Archive

Design Process

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I don’t get to draw all day. I’m not a cartoon maker. Honestly, I’m getting tired of hearing clients and architects say “Isn’t that great, you/ I get to draw all day and get paid!” I know it’s typically stated flippantly, but we, or at least myself, need to really think about that. That’s not what we do and it’s part of the perception problem that the public has with what we architects do. “Don’t you architects just do some drawings?” No, no we don’t. Now before you get up on your soap box and start calling me out, I admit… I’ve been guilty of stating the same thing. However, I’m making a conscious effort to not say that anymore, it marginalizes what we do. Part of our role as architects is educating the public what it is we really do… we fall short on doing so, I know I do.

We architects get excited about meeting new clients and voicing our thoughts on the design problem and the solutions we have. We prepare awesome drawings that represent the vision for the project, with any luck the client loves them… and… pause…that right there is part of the problem. The problem is quite simple; it’s the ‘awesome drawings’ the client sees. Even worse, if we’ve been good at the design solution, the resultant drawings look effortless and as if that was the only solution. While awesome drawings are… well, awesome, they can also be a detriment. We need to do a better job at explaining the architect’s value to our clients lies well beyond the drawings created… and that we don’t just draw all day.

 

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An architect’s value is lost on the client if they only see the drawings and aren’t fully vetted as to the process/experience that ‘created’ the drawings. It’s the drawings backed by such that instills value. Yes architects draw. However, drawing is part of a larger process of architecture. A process backed with experience and expertise. The process involves problem solving, addressing your needs/wishes/budget/schedule, and complying with local building and zoning codes- all while designing an aesthetically pleasing efficient structure. Architects help you design/discover a structure that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. The value of an architect’s services is occasionally related directly to cost savings. However, typically our value is in questioning, planning, clarification, detailing, and ‘solidifying’ numerous moving ‘parts’ into a cohesive design- which ultimately results in cost savings to you. This in turn enhances the value we bring to a project. Drawings play a supporting role in the overall process.

Drawings themselves do not bring value to architecture. It’s the due diligence, experience, role of the architect in the design/construction process, and the thought(s) that created the drawings that bring value. Many people seem to be under the impression that drawings are cheap, and they’re right. Drawings themselves are cheap. However, it’s the thought and expertise that ‘back’ drawings created by an architect that’s going to cost. You can have cheap drawings; you’re just not going to get them from me or any other architect who has your best interests in mind. As a client, you need to look past the architect’s drawings and be cognizant of the process that created the drawings. The drawings themselves are cheap, heck I’ll even pay* for the paper myself. What you’re paying for is the architect’s expertise that created those drawings.

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No, I don’t get to draw all day everyday, my typical day looks more like this- Drawing Baths and Architecture. Yes I do get to draw, but my drawings are more than graphic representations. They are a wealth of knowledge and are backed by a solid thought process. Architects offer a service in which drawings are a tool to reach a conclusion… a conclusion that ultimately brings value to your project. Drawings are a product; architects provide a service, a valuable service!

 

Design On,

* Offer only applies when my services are rendered for the project, cannot be combined with any other offers unless Neutra comes back to life and wants to collaborate.

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2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 1Within the architecture profession, design competitions have a love hate relationship. Many architects either love them or hate them. Me, I don’t cut it so black and white, I prefer an off gray stance. I don’t enter many design competitions, perhaps a future post as to why. However, when I do, I look at them from my own ** insert pun ** perspective and I win every competition I enter.

Every.

Single.

One.

How? Simple, I enter them with a specific challenge for myself to achieve. I don’t care about ‘winning’ in terms of Charlie Sheen, or the competitions definition of winning. Sure, it’d be great to win and receive the accolades from peers, or a quart of tiger’s blood, but I’m in it for more than that. I win by using competitions as exercises to further my knowledge of the architecture profession and/or add new design tools to my arsenal. There are two, and only two criteria to meet if you want to guarantee a win- and in reality one of them is optional.

The two critical tips to win every competition you enter:

1. There needs to be an entry fee. It’ll force upon you responsibility and commitment. If you’re anything like me, you expect to get something out of the monies you pay- I’m looking right at you AIA, sorry, that’s another post.

2. You need to commit to learning a new technique, trying new software, testing a new concept, investigating a new material or new usage of a typical material, etc. the key here is ‘new’ as the only way to win is doing something new.

