Designing a building isn’t mysterious. Actually, it’s very straightforward. The key, like most things in life, is planning, before the “designing” even starts.
Before calling in the architect the smart clients should do a lot of soul searching to identify exactly what the requirements will be. Couples need to get on the same page. People have to see eye-to-eye in order to create something as significant and expensive as a new home or new digs for the family business.
When the individual or couple is prepared and ready to speak with one voice, it’s time to sit down with the architect and discuss options. In our office, at this juncture, we thoroughly investigate of all the desires and functional needs, even before we start thinking about any particular design.
We can call this initial process “programming.” Once we have the “program”, that is the concise statement (in English, rather than with sketches) of what the building will physically be, what special attributes and must have, what functions it must accommodate, only then we can seriously start thinking about drawing a design.
Next, we lay a plan of the lot or a floor plan of the existing building to be remodeled on the dining room table of the client, together with a laptop on which we’ve created a 3-D model of the existing building or conditions. We then put tracing paper over the plan and together with the client, create the new design. The genesis of our designs always comes from our clients; they are our most important design partners. They’re going to live in the building so they need to fully understand what they’ll be getting. We’ve learned many lessons over the years from our customers.
On the laptop, while we’re playing around with our colored pencils, our computer specialist will be inputting the design ideas we’re coming up with into the 3-D model so the virtual building will be evolving on screen as we go.
When we’ve had about all we can stand in this initial design meeting, usually after a few hours, we take a break for a few days and let it all ruminate.
We then meet again and sort out whatever we’ve started. Our average house project usually requires three, or maybe more of these design sessions for us to really get a good plan going. By then, all of the materials, furniture, appliances, fixtures, everything, will be decided upon.
This Is Starting to Get Serious
When our client is completely happy with the design, we bring in our structural engineer to verify that what we’ve created isn’t too crazy. If it works structurally, we embark on the technical drawings and specifications so the building can be permitted and built.
One of the main decisions needs to be made at this point, the selection of a contractor to build the project. A good general contractor is the key to a successful project, just as much as a good architect is the key to a good design. We know the contractors in the locations we work, so very often we can make suggestions to our clients as to whom to hire.
While the project is being checked in the building and planning departments, the contractor can be obtaining bids from his or her subcontractors. By the time the plans are ready to go and the building department people are happy, the contractor should have a good head start on his or her planning and scheduling of labor and materials.
At this point, the biggest challenge for the client is to have a thick skin and hopefully some contingency money set aside, because surprises always happen during construction. Very often potential changes to the plans must occur because of unforeseen conditions or situations with an existing building.
Assumptions that were made during the design process about an existing building’s structural integrity for instance might be challenged as that building is
taken apart and its frame laid bare. Often times, foundations and other structural members, built years earlier might not be adequate for the new building requirements. Hopefully, there won’t be too much of this. But we always explain to our customers that this kind of uncertainty is just part of this adventure they’re on.
Soon, the dust will settle and interior finishes will be installed and finalized and our customers seem always then to have big smiles. The day will come when all of the furniture will be moved in and the client will be able to spend the night and wake up in their own new pad. For an architect, this is the happiest day of all.