Seeking out the design path with your architect during the Schematic Design Phase
Now that you're asking the right questions, it's time to have some fun! Coming out of the Pre-Design Phase, you now have a clear picture of what exactly you want to do. You know how much space you need. You know how you'd like your building or space to function. Your design problem has been thoughtfully defined and articulated. What's next?
As mentioned in the previous post 'Soup-To-Nuts: The Stages of Your Project,' the goal of the Schematic Design Phase is 'to explore the potential project development paths. Using the final synthesis of the previous project phase, the goal for Schematic Design is to, in a loose and non-binding way, explore the options. "What if the building is taller and keeps a small footprint so we can have a larger public space in front?" "What if the building is low and wide so that we can add a large exterior space on the roof?" The ultimate goal for this phase is to choose a path on which the team will walk as development in future phases unfolds.'
Schematic Design, at its core, is a process of structured play towards a targeted goal. Not unlike scientific study, Architects work diligently during this phase to create thoughtful hypotheses which they use to guide a series of iterative studies (multiple, quick tests via sketches, models or other digital and/or hands-on media). A design hypothesis is defined and acted out to one or several natural conclusions. The lessons learned from this structured development process are rich lessons for the architect and client. They paint a clear picture of the merits, opportunities and limitations of the original hypothesis. Once these lessons are digested through collaborative discussion between all stakeholders in the design, the hypothesis is adjusted to address the team's concern and the development begins again. This productive back-and-forth acts as a rigorous honing system that is intended to bring to the surface a clear framework for the development of the project during later phases.
The previous description of the schematic design process presumes that each design scheme (the hypothesis) is viable and can be refined into something useful. But what if the original idea is intrinsically flawed to begin with? This happens often and is perhaps an even more productive for the overall project development. No idea is a bad idea until it is rigorously tested and proven to be not be viable. Often times, the lessons of 'what not to do' are the most meaningful. The natural weeding-out of potential project development interests help the architect and client become more deliberate with framing the next steps.
At the conclusion of schematic design, it is critical that decisions at the overall scale of the building are firm and understood unilaterally by all parties. This statement is in fact so important that it needs to be stated twice - it is critical that decisions at the overall scale of the building are firm and understood unilaterally by all parties. Second-guessing previous decisions and changes made to the design major building relationships after the conclusion of this phase can become very costly and can cause harmful delays to the project schedule. It is far more cost-effective and time-efficient to extend the schematic design phase until all stakeholders are ultimately comfortable with these major design relationships than it would be to hastily jump to the next phase without major decisions being firmed-up.
As this phase transitions to the next phase, design development, one would expect that the site layout, overall building massing (the general form of the building), floor plans and the building's section (the relationship of the building's spaces to one another from top-to-bottom) are clearly defined and relatively fixed. Having these major relationships designed and locked-in will allow for development work in the subsequent project phases to proceed efficiently and will save the client significant money on design fees s well as future construction costs.
Schematic Design Phase Recap
GOAL: To explore the potential project development paths. Using the final synthesis of the previous project phase, the goal for Schematic Design is to, in a loose and non-binding way, explore the options. "What if the building is taller and keeps a small footprint so we can have a larger public space in front?" "What if the building is low and wide so that we can add a large exterior space on the roof?" The ultimate goal for this phase is to choose a path on which the team will walk as development in future phases unfolds.
ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: The Architect, as alluded to above, uses this phase to play a game of 'what-if?' By prompting the client with a range of project approaches and listening intently to the client's feedback, he/she begins to narrow the field of options. The prompts used for this phase, as in most phases, are physical (drawings, models, diagrams, project examples of previous work, etc.). During this phase, the Architect will typically delve into preliminary space planning, building massing, circulation & egress studies, as well as preliminary structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing design. During this phase, the Architect will commonly initiate a loose conversation about material options.
CLIENT ROLE: Feedback is the fuel for the engine of design. Sometimes, an "I don't like that" or a "no way Jose" can be as much- or even more fruitful than positive reactions, though any and all honest reactions are valuable. It is critical for the client to listen as much as possible to the intent driving each design option rather than relying solely on gut reactions. This makes for a productive dialogue that will yield very positive results. Schematic Design is the litmus test for the project so the honest opinions and an openness to new ways of thinking is fundamental to the success of the project.
PROJECT TEAM DURING THIS PHASE: Architect(s), Owner(s), Additional Stakeholders (Community Members, Investors, Donors, Steering Committees, Board Members, etc.)
HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY DURING THIS PHASE: Decisions as simple as how your building site, where windows are located, how bathrooms relate to each other; these choices can have a major impact on not only on the construction costs of your project but the long-term operating costs as well. How does your building interact with the sun and prevailing winds during the day? Does the window placement, wall construction and shading strategy minimize solar heat gain? Thoughtful choices such as these in stride with the other idiosyncrasies of the project visioning can equate to major financial savings.
Be sure to check out the previous posts in this series as well as the subsequent posts covering the remaining phases of your project. Links are provided below:
04 - Blazing Your Trail
06 - Speak With Purpose
American Institute of Architects - Schematic Design: Quality Management Phase Checklist
Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 01 - Schematic Design