You can win without meeting tip number 1. However, your winnings will be greater if you do. Keep in mind, there is no way to win if you don’t adhere to tip number 2

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 3One of my most recent projects was the design of a new residential house. The clients are great and it’s been a fun project. The design was done via SketchUp and the design package was presented via renders right out of SketchUp. The graphic results for the schematic proposal were good. At the schematic stage, I try not to get caught up in materials and color selections- I want clients to focus on form, massing, and layout. I’ve used SketchUp for several years, the renders are good but a bit cartoonish. If you’d like to learn the basics of using SketchUp, check out my post SketchUp 101. I’ve tried a few other rendering plug-ins with Sketchup in the past, while the results were better than the standard Sketchup, they were cumbersome to achieve. I knew there were better Sketchup plug-ins. Time to go win a design competition.

My local chapter of the AIA was having their annual design awards competition, a perfect one to enter. As previously mentioned, there was an entry fee and the new software I was going to learn was Maxwell Render. I wanted to learn a new software to enhance the Sketchup renders. In addition, I was looking for a technique to better render grass, and Maxwell fit the bill on both counts. The free version of Maxwell is a plug-in that runs within Sketchup. While you’re limited to certain functions and output resolutions, it greatly enhances renderings of your Sketchup models. I chose Maxwell because Evan Troxel raves about it and if he does, trust me it’s got to be good. So Maxwell it was. I won’t go into specifics about the usage of Maxwell, perhaps a future post, but honestly you’re better off checking out Evan’s get Method site.

Here are some of the images created- the original SketchUp image is followed  with the Maxwell Render below. Keep in mind these were created from one SketchUp model with minor tweaking in Maxwell. The people, trees, and sky were done in Photoshop:

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So there you go, my latest win at a design competition. I won by learning a new software and technique. I was extremely happy with the results and haven’t even begun experimenting with Maxwell materials… maybe I’ll save that for my next winning entry. If you care to forgo an entry fee, be sure to check out Bob Borson’s Life of an Architect annual Playhouse Design Competition, its for a great cause.

So go out there and win yourself a design competition, you’ll be happy you did!

 

 

Design On,

** Seriously… you’ll win… do it!

The past decade sat witness to an ever expanding frenzy for ‘green architecture,’ or sustainable design/ building. The ever growing interest in environmental responsibility and sustainability provides us the ability to have a positive impact on the environment. However, sometimes clients get lost in all the jargon employed when discussing ‘green design’ and sustainability and what it all really means.

 

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Sustainability is comprised of people, the earth, and costs. Sustainability involves evaluating a buildings impact on the environment from a ‘whole building’ point of view, not just specific pieces, and then designing accordingly. At minimum, and regardless of project scale, a design striving to reduce its environmental impact should address the following aspects:

– Site analysis to minimize/maximize solar gain, winds, views, etc.

– Minimize/ control water consumption

– Passive solar and day lighting

– Reduction of waste, during construction and the life-cycle of the building

– Use of recycled materials and finishes

– Maximize floor plan efficiency

– Energy efficient doors and windows

– Renewable energy sources

– Employ high efficiency mechanical systems

– Well-designed insulation systems/methods to reduce the need/use of mechanical systems

– Control or elimination of Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are typically dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment.

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As architects, we need to safeguard our natural resources for future generations- this is by far one of the, if not THE, primary responsibilities we have as architects. Sustainable design must be flexible to change, reduce consumption of resources, and still possess strong design acumen and contribute positively to the built environment. As an architect, sustainable design should be an extension of our goal to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our clients and those who use our buildings- now and in the future.

 

Design On,

** For the architects reading this, I tried, The AIA won’t credit any HSW LU credits from reading this post.

What is the best house? Is it a mid-century modern? Perhaps it’s a contemporary? Is it a Georgian Revival? Is it a Craftsman Bungalow? Is it a 100 year old renovated farmhouse? Or is it something else? Yes, it’s all of these; the best house is the house that works for you and your lifestyle! However, without an architect, achieving the best house for you is challenging.

