and debated further. In this stage of the process, the architect often has a firm understanding of how a concept will come to fruition based on their ability to conceptualize and their past experience. They will guide the client towards the best solutions and steer them away from costly or awkward concepts. It is important that communication is open and clear throughout the schematic design phase so that there is a solid foundation to build from in the next phase.

Next month we will take a look at Design Development 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, www.architangent.com/blog

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Architecture and Design: Site Planning 101

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For our second installment on understanding the role of an architect, we investigate site planning and design. You can read the first installment that explains programming, the basis for designing architecture. As we break down the design process into smaller steps, you’ll have a better idea of what an architect can do for you and how they add value to projects large and small.

Site Planning and Design – The Basics

For any new project, a site must be selected before any real design work can get under way. Architecture is a unique blend of art and science, and each building is designed to respond to its immediate environment. A building in the mountains that receives lots of snow will look much different than a building designed for island living. Selecting an appropriate site for your program is very important to ensuring your goals are met. While an architect can work with almost any property presented to them, it is recommended to engage an architect prior to purchasing land on which to build. An architect will research the zoning (if applicable) and give you an idea of whether the property is sized appropriately to meet your programmatic needs. An architect will show you where required set back lines exist, which may influence what you are able to build on the property. It is especially important to consult with an architect if the project is within city limits, as additional restrictions may apply to the property. Tighter regulation may exist for aesthetics, parking, setbacks, or land use. Urban infill properties also pose design challenges, as they are usually much smaller and require expert design to make everything fit efficiently on the land. An architect is also helpful in identifying properties as contenders for rehabilitation and re-use for those wanting to give new life to an old structure.

After purchasing the property, architects review the survey in detail and begin to prepare site-specific bubble diagrams that respond to the program. During this phase of the design process, the architect or designer will consider many influences that may have an impact on the design. The slope of the land can greatly affect the cost of construction, and as a general rule, the steeper the slope, the more challenging the design and budget will be. Next, one must consider neighboring structures. The new design must be sensitive to surrounding neighbors and respond to their height, style and proximity. A skilled architect or designer will take into account the views one will have inside and out. Another aspect of site design is evaluating the vegetation, and deciding the most strategic placement of the building on the site to save existing plant life. Strategy may involve avoiding steep slopes, saving mature trees, or maximizing the enjoyment of a natural feature such as a stream or lake.

Site Planning and Design – Digging Deeper

While it may seem easy to select a piece of property and position a new building on it, there are details that impact the design further. For example, one may purchase property that has little to no slope, with the idea that it will be ‘easy to build on’. However, soil analysis must be done to ensure a proper foundation is designed. Dirt may rest at the surface, but under it may be rock, clay or a high water table. Each of these presents issues when it comes time to drill piers, set foundations or dig out a basement. In addition to soil type, architects must consider flood plains and potential drainage issues. Consideration must be given for how water moves across the property, and care must be taken to avoid sending additional run off to neighboring properties. For urban sites in low-lying areas, it is important to anticipate future development which may cause additional runoff to collect on the site.

In additional to immediate natural features or hazards, an architect must consider the type of structure in relation to common natural disasters. Buildings in seismic zones must have proper structural bracing to withstand earthquakes which may add to the cost of the project. Buildings in hurricane-prone areas must be built to withstand the forces of wind and driving rain. The climate also plays a role in deciding on material choices, which in turn impact the aesthetic of the building. Hot and humid climates will receive different material treatments than climates which are very cold or very dry. The architect or designer will evaluate the path of the sun across the site, as well as any prevailing winds or consistent breezes. For those interested in creating a sustainable design, taking advantage of a site’s natural features is the best way to achieve sustainability.

An aspect many new property owners neglect is access to utilities. While this is rarely a problem in urban settings, it can add cost to rural project that require extensive new infrastructure. Urban projects have their own difficulties, in that utilities can become obstacles that buildings must go around. Each utility has set back requirements that prevent structures from getting too close. Providing proper room around existing utilities is vital for future maintenance and construction safety.

