5 Reasons for the Architectural Process is about why Architects have a defined method to how they begin, program, design, develop, document and manage a project. There are reasons for what they do, how they do it and the sequence.
Why only 5 reasons? Well, to be honest, there are likely many more. But let’s begin with these few.
There will be less wasted time and effort. And when your Architect is charging you for his or her time, their time is your money. So, it is in your own best interests to have your Architect working as efficiently as possible. And what constitutes efficiency in the creation of an architectural project? For one thing: trying to avoid as much wasted effort as possible and targeting what it is you are trying to do, then doing it, rather than flailing about searching. Therefore, an architectural process that begins by identifying the important aspects of a project are essential to avoiding wasted time and effort. This is called PROGRAMMING. Programming defines what it is that you want, along with an analysis of your Land and your desired Lifestyle, what this firm calls the “2 Ls”. Without these, you will be doomed to fail. With these, you should be swift and sure to the target.
COMMENT ABOUT THOSE WHO DEMAND THAT YOU IMMEDIATELY START DRAWING: first of all, this Architect won’t do this any longer, because that wastes time and our Client’s money. Why: because without identifying what it is you are trying to do and the features of the land on which it is to sit, ensures that whatever is created will miss the mark. For instance: what if the future homeowner wanted a large kitchen (quite common these days)? And if the design drawings were immediately begun without knowing this, the design would be doomed, as all of the other parts of the house would need to be moved when eventually the Kitchen itself was expanded.
On the other hand, if the programming clearly identified the Kitchen as wanting to become a certain size, with certain appliances and features, that part of the architectural process would be built into the design drawing, making it only necessary to draw it once (or certainly fewer iterations). continued below:
And quite frankly, this firm won’t violate what it knows is a proper process methodology. Kind of like demanding that your cardiac surgeon sell you the artificial heart first, while you then instruct them on how you want them to go about the operation, after you make the first, large incision yourself on your own body. Ridiculous, right? Same thing for architecture. You don’t start drawing until you understand what it is you are going to draw and what sort of land on which it will be sitting.
2 & 3. ECONOMY & VALUE
For the same reasons indicated above for Efficiency, so to is value and economy. Why: because it will take less time to create and develop a design when you know how many Bedrooms it will have, a Home Office, large Kitchen, Foyer with Coat Closet, 3 bay Garage with Workshop and 14′ of wall pegboard for tools, Pet Room (becoming more popular), Billiards/Game Room (yes, we’ve seen this happening), special Wolf & SubZero appliance space (taking up more room to properly fit) and dozens of other features that you want in your desired Lifestyle. This results in a faster design, targeted at the desired items and coordinating with your land immediately, not having to painstakingly redo things to change them to suit those desires and needs later. Because redo = more time = more money you have to pay your Architect. And this firm tries to be a good value to their Clients by doing things once, when at all possible. This results in economy and value for the Client. (continued below):
4. GREATER ENJOYMENT OF THE PROCESS, BETTER RESULTS
To have a truly enjoyable project process, it is best if there be no (or very little back-tracking). And proceeding straight ahead to the targeted goal helps insure this, for the reasons indicated above. Otherwise, it can be a frustrating effort. “I thought I said I wanted such and so!” Well, not if the programming didn’t indicate that in text. Which is why Programming before designing is so important. Help your Architect list all the things you’d like to accomplish. That should eliminate forgotten wishes, because those will be listed there in the Program. Starting to develop an appreciation for the Program? You should. That’s the bible that guides the design.
There’s a computer programmer’s term for no programming or skimpy programming or wrong programming: GIGO (Garbage In = Garbage Out). During the last 20 years, this firm has had only one Client refuse to participate in the programming, because she said she was “graphically oriented” and just wanted us to immediately get to drawing. Let’s call her Mindy and her husband Sam. What Mindy didn’t understand was that we first needed to hear what it was that she wanted. We informed her of this, but Mindy didn’t want to bother herself with sharing with us her preferences or wishes, what rooms she wanted in the house, or what features were to be located within it, except for a few minor comments. For that vast majority of information, Mindy simply said: “I’ll see the drawings and make my requests then.”
She wanted a certain general orientation, but refused to accept that the mountaintop on which she wanted the home located did not have sufficient level ground area to locate the house and the vehicular maneuvering features and large yard area she said she wanted (“Don’t confuse me with the facts.”)
