Stair Layout Considerations
Stairs are another one of the features of a design that can take an inordinate amount of time. (Toilets are another.) The reason is invariably that the layout decided upon in Schematic Design doesn't work out on closer inspection in Construction Documents. Finding out that you need an extra 2’ leads to a bad day. Finding 2' means re-design.
I usually get myself in that predicament by not working out the concept of the stair in Schematic Design. I plan on a simple switchback stair, but it doesn’t fit; or it needs to be an ’offset’ switchback, which really doesn’t fit. (By ’offset’ switchback I mean you enter from a central corridor but exit through the exterior wall. Getting under the landing means one flight is extra long.) The point is that I wish I had spent a half hour thinking this through in SD instead of six hours getting it to work in CDs. So I like to run through all the possibilities in SD.
The simplest stair is a Straight Stair or its subtype Right Angle. A straight run works for up to a 12’ fl-fl then you need a landing. Obviously the entry and exit points are distant.
Switchback Stair - the old standby for a lot of reasons, inexpensive (or can be), stacked entrance/exit points. For a stair you don't expect to be used constantly, assume width is 10’ by 24’ long. For a stair you do expect to be used constantly, use a width of 12’ by 24’ long, which includes wall thicknesses in both cases. These dimensions are good for story heights up to 14’, which is ideal for buildings with ducted HVAC and 9’ ceilings. Both are good early assumptions.
Offset Switchback - If stair starts at a corridor but exits at an exterior wall it gets tricky because you have to walk under the landing. Set landing at 9’ min. A 3-story adds the problem that the ground floor stair has one longer run that has to be matched above for headroom.
Spiral Stair - they are expensive, trickier than most for headroom and for arriving at each level facing the correct direction. Code severely limits where they can be used.
Curved Stairs - they get complicated: code, comfort, technical issues, cost - consider going design/build.
Whichever type of stair is chosen, I like to keep the layout as simple as possible so I can concentrate on the aesthetics of the finishes rather than technical geometry issues.
Other posts deal with Stair Technical Considerations and Stair Finishes.
TAKE A PICTURE
Let's say you want to pick an accent color. Take a picture that shows the current color. Point to the color in the photo to select it. The app matches it to the closest color in the system. From there you can look at four coordinating colors. The colors seem to be two pairs, each pair containing one lighter color and one darker color. (See the bottom photos.) Select one of the colors. Done.
Another approach, using the iPad app, after you have 'pulled' a color from your photo; you can select it to see its details. This will include a list of any 'collections' that include it. From there select 'Explore Color' and select one of the collections to see other colors that are part of the collection. The collection will contain several colors that "go with" your starting color, but not all will be great choices. Some discernment is required.
By the way, there is an iPad app as well as an iPhone app. They are very similar but the features are more numerous on the iPad version.
Since the App is free, I suggest getting it and playing around with it to see if it is a 'keeper'.
Publishing to Build Your Niche
One of the best strategies for building a busy, well-paid architectural practice is to develop a niche. The main obstacle for most firms is being recognized as knowledgeable about the niche and therefore considered or sought out for those niche projects.
Publishing on a topic is one of the key tactics in developing a niche and demonstrating your expertise in the project type. Fred Stitt, publisher of Guidelines newsletter and founder of the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, has described the process of developing a niche in his publications. Paraphrasing, these are the steps:
A byproduct of this process is that you will get to know a lot of people in the industry you want to work for and will be in the right place at the right time to find out about upcoming projects. Always ask what they have in development and if they know of anyone else who is planning to do something.
The goal is to know as much as your clients do about their industry, and eventually, to know more so that you are the expert and can ask for a premium. You can imagine other things that you can do.
(This flowchart above shows the steps in the process of developing articles for publication and will enlarge when clicked.)
orig post date OCT 2012
I don't remember ever hearing about the inherent extra cost of a two-story building compared to a one-story building. We were designing a high school once when the client had a change in leadership. The new leader mandated a one-story, pre-engineered metal building for cost savings. We had completed schematics based on a two-story building. The site was hilly and earthwork and conservation of useable area for athletic fields seemed to dictate at least two stories. Anyway, I think I looked into whether a one-story building was cheaper, and I found that it was. Inherently. (But a PEMB had 'issues'.)
"Why is that?", you ask.
A few reasons are obvious. A two-story building is going to need stairs and an elevator. Besides the cost of these things, more square footage is required to accommodate them.