Finally, architects will guide owners through the permitting and review processes. Too often, people try to save money by creating drawings too quickly and without proper review, only to be denied building permits later on. An experienced architect will know when to bring consultants on board and will have drawings reviewed by appropriate departments so that the final drawings will go through the permitting process efficiently. For challenging sites that have many restrictions or potential problems, it is always good to consult the local planning department early in the process.

Next month we will take a look at Schematic Design and how it relates to 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,www.architangent.com/blog

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Architecture and Design: Programming 101

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Architecture is a broad field that encompasses a wide variety of professionals. For those hiring a design professional, it can quickly feel overwhelming when presented with a list of available services. Having a basic understanding of what architects do and what services they can offer will help you engage in a meaningful dialogue and ask the right questions. Over the next few months, we’ll dive deeper into what architects do (and don’t do) and what each step of the design process entails so you’ll feel comfortable using the terminology and will be better prepared to discuss your next design project with a professional.

For architecture projects, the steps of the process can be broken down in several ways. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll take a look at the broad steps that lead from project inception to completion. The main phases of a project include:

  • Programming
  • Site Design
  • Schematic Design
  • Design Development
  • Construction Documents
  • Materials & Specifications
  • Bidding
  • Construction Administration

This series aims to simplify a process that is highly complicated, with each step integral to the others. Keeping that in mind, the order of the process may fluctuate or repeat depending on the project or specific needs of the client. A design professional with experience in architecture projects can help you understand which steps in the process are likely to play a larger role in your specific project. It is also good to note that code review studies, zoning/regulation studies and budgeting/feasibility studies are integral to the entire process and will occur throughout the beginning of the project timeline.

Programming – The Basics

The first step in design is referred to as programming. Programming entails discovering the client’s needs and goals and getting them down on paper in either written or graphic format (or both). For example, a client may need a new home designed to accommodate their growing family. An architect or designer would discuss the needs the client has in terms of number of rooms and size of rooms from a quantitative perspective. They would also ask questions from a more qualitative perspective to understand how the client envisions these rooms. The qualitative discussion might center on issues of natural light, views to the outdoors, noise concerns, or proximity to other rooms in the house. The balance of quantitative and qualitative components allows the architect or designer to understand the client’s needs in terms of hard numbers (square feet) and emotional expectations for how the space will feel and function

During programming, it is important to have an open, honest conversation with your architect or designer about budget, space requirements and overall expectations. Often, clients will discover that some of their desires or needs are in direct conflict with their budget or other goals. Talking about the types of materials you want to see in the design, the size of the house, and the way your current home meets or fails to meet needs will give insight as to how your project will come together.

Programming – Digging Deeper

On the surface it seems easy to come up with a list of rooms and general sizes required for each. However, effective programming will also seek the reasons behind each requirement so that if two requirements are in conflict with one another, the architect or designer can make the best decision to achieve the intended outcome. There is often a need to ‘translate’ perceived needs into actual needs. As an example, a client requesting a new house may say they need a walk-in pantry. They may also say that they need a 20’x20′ bedroom. During the programming process, it is important to ask ‘why?’ for each need or goal. While the client may request a walk-in pantry, what they actually need is a pantry that is easily accessible. An easily accessible pantry does not always translate into a separate room with a door. In fact, a designer who understands the clients true needs will be able to come up with a better design than if they are limited by perceived needs that are narrowly defined. Likewise, a 20’x20′ bedroom may be a ‘need’ simply because the client wants to accommodate a sizable collection of furniture in the room. Talking about how the furniture is used, when it is accessed and the preferences for where it is located can free the designer to reduce the size of the bedroom and accommodate the furniture in other places. These freedoms will provide the designer with more opportunity to create a space that is not only beautiful, but will meet the true needs of the client. It is often helpful to walk through the client’s existing space (whether home, office or another building) and observe how the space is actually used – making note of successes and opportunities for improvement. An exercise known as “a day in the life” is often helpful, as it goes through the paces of a typical day to discover the underlying needs and goals of the client. It is important to be honest about whether needs are true requirements or if they are preferences. The difference can determine whether a designer is allowed the freedom to create an efficient and effective design solution.

