Thursday, February 28, 2013

Working With an Architect III

For the scenario introduced in the first installment of this article, the product of a thorough and comprehensive schematic design phase would be basic plans, sections and elevations of the new house. Basic in this context means drawings which are proportionally correct, but are not accurate enough to dimension or indicate material. The final schematic drawings are the product of the collaboration between the client and the architect, and there were likely three or four collaborative reviews of the progress to keep the project on course. These schematic reviews would be described in the agreement between the client and architect; in fact, a review schedule is or should be part of any agreement when working with an architect.

The schematic interim or review drawings and final schematic drawings would be part of the deliverables mentioned briefly in the first installment. Other deliverables would be interim and final drawings, specifications, renderings and scale models, at a minimum, from the design development and construction documents phases. The design development phase undertakes the task of developing the basic drawings from the schematic phase into detailed drawings that can be dimensioned to an agreed upon tolerance, like 3" for example, and can be rendered to show basic materials, shadow lines and color. Exactly what is shown is up to the collaboration, and is likely influenced by the project budget, but the intent is to develop a high level of confidence in what the house will look like and how it conforms to the guidelines established during predesign.

The construction documents phase is devoted to converting the design development drawings into construction documents; construction documents are what are used as a basis for the bids solicited from contractors, and what the contractor who is awarded the bid will use to construct the house. The construction documents are dimensioned to within a very tight tolerance, usually to 1/16" for large scale details in residential construction. The architect endeavors to specify each component and material, from 1/2" type 316L stainless steel screws to roofing materials. The construction documents are used as the basis for the contract between the building contractor and the client, and they are also used by the contractor to procure the building permit from the local body having jurisdiction over the project.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Working With an Architect II

Continuing the train of thought from Working With an Architect, predesign activities would be applied under the headings of occupant habits and customs and the building site at a minimum. Certainly the client and architect could choose to apply predesign activities under a number of other headings depending on the type of project. For example, it's intuitive and reasonable to expect the headings for a skyscraper to be vastly different than those for a residence.
The headings mentioned above are usually gathered together under the title of programming, and the final result of the activity, or the program, is used to inform and guide the schematic design phase. Schematic design undertakes the task of translating the written program into a visual diagram that accounts for all the program components. The schematic design often begins as a very simple geometrically based diagram such as a Venn or a bubble diagram, and then transforms into very basic but recognizable plans, sections and elevations through a number of iterations. The number of iterations is usually based on the size and complexity of the project.

The translation from words to images can be perceived as an almost magical or alchemical metamorphosis because the result is always more valuable than the initial ingredients. The substance and worth of the result is directly proportional to the architect's ability and talent; it requires significant training, experience and savoir-faire to produce an acceptable result.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Working With an Architect

Most people have an idea of what architects do.  Most everybody knows architects design buildings, but delve any deeper than that, and the idea usually gets pretty vague.  Rather than helping to lift the mist, many publications devoted to design have a habit of sprinkling their articles with glittery and esoteric jargon.  They talk about an architect's design process which likely conjures an image of a bow-tied architect stuffing unrecognizable things into one end of a big Rube Goldbergian machine that stamps out large format drawings at the other.

A good architect works in a very structured environment; not a sterile or rigid environment, but one that's organized and comprehensible to most people. The romantic image of a dapper figure presiding over the production of beautifully rendered dreams is not inaccurate, but neither is an image of this same fellow dressed in field boots and waterproofs performing a water test or collecting site and environmental data during predesign.  Oh oh.  Here we go again--predesign?

Actually predesign is a good place to start. Predesign is one of those words one rarely hears outside the realm of architecture, so it stands to reason it might need a little clarification.  Predesign describes activities of information gathering, organization and analysis.  Let's use a scenario wherein a married couple approaches an architect to design a house for them on a piece of land they bought.  After the initial meeting and review of credentials, they enter into a form of agreement that clearly enumerates the deliverables that the architect will produce based on joint work performed by both parties.  I'll get into the deliverables in the next post.  For now, let's focus on predesign activity.

Predesign is part of the joint work performed by both parties, and once again, includes information gathering, organization and analysis.  An example of information gathering would be listing as many as possible of the common activities engaged by the clients.  This list would likely include eating, exercise and entertaining habits.  These activities would then be organized according to a mutually agreed upon set of criteria, like frequency of occurrence.  An example would be frequency of entertaining ten or more people.  The organized information would then be analyzed against another set of criteria such as relative importance.  For example, if entertaining ten or more people is expected to occur relatively infrequently, the relative importance of having a dining room large enough to accommodate ten to sixteen people would be given a relative low importance when it came time for the clients to decide where to spend their money.