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Architectural Services Defined: Part 1

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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

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

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: 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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Choosing the Right Design Professional

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Choosing a design professional for your project can be a daunting task. There are plenty of articles which detail the practical steps of choosing a designer: review their portfolio, interview them, and ask for references to verify their skills. These are all great places to start, but these practical steps alone can’t help you decide between multiple well qualified prospects. By using the criteria below, you can evaluate each designer more thoroughly and choose the best match for your job.

Knowledge is essential to every job. Knowing the practical steps to carry a project from inception to completion is the key to success. To distinguish between several design professionals, first determine what type of knowledge is needed for your job:
  • Specialist knowledge: extremely technical or unusual projects will require a designer that has specialized knowledge and skill sets. If you have an obscure or unconventional project, discuss the specific skills and experience that each designer can offer to navigate through your complex job.
  • Book knowledge: an average project may just need the very basic ‘book knowledge’ to get the job done. If you care more about the project getting completed in a standardized way than having a unique or unusual solution, then you can opt for a designer who knows their basics well. There is no need to tap a designer that caters to eccentricity and opulence if all you require is something simple.
  • Experience knowledge: some clients are willing to give young designers a chance to prove themselves, while others prefer to stick with a designer who has encountered their situation many times over. If you tend to be risk averse, look for a designer who has many years of experience to ease your concerns. If, on the other hand, you enjoy the idea of working with the latest up and coming designer, then don’t be afraid to work with a relatively new professional. A potential perk of using a lesser known designer is that they are often willing to negotiate on prices while they establish a name for themselves. In the end, you as the client need to be comfortable with the designer’s level of experience.

Creative vision is a quality that some designers have, and others may lack. Once you have determined the type of knowledge necessary for your project, it will help guide you towards the professional you need: a highly creative individual or someone who is very familiar with the basics. For standard, typical projects, a designer with basic skills is perfect. If you desire a unique solution to a challenging design problem, be sure to invest in a professional that demonstrates a high level of creativity. Review the portfolio of each designer and ask them how they approach challenging obstacles during design and implementation. Learning about their design process will give insight to their creativity. Notice whether the designer arrives at a unique conclusion for each project challenge, or if many projects look alike in their design results.

Communication is essential in good relationships. Remember that when you hire a design professional, you are paying them for their services – not just a final product. You will likely form a long term relationship with this professional, so be sure that their communication skills won’t leave you frustrated during the course of the job. Frequency, availability and clarity are all necessities for good communication. A good designer will understand your needs and desires and be able to articulate them verbally or visually in a concise way. The best designer will understand not only your project, but you as a person, allowing them to anticipate unspoken needs. Remember, communication should be both efficient and effective.

Flexibility and firmness may seem contradictory, but they can actually work in synergy with one another. A certain level of trust is needed between a client and design professional, so that the designer is allowed to make decisions with the client’s best interest in mind. A good designer will be firm in their recommendations for products, methods and concepts. They are well equipped with the knowledge and creative vision to make informed and educated decisions on your behalf. Look for a designer that you can trust: one that is confident and firm in their convictions. While firmness is an admirable quality necessary to getting a job done, be sure that your prospective designer can balance their intuitions with client values. A good designer will listen respectfully to a client’s needs and wishes, and will carefully incorporate them into their solutions. The best designer will be able to maintain their concept and convictions while accommodating your requests. They’ll be flexible in allowing your vision to shine through their expertise. Look for a designer who can make your vision a reality with both firmness and flexibility.

As you decide which design professional to hire for your upcoming project, keep in mind that personality is only one part of the equation. While sharing a few jokes with the designer can be fun, your primary concern should be whether this person is capable of seeing your project through from beginning to end; you’re paying for a service and end result, not a friendship. Another possibility is hiring a team of professionals to implement your vision. Selecting two or three design professionals that each cater to specific project goals can be a way to utilize the best talents of each person simultaneously. Talk to your prospects about the idea of working within a larger team to accomplish your goals. At the end of the day, the designer you choose should be the person you are most confident in and comfortable with.

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