A large part of programming investigates the proximity of spaces while considering whether their proximity will meet the goals laid out for each space. For example, a client may request that their kitchen be close to the dining room and that both spaces have views to the outdoors. For the architect or designer, this means the spaces could be immediately adjacent and share a single, common view to the outside. Alternatively, these same spaces could be visually separated from one another and each have their own view to the outdoors. As with any other goal or need laid out during programming, it is important to understand the ‘why’ behind each decision. Is it important the kitchen has windows so that herbs are easily accessed, or are the views mainly for the enjoyment of the chef? A single question such as this will help determine where the windows are placed. For proximity studies, it is important to recognize the difference between adjacency and absolute positioning. It is wise to approach the design in terms of adjacency, which stipulates relationship of spaces with terms such as “near”, or “close to”. Absolute positioning severely limits the design solutions with terms of “must be to the right” or “in the center”. While some elements can be designated in absolutes, it is rare to create a successful design with more than a few absolute requirements. Absolute space positioning can result in budget concerns, inefficient spaces and failure to meet multiple goals. This is why it is important to think critically and analytically about why spaces will be located next to one another.

Finally, effective programming will not only examine the current needs of the client, but will seek to anticipate and prepare for future needs. A talented professional will recognize areas that may pose a problem for the execution of goals and will recommend solutions to accommodate future needs. This facet of programming can often be difficult, as it is the most abstract and unknown. Balancing unknowns with set budgets or property locations can be a true challenge. Often, a solution to future needs can be achieved through flexible spaces (spaces that serve more than a single purpose) and allowing room on the site for expansion.

Bubble Diagram

Bubble Diagram

A tool that architects and designers use for representing programs visually is a bubble diagram. A bubble diagram represents spaces with simple circles or squares that are sized relative to one another. Lines can connect the spaces to represent corridors or hallways, and the shapes can be grouped together quickly in multiple arrangements to see which layouts achieve the needs and goals of the client. In addition to bubble diagrams, lists of spaces with quantitative and qualitative notes will be provided as a basis for the design solution and as a metric for success.

Bubble Diagram

Bubble Diagram

Next month we will take a look at Site Design and how it relates to 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,www.architangent.com/blog

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Architecture: Product or Service?

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Before you engage an architect or designer for a new project, think about what you expect to get out hiring a design professional. Beyond understanding how to choose the right design professional, there needs to be clarity in what an architect or designer does. While it is easy to simplify their job into buzz words like ‘plans’ or ‘construction drawings’, design professionals are unique in that they blend art and science together to create a finished product. One of the biggest misconceptions and points of contention within a project is whether architects provide products or services. By understanding the process a designer goes through, you’ll have a better understanding of when to hire a designer and what to expect from your interactions.

Consumers often incorrectly assume that architects merely provide ‘blue prints’ or a set of finished drawings. The problem with this assumption is that it leads consumers to believe that all drawing sets can be completed quickly and easily. There is also an assumption that drawings can be mass produced and changes will be minor because it will only involve ‘simple tweaks’ of an existing drawing. Let’s take a look at how a set of construction drawings are made to understand why these misconceptions lead to arguments over fees, misunderstandings on scope of work, and more.

To create a set of construction drawings, an architect or designer must research, study, and analyze a myriad of contextual criteria. These criteria include everything from site constraints like building set back lines and soil studies to ensure a proper foundation, to building code compliance and historic preservation rules and regulations. These examples usually require the architect or designer to meet with other professionals across many disciplines, costing the designer time and effort just to ensure that your project is even feasible to start with. After the designer has concluded from their due diligence study that your proposed building and plot of land are compatible, they can then proceed to the schematic and design development stages of the process.

Schematic design requires the architect or designer to be regularly engaged with the client as they work out a list of goals, needs and desires. While it sounds easy enough to compile a ‘wish list’, the designer carries the burden of interpreting phrases such as “I like rustic” into a spatial response that not only embodies a particular aesthetic or style, but also takes into account practical considerations like budget and material durability. Each ‘wish list’ item must be translated from the client’s thoughts (however poor or articulate) into a practical and aesthetically pleasing design solution. This requires the designer to evaluate not only the client’s wish list, but also the site’s context, the client’s deeper values, and even his or her own design philosophy. Good design will appear easy and simple – as if anyone could replicate it – but it was only accomplished through complex and thorough thought processes. Adding to the complexity of the project is the wild card: creativity.