Most people have lived in houses of one sort or another their entire lives. Typically we take our houses for granted and do not appreciate just how many decisions have to be made prior to constructing a new house, or renovating/adding to an existing house. At some point, someone had to think through the entire design and construction process- address needs, wishes, budget, schedule, and comply with local building and zoning codes- all while ensuring that the resultant house was structurally sound, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing. The best ‘someone’ for the task is an architect. Architects are educated to help you define your needs, present options you may not have considered, prepare documents that instruct how your house is to be built, and assist you in the myriad of decisions inherent in the design/construction process… all while making it fun!

 

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Your house may be the most expensive project you will ever undertake. If you are making such an investment, and you want your house to reflect who you are and how you live, hiring an architect is a must. An architect will help you design/discover a house that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. This house, your house, will be vastly different than one designed for someone else. Your house will fit you like a glove. An architect will assist you in bridging the gap between your vision and reality.

We architects take the opportunity to work with you on such an important aspect of your life very seriously. One of the most enjoyable aspects of our work is that we are hired to create wonderful places for daily living. It is a very rewarding experience for both architect and client. What is the best house? Easy, the best house is the house that works for you and your lifestyle! How to achieve the best house, well that’s a bit more challenging and should involve an architect.

What is the best house for you? Talk to an architect and begin the journey, it’ll be a great experience!

 

Design On,

** I really need to get to the post about house vs. home.

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I’ve been involved with client based single family residential design for over nineteen years. I’ve worked on single room additions, five million dollar+ custom houses, and everything in-between. Each house has its own unique set of circumstances that need to be resolved or addressed. No two clients have the same set of circumstances or needs for their house. However, one issue is always prevalent- value. Usually value is associated with a monetary amount, but that’s not always true. Clients talk about wanting to add, increase, and maintain value… but typically they’re not sure what value they’re talking about or how it applies to their house.

So how does one address value in a house? It’s actually pretty simple; value in a house comes down to common sense and avoiding excess frill. Real value comes from things that make sense and enhance ones comfort and enjoyment of living in a house. A valuable house should employ as many of the following as possible:

1. Location/ Orientation house should be located within a reasonable proximity to the client’s daily needs. Ideally, the house should be in a mixed-use community that offers various amenities with-in walking distance. The less dependent on a vehicle the better for the environs and one’s health. A house should be orientated to take advantage of the sun, prevailing winds, and site specific features. In addition, the house interior should have a connection to the outdoors, both visually and physically.

2. Sustainable house should take advantage of both passive and active sustainable building practices. There are numerous exterior and interior strategies/ methods that can be employed to reduce a house’s impact on the environment. However, the best thing is to construct only the spaces necessary.

3. Floor Plan should meet your needs and how you live. Do not design for what you are told is needed to re-sell the home or include whatever the latest trend is, i.e. “man cave.” You don’t want rooms that you never use- not only will you have to furnish them but you will also have to heat and cool them- these monies are better spent elsewhere. Efficiency can be achieved by the minimization of the plan and simple building volumes.

4. Rooms/ Spaces all rooms and spaces should have ample daylight, sufficient applicable storage, and logically accommodate the intended furniture. Dedicated hallways and circulation spaces should be kept to a minimum. (*note entries to the house should be ‘spaces’ not just doors)

5. Kitchens + Bathrooms should be well organized, have efficient layouts, and provide ample storage- all of which can be achieved in a compact or moderately sized space.

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6. Mudroom minimum should include a washable floor, floor drain, and utility sink with a hose attachment. Ideally each occupant of the house would have their own cubby/locker for storage. The mudroom should be located wherever the family foot traffic passes on a daily basis. (* pssst… pssst… it’s usually not the front door)

7. Garage cars are a reality that is not going away any time soon. However, a garage should not be the dominate element on a house. Ideally the garage should be set-back from the main elevation, or even better, if the site allows, the garage should be located on the side and underneath of a house.

8. Roof complicated gables, hips, gambrels, etc. can be very distracting to the overall design of a home- they’re even more difficult to flash, vent, and properly waterproof. A roof should be simple in design and shed water. (** shed water ** hint hint **)

9. Materials use low-maintenance long lasting materials.

10. Quality should take precedence over quantity. This applies to the entire house- overall size, rooms/ spaces, finishes, etc. Employ fewer elements executed to a higher degree of proficiency.

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The most valuable houses are the ones located in mixed-use walkable communities. Ideally the house is close to the owner’s daily needs. Houses that rely on an efficiency of space and are well designed in simple forms and details. Houses designed to meet the needs of the owners, minimize the life-cycle costs of operating and maintaining the house, a house designed for you– these are characteristics of a valuable house.

