Architectural Services can be confusing the first time working with an architect, and sometimes it can be hard to understand what you are getting for your design fees. Just as important, not understanding what your architect is working on next can cost everyone time and money. Clear communication about how your architect spends his time on your project, and what decisions he is thinking through can help any project run more smoothly.
Programing: What Are We Designing?
Before the design process can begin, any project needs a program, often called a design brief. Many clients have already begun this process with a collection of images or a description of their dream home. Putting all of this information into a formal document helps both client and architect understand the goals and constraints of the project before design begins.
This document is tailored for the individual project, but often includes a list of rooms and functions, a written statement of budget and timeline, drawings describing the site layout and basic ideas about building organization, and a collection of images that show style preferences, material ideas, design aspirations, etc.
In many cases, a client needs help establishing a program. Questions about the best use of an existing site, or how to best improve an existing home with a set budget. In cases like this, a brief design exercise in Program Exploration can help visualize what is possible, to get a better idea of scope and budget.
During Schematic Design, an architect takes the program and turns it into a clear conception of a building or set of buildings. Each individual Architect will have a unique, personal way of going through this process, and each project and client further shapes the process.
The process usually starts with a diagram of a floor plan, simple spatial conception, or a design principle. Then, an iterative process of adding more and more detail to the idea, testing and reevaluating along the way, gradually transforms the original idea into a design.
Many architects prefer to complete this process behind the curtain, and then reveal a fully-formed design to the client, as a take-it-or-leave-it approach. This allows architects to create a uniform style or pursue a particular design agenda.
We believe this is a bad approach for the majority of projects. We love having clients involved in the Schematic Design process, because the final designs are closer to what they want and need. We believe that you know what you need better than we do, and that your involvement in the process of creating something is an important part of making it special.
To accomplish this, we show clients in-process drawings all the time. This often requires a different way of looking at proposals than what people are used to, an openness. The drawings might show three different versions of a project, sometimes with unconventional or weird ideas, as a way to explore what is possible and learn why the good solutions are good.
Drawings are just lines on paper! We love it when a client looks at a drawing and shouts, “NO!” It means that we all just learned what is truly important to the client, and we learned it the cheap way.
Once the Schematic Design is completed, there are two basic ways to document the design and get the building built: a Builder’s Set or a set of Construction Documents.
For a residence, an architect can produce a set of drawings called a Builder’s Set, which allows a home builder to build the basic design. The set typically includes a site plan, floor plans, a roof plan, elevations, and sections. All of the specific details, including materials selection and compliance with building codes, are selected by the builder or the owner.
Think of this as the early exit plan. The architect helps you think though all of the major issues like how the living room faces the best view, but then the owner works with the builder to pick out which windows to buy and install. You save some money on design fees, and sometimes construction, but this process always involves a lot of haggling and negotiating with the builder. After all, he signed on to build the project before knowing that you wanted a specific type of window. It also, inevitably, involves some Oops moments.
These drawings are typically enough for the permitting process.
Design Development & Construction Documents
Alternatively, an architect will develop the schematic design into a fully-formed building. This involves selecting the materials and products, deciding how all of the pieces join together, coordinating with engineers, choosing fixtures and appliances, etc. We draw everything in detail so that there are not any painful surprises during construction.
After this process, the architect produces a set of drawings called Construction Documents, which serves as a contract between owner and builder, and ensures that the owner knows both what to expect, and that the construction will match the architect’s vision. In this method, everyone knows exactly what windows are being installed, so there is far less negotiation and confusion along the way.
Once the drawings are completed, the real work begins. In the Construction Administration phase, the architect manages the builder for the client. He handles changes to the schedule and the budget, and deals with any necessary changes to the construction. He also meets with the builder and examines the progress regularly to ensure that the construction meets the quality standards required by the drawings. Having someone to approve drywall or concrete who has looked at hundreds of buildings under construction and knows what to look for can be invaluable.
What Do I Need?
Architectural services can be combined in many different ways, and each project demands a different approach, depending on the client, the site, budget, and design goals. Get in touch and let’s discuss the needs of your specific project.