Creativity cannot be forced, and is a process. The creative process that will eventually lead to a design conclusion and a final product (i.e. a set of construction documents and eventually a finished building) may take any length of time. This uncertainty often sets consumers on edge because most people don’t like the unknown, especially when it relates to money. This is where good communication is essential, so that both client and designer are comfortable and have a mutual understanding of the project goals and how they will be accomplished. Establishing trust early on is vital to the success of the project, so that if there is a case where more time is needed to arrive at the best design solution, the client is willing to rely on the designer’s best judgement. In the end, that trust will allow the client to receive a beautiful product and will allow them both to enjoy the service that is being provided. The level of involvement on the designer’s part to ensure a quality product explains why good designers refuse to ‘draw a set of plans’ based on someone else’s preparations. A good designer understands that not only will their reputation be staked on the project, but also their liability. The best designers will only accept work which includes their service of overseeing a project to ensure the highest level of quality.

This leads to the second misconception about architects and designers: architects provide only a service. Assuming architects exist to cater to your every desire creates a conflict of interest. The architect was hired to create the best design possible, but they cannot do that if the client prevents them from exercising their expertise and talent. The architect or designer hired for a project is there to serve – as a consultant. Too often, clients assume that the design professional is just there to take orders or follow instructions. However, this under utilizes the designer, as their expertise is wasted. Because good design appears effortless and obvious, many clients assume that it is easy; this fallacy of logic leads some consumers to think they are able to design anything for themselves and only hire an architect to perform a ‘drafting service’ of their ideas. While many clients have great ideas that can be incorporated into the project, few are experts. For this reason, it is best to rely on the expert you’ve hired for your project: the design professional.

As an example, architects must earn accredited degrees, complete a minimum number of professional work hours in multiple project types and complete a series of rigorous exams before earning their license to practice as an architect. These credentials, along with aptitude for design and practical experience qualify an architect to make decisions for your project. Clients who undermine their architect because ‘they know better’ are losing value. Imagine it this way: would you hire a top notch lawyer to represent you in court, then tell him to step aside as you argued your own case? It seems like a waste, and a foolish decision. It is highly recommended that you take the time to carefully select the right design professional for your project so that when they rely on their expertise and credentials to make decisions, you can rely on them as a professional in charge of your project.

Another point of contention is that clients often demand unrealistic deadlines. This stems from a lack of understanding of how the post-conceptual process works. A seemingly simple change such as “move the light over three feet” has cascading effects which are unseen by the client. A change such as moving a light fixture involves revising not only the drawing that shows the light fixture, but also how that light fixture is controlled by switches, whether the change will affect other ceiling components like the structure or air ducts, and whether the change requires additional materials that may not be available in time for construction. Not only this, but every drawing which referenced the light fixture must be updated to reflect the change. While some programs can automatically adjust several drawings at once, not all firms use these types of software, nor does it preclude human error or coordination errors. Time must still be allotted to careful coordination to ensure that all changes are carried through all affected portions of the project. Don’t be shocked when a ‘simple’ change costs a lot more than you expected. A good designer will explain the ramifications of each design decision and walk you through expectations as part of the service they provide.

In the end, architects and designers provide both a product and a service. It is a balance that requires excellent communication, mutual understanding and a common goal: to ensure the project has value and integrity.

 

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Value: What’s your project worth?

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A concept that is both prevalent and relevant, especially due to the current economic conditions, is the idea of value. The concept of value is applicable to how we spend our money, and the perceived worth of what we receive in return. It is especially important when it comes time to decide on whether to pursue a design project. Design is very subjective, so it makes it quite difficult to determine the value of a design project. Even if a project is deemed necessary and makes good economic sense, how does one make a value judgement concerning the most detailed decisions? Something as (seemingly) insignificant as choosing between a fluorescent light bulb and an LED bulb can all be traced back to the initial value proposition: is this product, service, event, decision, etc. valuable?