 

Design On,

** Notice I used ‘house’ and not ‘home’… a future post on that is in the works.

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In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I provide some general terms and definitions that a residential client should be familiar with when involved with a construction project. I know, I know… I hear you asking “But Keith, what happened to the funny sarcastic posts? I mean this series seems pretty serious.” Well, rest assured the sarcastic humor shall return. Read the post WWJD and other architectural abbreviations for some not-so-serious abbreviations and associated meanings. However, once and a while I feel the need to write posts that help in educating clients what is we architects do and what it’s like working with us.

Keep in mind, these definitions/terms are not all encompassing. However, they do give you a good foundation (*pun inserted*) of terms you should be familiar with. When in doubt or you don’t understand a term, phrase, definition, etc., ask your architect for clarification.

Allowance(s)
A sum of money set aside in the construction contract for items which have not been selected and specified in the construction contract/construction documents. The contractor will be responsible for purchasing these items when they are chosen by the client. If the client selects an item which costs less than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive a credit equal to the difference in cost. Similarly, if the client selects an item which costs more than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive an extra charge equal to the difference in cost.

Approved Equal
Material, equipment, or method proposed by the contractor and approved by the architect for incorporation in or use in the work as equivalent in essential attributes to the material, equipment, or method specified in the contract document.

Architect
A designation reserved, usually by law, for a person or organization professionally qualified and duly licensed to perform architectural services.

Building Codes
Ordinances governing the manner in which a structure may be constructed or modified. Regulations, ordinances or statutory requirements of a government unit relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted and administered for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare.

Builders Risk Insurance
A type of property insurance which indemnifies against damage to buildings while they are under construction. It is usually bought by the owner of the building but the general contractor constructing the building may buy it if it is required as a condition of the contract. If the project involves renovations or additions to an existing building, the owner’s existing property insurance may cover the work under construction, obviating the need for builder’s risk insurance. However, in the case of new buildings under construction, the owner may not have an existing policy that provides coverage.

Certificate of Occupancy
Typically referred to as a ‘”CO.” This certificate is issued by the local municipality and is required before anyone can occupy and live within a home. It is issued only after the local municipality has made all inspections and all monies and fees have been paid.

Change Order
An amendment to the construction contract signed by the owner, architect, and contractor that authorizes a change in the work or an adjustment in the contract sum or the contract time or both.

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Construction Administration
In this phase, your architect observes the pace and quality of construction. As your agent, your architect looks out for your interests, keeping you informed of the project’s progress and overseeing any changes or problems that may arise. Construction phase services are helpful in keeping your project on track and within budget.

Construction Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for actual construction of the project, including contingencies for bidding to contractors and for changes during construction.

Construction Contract
A legal document which specifies the what-when-where-how-how much and by whom in a construction project. A good construction contract will include:

1. The contractor’s registration number.

2. A statement of work quality such as ‘Standard Practices of the Trades’ or ‘according to Manufacturers Specifications’.

3. A set Construction Documents/Drawings.

4. A construction timetable including starting and completion dates.

5. A set of Specifications.

6. A Fixed Price for the work, or a Time and Materials formula.

7. A Payment Schedule.

8. Any Allowances.

9. Clause(s) which outlines how any disputes will be resolved.

10. Written Warrantee(s).

11. Certificates of insurance (builders risk, general liability, workers compensation, etc.)

Construction Documents
Drawings and specifications created by an architect that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of the project.

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Contractor
A company licensed to perform certain types of construction activities. In most states, the general contractor’s license and some specialty contractor’s licenses do not require compliance with bonding, workmen’s compensation and similar regulations. Some of the specialty contractor licenses involve extensive training, testing and/or insurance requirements. There are various types of contractors:

General contractor– a contractor who enters into a contract with the owner of a project for the construction of the project and who takes full responsibility for its completion, although the contractor may enter into subcontracts with others for the performance of specific parts or phases of the project.

Remodeling contractor– a general contractor who specializes in remodeling work.

Specialty contractor– licensed to perform a specialty task e.g. electrical, septic/sewer, asbestos abatement.

Sub-contractor– a general or specialty contractor who works for another general contractor.

