It’s sometimes difficult for architects to explain their design process to you. Forgive them – it’s kind of like a watch maker trying to explain how the back of your favourite time piece is put together. The product is beautiful, but it is complicated and time consuming to assemble. As the wearer of the watch, you actually don’t mind not understanding the mechanics of it. You just want to know that it is well engineered, built to precision and magnificent to look at!
Much like the intricacies of assembling a watch, the process of designing a building is complex. This is because when it comes to assembling buildings, there is a kind of butterfly effect that carries throughout the process every time a decision is made; small decisions create ripple effects that end up resulting in big consequences! This may seem daunting, but your architect will be the great unifier in this process and will work hard to simplify your project (and life).
So how does the process unfold? There are a few stages involved, but first comes the prep! Consider this - before you can eat a good meal at a restaurant, a chef needs to prepare it. They need to understand the bigger picture, what ingredients they have to work with, and what your dietary preferences are. They need to gather, organize and prepare. In this sense, your architect is very much like a chef and will need to gather information about your aesthetic palate & the framework within which he must work.
Prep - the step before all steps
Before you can eat a meal, that meal must be prepared.
Just like before a big meal, before the building design process unfolds there are a few things that need to be prepared. This preliminary step involves your architect doing the background checks and due diligence. It’s an exploration of the parameters to determine what is actually possible, legally and physically.
This can take some time if you have an existing building that needs to be worked on; your architect will need to check that what is existing is legal and what potential there is for new work to be done. This is a little more straightforward if there are no existing buildings on your property and you are putting up a brand-new building. If there are existing buildings, then your architect will probably measure-up these buildings, just like a good clothing tailor would to assess the sizing and shape of your body before tailoring something to suit. Like different body shapes, buildings require different design responses to suit their quirks. It is at this stage that your architect might ask you to appoint a land surveyor if you have not done so already.
Once the preparation is complete and your architect is happy with the potential of your project, you’ll be all set to initiate the full process - this involves 3 distinct stages…
The 3 stages of a building project.
A building project typically unfolds in 3 distinct stages: dream, plan and do
THINK OF a project’s work stages like this:
The above stages are a simplification of a complicated process but are helpful as a guide for separating a project into clear and distinct components. All you have to do is know that these 3 stages exist - your architect will guide you through each one as you go.
dream - The fun stage
This is a really fun stage! This is where you will get to imagine, explore and test your dream with your architect. Maybe you have a clear picture - maybe it’s a bit fuzzy with wings. Either way, your architect will help you land that dream! This is a time for pretty pictures and maybe even some 3Ds. At this stage, your architect will work together with you to bring your ideas to life. With him, you’ll explore plenty of hand drawings, which will get translated to computer drawings at a later point. You may even be tantalized by some physical models of your building.
PLAN - the serious paperwork
The ‘plan’ stage is the boring, administrative, but very important stage. The paperwork and construction documentation is prepared at this point. There will be many meetings between your architect and other professionals such as the engineers and consultants. This is where the critical information ensuring that the building is assembled correctly is compiled. Trust your architect. Let him get it right on paper before it gets built. There are some important elements in this stage:
Your budget - This is important and sacred. Your architect’s job is to protect your budget and to guide you in your decisions. When you go grocery shopping, there are aisles where you buy your essentials and then there are the gauntlets where the tasty bits lie in wait on the way to checkout. If you’re not careful, these nice-to-have treats can blow you out of the water. Sometimes they’ll make you happy, and at other times they’ll leave you living in regret. Are you on a diet, or ready to treat yourself? Let your budget be the guide.
The law - Your project needs to be legal. People sometimes think that they can conduct internal changes to their home without plans. But say for example you were wanting to build a windowless chamber in the middle of a suburban house? This would raise serious health and safety concerns. Your local municipality needs to know about any building work before it starts and it’s their job to ensure that you have their full approval before you kick off.
Technical - Your project needs to be buildable. If the drawings and documentation are not clear, how will the contractor know how to put it together? You may end up with some unwanted surprises after the concrete is poured. The assembly of technical documentation is a rigorous process involving many cross-checks and safeguards. It is important that your architect dedicates time to this to ensure an outcome that you are happy with. You will be involved in the decision making when it comes to products and finishes that will be chosen for your building. Choosing quality products and defining how they are to be installed is an important aspect of the technical process.
DO - The exciting stage!
The final stage of a building project is when your dream will come to life! It is an exciting, but critical stage in the process. A building site is a raw and intense space. Once ground is broken, your project will move forward at a rapid pace and the contractor will follow a strict timeline. There will inevitably be problems to solve and some surprises, but this is okay. Your architect will be your chief problem solver and will get your building from ground-level safely up to roof-height.
In legal terms, architects call this step Contract Administration. Be aware that this is not Project Management. Project management is handled by a qualified project manager on large projects or by the main contractor on small projects. The reason that architects don’t deal with project management (and co-ordinate all of the contractors and sub-contractors on a site) is because this would steal from the time that they devote to design and quality control. Your architect will however, lay down the law (and contract) and if the contractor fails to fulfill any of their responsibilities, they will suffer monetary penalties.
The process typically intensifies near the end of a project and can be fast paced. But when the correct steps are followed, it will be a time of excitement and joy as you witness the completion of a building that you love! The stages may vary slightly between different architectural firms, but in essence the intention is that your life is kept simple and that you enjoy the journey on the way a great building!
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