We all want to get the most bang for our buck, and stretch our money as far as it will go. Recently, Todd Vendituoli wrote a post concerning the way houses have often been treated solely as financial assets instead of homes for nurturing our lives. This often leads to an over-simplification of how we evaluate a design project’s value. In order to properly analyze a decision to build, remodel, hire a designer or spend the extra money for granite instead of laminate, one must fully understand the concept of value.

Value has many facets, but two important concepts are Return on Investment (ROI) and Utility. To explain these concepts, I’ve asked my husband, David, to detail them in layman’s terms. David received his bachelors degrees in economics and finance and his masters of science in finance. He currently works as a portfolio manager assistant. I thought he’d be better qualified than me to explain these concepts.

Return on Investment (ROI) is a simple concept that can be used to gauge an investment.  If I was to spend $20,000 renovating my kitchen, and an appraiser valued the work at $40,000, my ROI would be 100%.  This is pretty simple; however, concepts begin to get muddy when you introduce “utility”.  At the risk of oversimplifying, utility is economic jargon for the value of happiness.  ROI fails to capture this aspect of economic value that can be critical when it comes to something as personal and every day as your home.

Let us analyze two situations.  In both of these scenarios you will be renovating your home.  The goal is to realize some ROI on the eventual sale of your house.  The operative word is “eventual” since you will be living with these updates for some time.  For these renovations, let us say that you will spend $20,000.  Scenario A, your goal is to maximize your ROI at 100% ($40,000 of end value).  To do this, you’ll need to create the most appealing renovation to the general populous: granite counters, builder beige walls, white trim, hardwood floors, etc.  Scenario B, your goal is to balance ROI and your tastes with ROI at 80% ($36,000 of end value): Quartz countertops, plush carpets, modern finishes.  At first glance, one may choose Scenario A.  But, we have failed to capture the utility generated by the renovations from the homeowner’s perspective, i.e. the enjoyment you will get out of selecting finishes you love compared to finishes you ‘settle for’ for the sake of broad resale appeal. Let us say that scenario A creates utility equivalent of $5,000, while scenario B – which better suites your tastes – generates $15,000 in utility. Essentially, scenario B makes you three times happier than scenario A.  At this point, it makes more sense economically to go with the personalized renovation using finishes you love. It creates a total value of $51,000 (Compared to the $45,000 alternative).  Value is still being generated, even though it isn’t money in your pocket.

These concepts may seem intuitive and even overly simplistic.  It makes sense that one would want to be happy with a renovation that they must live in.  However, it’s far too easy to bypass the value of one’s enjoyment since it’s not “hard cash”.  You must ask yourself though, what’s the point of the hard cash?  Most likely, the end goal is to spend it on something that makes you happy (vacations, dream home, philanthropy).  Few people have the goal to die with a lot of cash and never spend it.  By maximizing our utility AND ROI, we maximize our utility and overall quality of life.

Now that we see the difference between ROI and Utility, we can read between the lines and understand that everyone simply wants value added to their projects. Whether they are building an office tower, designing a master-planned community, or remodeling an outdated kitchen, everyone wants their project to have value – from the overall form to the last nut and bolt. There are many ways to add value to a project that may not always be apparent.

Hire a Design Professional
Hiring an architect or residential designer can add value to your home in multiple ways. Not only are architects trained to evaluate multiple value propositions simultaneously throughout the design process, but the end result can be appraised at a higher dollar amount and often sell faster than comparable structures. In addition to monetary gain and a shorter sales timeline, a custom designed home will bring a higher utility since it will be exactly what you need and want. Imagine that all of the frustrating aspects of your current home were adjusted to your tastes – isn’t that something that is valuable? Hiring a design professional adds many facets of value to your project. To find out how to choose the right designer, read this recent article.

Add a Unique Feature
Another way to add value is by incorporating a unique feature in a standard design. Green features and systems, special design elements, unusual finishes, or amazing vistas can all add value to a project. All homes will have the basics: gathering space, cooking and eating space, and sleeping space; however, adding unique spaces to a home through renovation can be a way to add value. Spaces like sun rooms, landscaped outdoor areas, or flexible multi-purpose spaces can be the feature that sets your home apart from the rest. Whatever you add, be sure that it is appropriate and that it maintains the integrity of the overall design.