Design/Build
A method of project delivery in which the owner contracts directly with a single entity that is responsible for both design and construction services for a construction project.

Design Development
The architect prepares more detailed drawings and finalizes the design plans, showing correct sizes and shapes for rooms. Also included is an outline of the construction specifications, listing the major materials to be used.

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General Liability Insurance
Helps protect businesses in the event they are sued by customers or other third parties for injuries or damages.

Life Cycle Cost Analysis
The architect calculates expected future operating, maintenance, and replacement costs of desired designs and features to assist homeowners in developing a realistic design and budget estimate.

Payment Schedule
A pre-agreed upon schedule of payments to a contractor usually based upon the amount of work completed. Such a schedule may include a deposit prior to the start of work. There may also be a temporary ‘retainer/hold back’ (5-10% of the total cost of the job) at the end of the contract for correcting any small items which have not been completed or repaired.

Penalty Clause
A provision in a contract that provides for a reduction in the amount otherwise payable under a contract to a contractor as penalty for failure to meet deadlines or for failure of the project to meet contract specifications.

Percolation Test
Typically referred to as a ‘perc test.’ Tests that a soil engineer performs on earth to determine the feasibility of installing a leech field type sewer system on a lot. A test to determine if the soil on a proposed building lot is capable of absorbing the liquid affluent from a septic system.

Permit
A governmental municipal authorization to perform a building process such as; zoning/use permit, demolition permit, grading permit, septic permit, building permit, electrical permit, plumbing permit, etc.

Programming
The architect and homeowner discuss the goals, needs and function of the project, design expectations and available budget, pertinent building code and zoning regulations. The architect prepares a written statement setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for a project, including special requirements and systems, and site requirements.

Program

Project Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for the entire project, including the construction budget; land costs; costs of furniture, furnishings, and equipment; financing costs; compensation for professional services; cost of owner-furnished goods and services; contingency allowance; and similar established or estimated costs.

Punch List
A list prepared by the client or their authorized representative of items of work requiring immediate corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor.

Punch Out
To inspect and generate a punch list.

Schematic Design Phase
The architect consults with the owner to ascertain the requirements of the project and prepares schematic studies consisting of drawings and other documents illustrating the scale and relationships of the project components for approval by the owner. The architect also submits to the owner a preliminary estimate of construction cost based on current area, volume, or other unit costs.

Septic System
An on-site waste water treatment system. It usually has a septic tank which promotes the biological digestion of the waste, and a drain field which is designed to let the left over liquid soak into the ground. Septic systems and permits are usually sized by the number of bedrooms in a house.

Specifications
A part of the construction documents contained in the project manual or included within the construction drawings consisting of written requirements for materials, equipment, construction systems, standards and workmanship.

Standard Practices of the Trade(s)
One of the more common basic and minimum construction standards. This is another way of saying that the work should be done in the way it is normally done by the average professional in the field.

Square Footage
Can be calculated as both gross and net square footage. No uniform standard for computing a residential square footage yet exists. Architects, builders and Realtors each measure square footage differently. Square footage is not always an indication of the livable space available in a structure. Clients are encouraged to ask for an explanation of which spaces were included in the square footage calculation and how it was calculated.

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Substantial Completion
Refers to a stage of a construction or building project or a designated portion of the project that is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the construction contract documents, so that the owner may use or occupy the building project or designated portion thereof for the intended purpose, without undue interference.

Time and Materials Contract
A construction contract which specifies a price for different elements of the work such as cost per hour of labor, overhead, profit, etc. A contract which may not have a maximum price, or may state a ‘price not to exceed’.

Warranty
In construction there are two general types of warranties. One is provided by the manufacturer of a product such as roofing material or an appliance. The second is a warranty for the labor. For example, a roofing contract may include a 20 year material warranty and a 5 year labor warranty. Many new homebuilders provide a one year warranty. Any major issue found during the first year should be communicated to the builder immediately.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance
A form of insurance that provides compensation medical care for employees who are injured in the course of employment, in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence.

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As a bonus, download your own PDF definitions cheat sheet and insert into your project/idea book- or make paper airplanes, your call –> Working with an Architect

If you missed the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, they can be found here:

Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search

Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself

Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect

Next up in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, Part 5- What? Me, Hire an architect? Stay tuned.

 

Design On,

** Go find yourself an architect and define your project, it will be worth it!