The architectural design process is organized to ensure that objectives are reached in order of priority; the highest priorities are addressed and the largest design solutions are arrived at first, then the details fall in place in concert with the larger issues and ideas.
Schematic Design Phase
This is perhaps the most important phase. At this point, the client proposes the “wish list” for the project. This wish list is used as the starting point of a discussion of the client’s needs relevant to the proposed project and might be as straightforward as the client simply explaining their perceived needs concerning the types of spaces that will comprise the proposed project.
Fundamental issues to be considered in the schematic design phase often include the following factors:
What are the client’s needs now and what might those needs be in the future? It is our role to help clients anticipate such needs and to develop an architectural strategy that responds accordingly.
Will “phasing” allow for the maximum realization of the project? Perhaps a client knows that ultimately they may want a project with certain features but it is outside the budget at the moment. It is often possible for us to find a way to build in phases, so that one portion of the work may be completed up front and when the remainder of the project is completed in the future, construction will be less intrusive and also cheaper than if the later phase of work had been tackled separately.
The usual tradeoff in a building project involves quality versus square footage; for a certain fixed budget, the larger the built area the lower the quality is likely to be. While good design is not directly linked to a large budget, a realistic budget (which is always directly linked to the local market value of construction), must be identified early in the process.
With the above information we work with our client to prepare a wish list that is achievable and becomes the project’s “program.” This program is the basis for a series of preliminary drawings and models yielding the schematic design, which gives architectural form to the client’s carefully-considered needs, site, and budget. We take the information provided in the program and develop a proposal to illustrate how the same program can be handled within the given parameters of the project. With these proposals as a point of departure, our clients and we are able to discuss the pros and cons of various design approaches. Often it happens that the strategy ultimately pursued is a combination of several schematic design proposals.
Design Development Phase
During this period utilizing various tools we may develop, drawings, physical models, and computer model that simulates a “walk-through”, of the design agreed upon in the schematic phase. By the end of this phase our clients have a very thorough idea of the entire project: its spaces, views, materials, fixtures, etc.
Regarding the selection and the detailing of materials for construction purposes, we do not believe that materials conventionally considered luxurious are necessarily desirable or make for better architecture. To us it is always a question of when, where, and how materials are used, rather than what the materials are in and of themselves. In general, we much prefer to take simple and inexpensive materials and detail them meticulously, rather than to take costly materials and call for a mediocre installation detail due to the fact that in allocating funds for the splashy materials, little is left for the actual construction budget.
Construction Document/Contract Document Phase
At this point we take the design approved in the final design development stage and begin to draw all components of the project. These drawings are for the purposes of the actual construction by the contractor and also for obtaining a building permit from the City. We prefer that these drawings have as much specificity as possible, in order that the contractor has very clear instructions as to the materials, methods of joining materials, and methods of placing services (plumbing, electrical, heating/cooling, etc.). Lack of specific instructions will ultimately give the contractor discretion as to the details, where they are not specified, and this is likely to lead to mistakes and reduced overall project quality.
Once the construction documents are complete we distribute them to a group of general contractors for their preparation of “bids” — an exact cost for the construction of the project. If there are wide variances in the bids it may mean that some contractors are finding less expensive ways of carrying out aspects of the work, and that may be to the detriment of the ultimate quality of the project. Clients establish the construction budget and it is our responsibility to have our contract documents yield bids that come in close to the budget established by the client. The contractor with the cheapest bid is not necessarily the best value. The greatest credential a contractor can have is a good local reputation for honesty and quality, demonstrated by references from people who completed projects similar in scale and budget to the project at hand.