Strive for Quality
By using only the best materials, products, and professionals for your job, you can ensure a higher value for your project. Everyone knows cheap materials won’t bring a premium when it comes time to sell, and may even cost more money in the long run due to maintenance or poor installation issues. It is always important to balance high quality with monetary cost while being mindful of whether the selections contribute to the project’s integrity. For example, while hardwood floors may be a premium product, adding them to a renovation in a neighborhood where linoleum and carpet are more common could result in less value added than if an engineered or laminate floor was selected.

Create Multi-Purpose Spaces
Another way to create value in a project is to designate multiple activities for a single space. By adding an element of flexibility, you can create a wider market appeal. Think of it as diversifying an asset by exposing it to multiple purposes. If you provide a space that can double as both an office and guest room, future buyers will have options as to how they use the space. A dual functioning room can also save you future time, effort and money when your own needs and desires change. By allowing a design to serve multiple purposes, you are embedding flexibility into your future, and that can equate to savings. Another cost saving measure can be found by decorating with furnishings rather than semi-permanent finishes. Decorating your home with colorful paintings, textiles and objects is much easier and cheaper to change than floors, cabinets or walls. Avoiding costly renovations in the future definitely adds value to a project.

Remember that while any one of these suggestions can add value, they should not be considered in isolation. The best materials can be poorly installed, or used in an illogical design that detracts from a project’s value. It is always important to consider each of these elements and how they relate to one another. For this reason, your project will get the most value from hiring a design professional who will be able to recognize and address these factors from start to finish. Consider bringing on a design professional for consultation on your next project to see how they can add value to your design.

 

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Creating from Chaos: Turning your Design Project into Reality

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Most people who visit the Archability site and read the blog have at least one design project they would like to implement either now or in the future. The type of project may include a newly landscaped backyard with defined outdoor rooms. For some, it might be a kitchen or bathroom remodel project that includes simple updates or complete gutting. Others may have the desire to add another room or floor to an existing house. Still others may have dreams of designing and building a custom home on a new piece of property.

Whatever the design project may include, each one has a unique set of challenges and obstacles that must be addressed and overcome to see the project through to fruition. These challenges can often become overwhelming for an untrained layman, and may frustrate even the most determined homeowner to the point of giving up on the dream entirely. Whether a lack of vision prevents progress or unforeseen obstacles spring up during the course of implementation, a project is at risk of failure without the proper tools and team in place. To ensure your next project becomes a reality, enlist the assistance of a trained and educated design professional.

Often times when a project is intimidating, it is a sure sign that you’re in over your head. This is an indication to consult a trained design professional who can guide you through the details of your project. Whether the designer serves as an occasional advisor, or manages the project from start to finish, they can ease any insecurity you may have. A talented designer can view your project from a fresh perspective and provide educated solutions that are both creative and functional. Most designers are able to create a design response once thought impossible due to their expert knowledge and experience. These design professionals can find order within chaos and turn your lemons into lemonade:

Landscape architects are experts in creating inviting outdoor spaces. Through the proper use of scale, proportion and appropriate plant species selection, they can turn a patch of dirt into an oasis. If your backyard is looking bleak, sign on with a landscape architect and watch your dull dirt get transformed into your perfect paradise.

Interior Designers can refresh an outdated space and make it feel new with ease. They can reinvent and repurpose existing objects so that budgets are met and waste is done away with. If your home’s interiors are stuck in the last millennium, bring in an interior designer to give your home a make-over.

Architects, remodelers and building designers can evaluate current use patterns and habits and tweak them to improve efficiency of space. Even a small spatial change can translate into a huge impact on the way we live our lives. If you feel that your spaces just aren’t working well, sit down with one of these professionals to evaluate how some changes will improve functionality.

Architects and building designers can create a custom house design tailored to the way you live. By balancing current habits with needs and wishes, they can produce a creative and beautiful solution that meets both expectations and desires. If your dream is to build your own home, consult with an architect or residential designer to discuss how your dream can become a reality.