However, her husband, Sam, a former corporate executive, did work with us and told us what he wanted and what he thought Mindy wanted and was reasonable in understanding the limitations of their site. We noticed that Sam changed the direction of several of the very few things Mindy had shared with us and we were concerned that this would result in dissatisfaction for her of the upcoming design. Sam said he knew his wife and what she wanted. And with Mindy’s bewildering lack of willingness to participate in the Programming, that led us to accept his secondhand information.
So, we created the programming text (limping along on half-information) as best we could, not wanting to argue with anyone about not providing adequate data. And we created the design. Well, of course, Sam loved it, because it was exactly what he said he wanted. And Mindy, well, not so much, because she never told us what she wanted in adequate detail and refused to take part in most of the interactive programming process, which really isn’t a big deal: the Architect asks questions and the to-be homeowner answers, indicating their preferences. In other words, she sabotaged her own project, by insuring that her desires were not inputted into the information used to design the project.
And that’s a shame, because this is supposed to be kind of fun: telling your Architect all the wonderful things you want in your custom designed house. Evidently not for her. And so, for the first time in 2 decades, we got someone unhappy with a design. We saw the train-wreck approaching, but because of Mindy’s unwillingness to participate adequately in the programming: Pow.
We blame ourselves for this rare occurrence.
Why: we allowed a Client to disturb and redirect what we already knew should have been the tried and true project process. We should have insisted on following the proven method that insures positive and happy results. We allowed the patient to tell the cardiac doctor what to do in the middle of the operation.
Therefore, henceforth, this firm will not proceed unless the main parties paying for and using the design participate in at least this simple, initial part of the overall process. It’s what everything else depends upon. And it’s fun. So let’s start things off being enjoyable and act like reasonable human beings and have fun.
We very much want our Clients to be happy, well-informed and participating in the project process. Therefore, we have since authored and published a small electronic book about the project process that we now ask our new Clients to read before we take on their project. You can see this webpage about this book here and download it for free. Please follow the instructions on that webpage:
Client Centered Architectural Design Process
This is e-book is only about 33 pages, so you can read it in less than an hour. And if you’re planning on having an architectural project designed and built in your future, you owe it to yourself to get this and read it. You’ll be glad you did. It seems like a small thing to ask: read a short, well-written little booklet before embarking on a vast and complex voyage, so you don’t get lost. And that should save any issues in the future. We want you informed and happy. As exclaimed in the Jerry Maquire movie: “Help me, help you!”
5. PROPER SEQUENCE OF ARCHITECTURAL PROCESS
And so what are the actual proper sequence of events?
1. Immediately begin furiously drawing, flailing about, wasting time drawing things that have nothing to do with the land or what the Client(s) want?
2. Complete Construction Documents.
3. Think about what the land topography (slope) features are, the building setbacks and other legal requirements (even though the design has already been completed, so none of these legal things can now be incorporated).
4. Start building right now, because your neighbors had Ben the Builder do their basement floor with him and that worked out okay. And he goes to your church, so he must be a decent guy.
5. Think about getting some prices from some builders, after about 2 years of construction and several million dollars later.
ANALYSIS OF PROCESS A: well, we would think that anyone hearing the above process would be horrified. What a silly method! Seriously? Start drawing first, before even understanding the land or what the owner wants? Crazy. And waiting until later to research the land requirements? Lawsuits are made of such improper sequencing. And starting construction with a “buddy” builder because you like him? You won’t, later on.
BTW: steps 4 & 5 actually happened to one of our clients, a long time ago, because they refused to listen to our advice to bid out the project to several Licensed General Contractors, and instead gave it to an unlicensed “builder guy” that went to their church. And yes, for a project that should have cost around $750k, they ended up spending over $3M. After they called us, a couple of years later, and tearfully explained how they had been abused by this so-called “friend”, we found them a reputable GC and had them fire the “friend” and the new GC got their job done within a month and for minimal additional funds.
We hate having to “fix” big problems like that, when simply following the proper project process could have solved issues (before even the first problem began). In this case, they refused our offer to provide Bidding and Construction Administration services, wanting to “save” our fee by “managing that themselves.” Well, you can see how that worked out for them. The minimal expenditure of our firm providing those additional services could literally have SAVED THEM MILLIONS OF $. The husband/Owner said he would be glad to tell other people what a huge mistake it was (not keeping the Architect engaged through bidding and construction). In his family’s case, about a $2.3M mistake.
