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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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