Professionals across all these disciplines view design problems and challenges as a framework for their solution. While it may appear to be a daunting task or impossible obstacle to the average person, a designer thrives on creating within limitations. Hiring a design professional to tackle your next project will open up a world of possibilities. Larger projects outside the scope of residential design may enlist the services of design professionals across multiple disciplines. For a guide on choosing the right design professional for your job, be sure to read our previous article detailing the process.

 

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Tips for Effective Bath Design

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There are so many ways we can shape and change our space to make it exactly what it is we want it to be. More and more, this idea has been expanded beyond the attention paid to our living rooms to other public spaces—and particularly to bath design. The bathroom is an interesting space, indeed. Though it is certainly a public room of the house, it is also one of the most intimate spaces in the home. Some our most mundane tasks are performed in the bathroom, and also some of our most personal. Between all of these tasks, too, most of us spend a considerable amount of time here. Interior designers all over will tell you that consumers are being much more particular about bath design—and for good reason. With the millions of options and the incredible customizability of fixtures, building materials, appliances, and décor; why not? This is one room where personal preference makes all the difference.

Bath design, like other areas of building design, requires strict attention to detail and seemingly millions of considerations. With the help of the right interior designer or architect, however, it can lead to incredible results… and the bathroom of your dreams. Here are some tips for creating your own piece of paradise in your home.

  1. Think outside the box. The great thing about current trends in bath design is that they embrace big and bold. Don’t be afraid to really showcase your personality in this space. Really take your own needs and preferences into consideration. Not a bath person? Think rain showerhead. Put on your makeup in the bathroom? Perhaps having a small vanity would be beneficial.
  2. Think Zen. Remodeling or designing your bathroom is a great opportunity to really embrace serenity in one area of your home. Choosing a motif that is calming and relaxing will not only give new life to your space, but provide you with emotional benefits as well. Don’t forget to tap into every sense when it comes to design for relaxation—aromatherapy along with calmed colors will heighten the experience.
  3. Think before you leap. Whereas we are all excited to get started on our projects and jump in head first, preparation really is the key to effective bath design. Consulting with interior designers is highly recommended, particularly in regards to appliance and fixture layout. A little oops can turn into a very big (and expensive) fix-up. Create a solid plan that addresses not only décor, but the practical and ergonomic makeup of the space.

Whether you want your bathroom to look like a Zen garden or a tropical paradise; whether you are renovating your bathroom to increase your property value for resale, or just want to make your home feel just a little bit more so, great bath design opens your possibilities and allows you to customize your space in a way that only great interior designers can. Designers and architects are here to help us realize our perfect space—so consult one on your next bath design project and make it yours.

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Photo by Kate Ter Haar

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The Spaceship that Jobs Built

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Skip ahead about 2,000 years and think of the ruins of buildings that humans (or otherwise) might experience — much like travelers see the Acropolis today.

Apple’s newly proposed headquarters might spark speculation as to its purpose. A perfect circle, standing four stories tall, that housed 12,000 workers — and bucked convention by burying the parking lots and doubled the trees. Oasis? Maybe a temple? A killer shopping mall?

Or maybe a landed spaceship, as Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, described it to the Cupertino City Council on Tuesday night.

Boasting the world’s largest piece of architectural glass, the circular structure would be built on some former Hewlett-Packard property that Jobs’ team bought.

As Steve puts it:

It’s a pretty amazing building. It’s a little like a spaceship landed. It’s got this gorgeous courtyard in the middle… It’s a circle. It’s curved all the way around. If you build things, this is not the cheapest way to build something. There is not a straight piece of glass in this building. It’s all curved. We’ve used our experience making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use. And, we want to make the glass specifically for this building here. We can make it curve all the way around the building… It’s pretty cool.

The entire area to be renovated is about 150 acres, according to Jobs. The campus design would actually increase green space and landscaping by about 350 percent more than at present. Campus parking goes underground to help increase the tree count from 3,700 to 6,000. The senior arborist at Stanford is overseeing that aspect of the project.

However this turns out for Apple’s new iCampus (you heard it here first!) or the City Cupertino, it is refreshing to see architecture and sustainable design being trumpeted and taken seriously by a huge corporation.

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