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Architectural Services Defined: Part 1


If you’re new to Archability, the breadth of services available to clients can be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the field of architecture. To help clients understand the variety of services and select the best talent for their job, the next series of articles will give an overview of each service type available through Archability. Architectural services offered by contractors include: CAD, Interior Design, Specifications, Design, Landscape, Estimating, Rendering, Planning, Structural, Modeling, Urband Design, M.E.P., Animation, Photography, Web Services, Graphics, Environmental, and more.


CAD stands for Computer Aided Design, and typically consists of 2D line work (drafting) that represents a real object. Not too long ago, most technical drawings were made by hand using straight edges and pencils. Now, we have the technology which allows us to complete the same tasks in software such as AutoCAD and other similar programs. The basic premise of CAD work is that there is a need for precise, accurate line drawings that represent a real object. The drawings could represent mechanical parts, portions of a building, or anything else. Drawings are created using layers, which can control visibility, line thickness when printed and other parameters the user chooses. Common uses of CAD include floor plans, diagrams and other images which require a detailed scaled representation. For very complex projects, BIM software (Building Information Management) may be utilized. (BIM will be discussed further in Modeling). In addition to 2D work, CAD programs are also capable of completing 3D models that correspond to their 2D counterparts. Some software is better suited to this task than others, but most CAD 2D line work can be exported for use in 3D specific software if the need arises.

If you are looking for building plans, technical diagrams, or accurate detail drawings, CAD services may be right for you.

Interior Design

Interior Design focuses on space planning, furnishings and finishes. Interior design aims to ensure optimum use of space by creating efficient interior partition layouts, comfortable furniture arrangements and selecting surface finishes that will contribute to a user’s well being. Interior design takes into account the end user first and foremost, as that is who the space is designed for. The practice centers around thorough research of products and materials proposed for the space to achieve a blend of beauty, function, and sustainability. Interior designers utilize tools like CAD to create drawings of spaces and may employ the use of 3D models or physical material samples and hand sketches to convey the aesthetics they are designing. Interior designers will work closely with the client and rely on them for information on anticipated uses, number of users, and other programmatic elements. They will suggest innovative solutions to difficult problems and work to achieve the right balance for the goals at hand.

If you are looking for space planning, furniture or finish selection, interior design services may be right for you.


Specifications gets down to the details, and complies the information on products and materials in a highly organized format. In every building project there will be a multitude of products, materials and assemblies that must be written down for purchase and installation. A specifier will compile all of the information needed to properly call out these items for a job, including their manufacturer information, finish options, and proper shipping and storage requirements. Many manufacturers supply this information, and specifiers can research the products needed and group them according to industry standards for easy reference. Compiling these information sheets into a single project binder will assist the contractor in bidding the job and provide a record of all materials included in the building. Specifications is quite technical in nature and requires a keen eye for detail to ensure the correct item is represented and works well with other specified components.

If you are looking for a compilation of items to be used in an upcoming project or need help researching and categorizing product information, specifications services may be right for you.

Join us next month as we discover the other services offered by contractors through Archability. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read all about the process and start looking for jobs or posting your projects for bids.

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: Construction Documents 101


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


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


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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Value: What’s your project worth?


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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Tips for Effective Bath Design


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.


Photo by Kate Ter Haar

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