So don’t tell the heart surgeon what to do (or simply ignoring him) and listen to your Architect when he or she explains the proper project process. You will probably then never even know the problems you solved before they could become one (or many). Most experienced Architects have been designing, developing and managing projects for decades (over a half-century with this firm) and this isn’t their first rodeo. Listen carefully to them and take their good advice, in particular with regard to “What should I do next?”.
Okay, so what IS the proper architectural project process? Here you go:
1. PRELIMINARY SERVICES
Needs & Options Review, and Site Walk.
The Needs service is sort of like a preliminary Programming. Just the main basics as to what the house wants to be, where it should go, and main spaces to be included, round numbers as to construction cost desired.
The Site Walk typically involves the Architect joining you at your property, walking around it, talking photos, and later providing a PDF emailed report illustrating general land use areas. NO design yet at this point. Just data gathering.
This is where the Architect asks you what you want and you describe those wishes in detail. Also, further information is analyzed regarding your land. The Architect notes your answers and later on provides a PDF emailed report, documenting your wishes and needs, along with information from the previous Site Walk regarding your land characteristics and its ability to coordinate with your desires. No design at this point.
3. SCHEMATIC DESIGN (SD)
This often is where the Architect creates the Site Plan and Floor Plans of your proposed house (and/or other type of facility). This firm stops at this point for your input before spending more of your money on other work. The design depends almost entirely on the Programming and the Clients new comments.
4. DESIGN DEVELOPMENT (DD)
DD is where the Architect incorporates any changes you have requested to the SD, and also creates initially the Front Elevation. Then he/she asks for your comments. The Architect then incorporates agreed upon changes, to the Front Elevation, then creates the remainder of the exterior elevations, also coordinating with floor plans and the site plan.
5. CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS (CDs)
CDs is where the Architect creates the detailed documents, including but not limited to: dimensions, notes, specifications, details, roof plan, building section(s), wall section(s), finish & door shedules, and other documents to properly describe your project so that Builders can properly construct the project in accordance with good building practices, Code and the Owner’s approved documents.
6. BIDDING/ PRICING/ VALUE ENGINEERING/ NEGOTIATIONS
This is where the Architect can assist you by bidding out the CDs to qualified GCs for pricing. Guarantee: you won’t like the price. No one ever does. Human nature: we all want more than we’d like to pay for. Then the Architect can negotiate with the most favored Contractor to obtain concessions in price in return for removals of features or substitutions of products and materials. Hopefully, this results in an agreed upon price that works for you and your Builder.
7. CONSTRUCTION ADMINISTRATION
This is where the GC builds your project, and the Architect can assist you by reviewing the Builder’s pay requests, periodically visiting the project site to compare ongoing construction with the approved CDs, reviewing substitution requests, helping managing crises (all projects usually have a couple), coordination with various project consultants and the GC.
8. WARRANTY PERIOD SERVICES
After the construction is done, you enter into a period of time during which there are various warranties in effect for varying time periods. For instance, it is almost universally accepted that the GC will have a 12 month warranty. This is often called the “bumper to bumper” warranty. And it is important that you pay your Architect to return to the project in the 10th month to review the project to see if anything needs warranty repairs. Why the 10th month? Because if you have your Architect submit a list of repairs to your GC on day 365, your Builder will say: “Tough luck, my 1 year warranty expired today, I don’t have to make any repairs, unless you want to pay me to do those.”
However, if you listen to your Architect and have them come to the site during the 10th month, and issue their report within a week after their visit, chances are that there will be a month and a half remaining in the year warranty, which should be plenty of time for just about any repair to be reasonably made within the year warranty. The value of these repairs could be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, or more, or simply a nuisance problem that needs correction. Having the weight of your Architect behind this may well help get swifter action and certainly better understanding as to what needs attention.
9. POST WARRANTY SERVICES
Some of the original project warranties can be up to 5 years long, such as for HVAC condensers and compressors. And those aren’t cheap. You may very well think that such repairs in the 3rd or 4th year are on you. Well, if you have your Architect periodically come around (yes pay them to do so and to issue a report), you may be pleasantly surprised that some of the problems your Architect discovers are in fact under warranty. In any event, a once a year or every couple of year visit from your Architect can help identify issues that need maintenance. Nothing is maintenance free. Especially something as complex as a custom house. And keeping your house in good condition proactively is typically much less costly than maintenance by crisis.
And that’s it. The proper architectural project sequence and proper process. You owe it to yourself to allow your Architect to follow this tried and true proven approach to result in a good project outcome for you.
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