Programming Your New House

Programming Your New House

Programming is the first activity that any responsible licensed Architect will conduct for any type of project, commercial or residential.  During Programming, the Architect first and foremost: listens to the Client tell him or her what they want.

The Architect asks occasional questions, answers Client questions, and provides counsel regarding proposed successful directions for the design, arrangement, sizes, relationship of spaces and elements, planning, systems, materials and other aspects of the proposed project.

If you might be interested in how Programming fits in with the other Project Process Phases, click here–> Architectural Design Process Guide.


Programming your house
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Programming is conducted primarily in an informal discussion situation: either at a conference table at the Architect’s office, at the Client’s current house, and increasingly in a high-tech online video conference (such as using Skype, which the HOME ARCHITECTS ® use often with their Clients across the USA and around the world).  A normal phone conversation can also work.










Programming Your New House


A program can be a single, short paragraph.  Or an extensive, 100-page manuscript.  It depends on the type of project and how detailed the Architect and Clients wish to become in the listing of the desired features.  Usually, the larger and more expensive the project, the longer and more detailed the Program.  Most house programs range from one 8-1/2 x 11″ page in 10 point font, to perhaps 4 or 6 pages, for a 2,500 +/- HSF (Heated Square Feet) house.


The main useful feature of an effective Program is a concise listing of the Space Names and their desired sizes.
Sizes desired = usually width x length and the resulting square footage obtained from that multiplication for each space.


This datum point for each desired space, if done in Excel, for instance, will allow an automatic tabulation and summation of all the spaces, to result in a total HSF (Heated Square Feet) and GSF (Gross Square Feet) for the project.

Often, where wall thicknesses and circulation are not otherwise accounted for in the Program, factors are inserted to allow for those aspects: for instance: exterior walls a generally assumed to be part of the HSF calculation for a house, however, if the Client wanted the space sizes to be actual, interior SF usable sizes, then an additive factor could be provided into Excel formulas that allowed for that. 













For instance: perhaps 15% to 20% might be a reasonable amount x the HSF of totally interior area of the project for the amount of room occupied by the enclosing walls.


Since size is often an indication of cost, in terms of $/SF (dollars per square foot), this tabulation of all of the project SF becomes valuable.  The point being: the total HSF and/or GSF can be multiplied by known values of the proposed General Contractor (GC), to give an idea of probably construction costs.  It should be noted, however, that until such time as the GC obtains actually firm quotes from material and labor suppliers, that any $/SF estimates can vary widely, based on economic changes, material availability and other issues.  Only a firm price proposal from a licensed GC should be trusted.  Also, at the programmed stage of the project, there are many things yet to be determined, such as finishes, materials, systems, unforeseen structural situations, concealed subterranean conditions, appliances, fixtures, and many other elements than can and will affect final cost and the Clients should not be made to feel that whatever they want can be contained within any any particular price until the GC provides a firm proposal to build it with those desired features.  This level of expectation versus actual construction price is the main pain point of many projects and the Clients must be informed, early in the project, that it is THEIR own desires for features and quality levesl that defines the GC’s pricing.
















programming your new house
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A house of 2,500 HSF might have anywhere from 20 to 40 interrelated main elements.  These elements can take the shape of Rooms, bathtubs, fireplaces, stairways, porches, driveways and other items.  An example of a highly functional interrelationship would be: “Garage to be next to Kitchen or to walk-through Pantry adjacent to Kitchen.”  This allows for the easy transfer of purchased food from your vehicle into the house, into the place where the food is stored until ready for meal preparation.  Other obvious relationships will appear and often need not even be mentioned, as they are taken for granted, unless there is something unusual in a specific house design project.


It may be wise to discuss and record the various materials desired and recommended by the Architect for the Client’s project.  Most Clients act on previous things they have seen.  Due to the Architect’s greater experience in this area of expertise, he or she can help the Client obtain materials that are more durable and for reasonable cost.  This type of counsel is part of the Value Engineering advice an Architect can provide that makes their recommendations so valuable, often resulting in saving the Client many times the Architectural fee on the entire project in first cost, if not in Life Cycle costs.











The Architect will take notes during the Programming conference and then enter these notes in typed format into an Outlook e-mail or in a Word file and e-mail them to the Client.  This documentation can become as elaborate as desired, but the intention is that mainly this is to consist of text (words) describing what the Client said they wanted.   This becomes the “instructions” to building the design for the Architect.





A Program is an initial tool to get the project started.  If, during the course of the design, the Architect and the Client see certain things that need adjusting, those features should be adjusted, even if in conflict with the Program.  If the Scope of the Work for the Architect increases, however, the Architect’s fee may need to be adjusted upward, unless that compensation is at an hourly rate, which is preferred by most Clients, as it give the Client the built-in flexibility to make whatever changes they wish.



programming your new house
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Despite the best laid Programming, there are some magical things that can occur while an Architect is designing a house or other type of project and this should be allowed to happen.   For instance, there might be some particularly interesting site feature that warrants inclusion in the project, or other serendipitous element.


Contact:  to begin the Programming of your next new house.  828-269-9046 .


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