1) What are we trying to accomplish?
We start by working with owners and users to define the objectives of the design process. These can be very tangible, the need for an additional classroom, or very abstract, like the wish to improve the curb appeal of an existing building or the fit with the neighborhood. By defining goals and figuring out the relative importance of multiple objectives, we build a framework against which design solutions can be evaluated.
What should be built?
Programming is the process of figuring out the answer to this seemingly simple question. A careful examination of existing spaces and uses and interviews with users are the beginning step in the programming process. By talking about what functions will happen and how various user groups interact, we define a group of spaces to solve a set of problems. The use sequence and hierarchy of uses helps define the relationship between various individual spaces. By understanding how many users and what equipment will be used in each area, we determine a size range for each space. The typical work product for this phase, a space program, shows the spaces needed, the range of sizes needed, the physical needs of each space, and the idealized relationship between the areas. This document is the starting point for the design process.
3) What is happening on site?
For bare ground sites, the existing conditions phase is about understanding the physical characteristics of the land, the adjacent uses and features, the orientation with respect to the sun, wind and views, and the overall “feel” of the property. For sites with existing buildings, we also look at the history of the structures, the sequence of changes to the building over time and the current condition of the various elements. The functionality of existing spaces and how well they meet the programmatic needs they serve are also considered. Detailed measurements and careful photographic documentation are used to build accurate electronic drawing files in three dimensions as a record of the current state of the building.
4) What are the rules governing this project?
Every project is constrained by rules and regulations in place for the proposed uses and location. Zoning regulations, building codes, federal accessibility regulations, wetlands requirements and local signage ordinances all may come into play on a given site. By researching and summarizing these constraints early in the process, we begin to define alternative paths through the regulatory thicket, one which requires not extraordinary approvals, and others which need regulatory relief but offer more design flexibility. We engage our clients in the regulatory decision making early in the design, avoiding unpleasant surprises and delays as the project progresses.
What are the options for satisfying the design goals and the program on the project site?
This is the crux of the design process, a patient search of the various options for fitting the program elements into spaces within the constraints of the site, available resources, and relevant regulations. We try a wide range of three dimensional solutions for the organization of the program elements. We deliberately look at the obvious solutions as well as the ‘outside the box’ answers. Sometimes the wildest idea has the germ of the best solution. The relationship to the site and the three dimensional connection between the spaces are important, as is the overall stylistic approach. Our office process is collaborative, with various team members taking the lead on various projects and the others having numerous opportunities to react to design solutions and offer their own ideas. We typically bring several alternative solutions to our clients for their review and comment. We evaluate each solution against the design goals, program, regulatory constraints, and talk through the pros and cons of each scheme. We bring pictures and examples of the features and design styles we are proposing and work together with our clients to select the features and ideas they want to include in the final schematic plan. Often features from multiple schemes are combined to get to a final schematic design. Sometimes multiple iterations are needed to get to the work product for this phase, the final schematic design drawings. Final schematic design documents are usually sufficient for preliminary regulatory review and to allow the preparation of a parametric or unit cost estimate of the construction value.
What will the design look like in three dimensions?
We use a variety of tools to show clients what their project will look like in space. Hand sketches, sketches over photographs of existing buildings, and computer generated 3-D images all play a part in conveying the story of the design and how it fits into the real world. The 3-D models can range simple massing studies to fully rendered building exteriors to animated walk-around tours and walk-throughs of the proposed spaces; it depends on the needs of the client and the complexity of the design solution. Individual views can be extracted from the 3-D models and made into fully rendered photo-realistic renderings for sales and marketing purposes.
How will the design be built?
Selecting the systems and architectural materials for a given project involves a complex set of trade-offs to balance appropriateness, performance, longevity, appearance, compatibility, and cost of various systems and solutions. Structural system selections and mechanical systems decisions are made early in the design development phase. These selections vary from project to project, with criteria shifting with each new job. For existing buildings, compatibility with existing materials and systems may be paramount, while for new construction performance and appearance may be most important. Thermal performance and overall environmental impact are increasingly important factors in the materials and systems decisions. The integration of architectural materials with the other systems results in a cohesive final design. We engage our clients in this decision process, educating them about the various options, giving them opportunities to make their wishes known and helping them get the design they want. Once the systems and principal materials are defined, detailed cost estimating can be done to arrive at a realistic value for the work.
How will the builder know what we want?
Documents for Construction
Documenting the design process decisions and working out the details of construction is where our designs meet the real world. We refine the decisions made during design development and prepare detailed drawings for the entire project. We look carefully at the materials and systems involved in each area and make detailed drawings showing the exact relationships needed between the various parts in the built project. Appearance, constructability, weather-tightness and economy are all factors in the detailing process. We coordinate our work with the various consulting engineers engaged for the project to produce a complete and integrated set of drawings and specifications for the work. Our goal in this phase is to define the effort needed to complete the project with sufficient clarity that builders can understand the details of the scope, prepare accurate cost estimates, and, ultimately construct the work with maximum economy and minimum confusion.
How do we assure the design will be built properly?
Construction Period Services
We help our clients with the contractor selection process. We work with the owner and builder for a smooth construction process. Final material and color selections for the visible elements are typically made during this period. The shop drawing process gives the builder and the material suppliers a chance to confirm our design intent and resolve the final installation details. Once the construction is under way, we assist the builder with issues which arise in the course of the work. We make periodic visits to the jobsite and help resolve the inevitable questions which come up. We document the course of the work, review payments to the builder, and prepare checklists of incomplete items as the work draws to a close. We assist with commissioning of systems and equipment so the structure is delivered ready for the intended use.