Less obviously, you will probably need more area devoted to toilet rooms and janitor closets as the fixture count is spread out over two floors. Another cost increase is that you end up trading the relatively inexpensive costs of slab-on-grade and roof of the one-story building for the heavier structure and elevated slab of the two-story building.
But the real increased cost comes from the additional exterior wall area of a two-story building. This is not at all obvious, but here is how it works.
Let's compare 20,000 SF one and two story buildings. For simplicity let's start with square footprints for the buildings. The one-story building will be 141.4’ on a side for a perimeter of 565.7 LF. With a building height of 14’ the exterior wall area is 7,919.6 SF.
The two-story building will be 100’ on a side for a perimeter of 400 LF. With a building height of 2 x 14’ the exterior wall area is 11,200 SF. This difference of 3,280 SF is about 40% more exterior wall! Exterior wall is fairly expensive, and would cost at least $82,000 additional (at a low $25/SF wall cost).
It may not be obvious but the area of the exterior walls goes up for other non-square building proportions. For instance 4:1 proportions gives you 9,898 SF of wall for a 1 story building and 14,000 SF for the 2 story building. Now the cost difference is over $100,000.
So is this just "fun facts to know and tell"?
Yes, when the design of a building is driven mostly by other considerations than cost. But when you are driven by low cost, the single story solution will be inherently less expensive because it uses less stuff. I think you can say that one-story buildings are inherently more accessible, and more inexpensive. It wouldn't surprise me if they were also more environmentally friendly.
Before I ever bought a computer, I attended a seminar given by Paige Highfill for fellow architects. The topic was how to incorporate computers into your practice. It was 1983, so we weren't talking about CAD. CAD systems then cost $200,000. No one who bought one of those systems ever got their investment back by doing architecture with it. We were learning how you could take three programs, Scripsit, VisiCalc, and Profile, and use them to create standard notes, track billable time, and create a project-based accounting system.
Those three programs, which were on floppy disks using a computer with 128k of RAM (we were cavemen), were a word processor, an electronic spreadsheet, and a database. They weren't 'designed' to do any of the things that were being demonstrated. The key, we learned, was to understand the personality of the program so that you could set it up to do things that were useful to you. These weren't likely to be things that the program designers had ever considered.
Amazingly, after three decades, the lesson about understanding the personality of software still is useful. You often find features in a program that are intended for one use, but many other uses are possible. Here's an example using Nozbe. Nozbe is a very nice task manager that I have mentioned several times.
Nozbe offers a free account, but it limits the number of projects that you can have to five. As a designer you need more projects than that. Although Nozbe limits projects, you can have as many 'contexts' as you want. A context is intended to be a place or situation where tasks from multiple projects can be addressed. For instance you might have an 'automobile context' that you use to tag tasks that are errands. Or you might have an 'EOM context' for tasks that you need to do at the end of each month. The personality of contexts is to be a tag or qualifier for a task. So a way to use a free Nozbe account to manage tasks on dozens of projects is to give all the tasks of one project the same tag, say the project name. Clicking the tag gives you the same information as if you had clicked a project. Since each task can have more than one context, you can still use contexts as intended.
Basecamp also limits projects, so use one 'project' for all projects and use separate ToDo lists and Discussions for each real project using an ID to start each ToDo list or Discussion to distinguish it from the others. Basecamp is intended to manage projects but you can manage a club or similar group just as easily - a forum, an AIA Chapter, etc.
I use Inkflow largely as they envision. One undocumented use I make of it is as an electronic checklist. One of Inkflow's features is the ability to give your pages a stationery underlayment. They provide ruled lines and a grid, but they also let you create your own 'watermarks' by importing a photo. If you take a screenshot of a checklist that you want to use over and over, just import it as 'stationery' and you have an unlimited supply of the checklist. See below.
I think that once you start looking at programs in this way you will start to see ways that you can 'hack' them to get more value than was intended.
Planning A Basement - Rule Of Thumb
In the Midwest and probably just about everywhere else with workable soil conditions, a house basement adds minimal cost for the additional raw square footage. The additional cost is pretty much limited to a stair, slab-on-grade, 4’ higher foundation walls and damp proofing with a footing drain. Without finishes this is pretty minimal. It's a good deal. The cost per SF is about 10-15% of the SF cost on the rest of the house.
This knowledge doesn't transfer to commercial buildings at all. But that doesn't keep nearly every client from wanting a basement in their office building, school, church...
The commercial reality is that an unfinished basement will cost 75% of what you are spending on the rest of the building. First lets look at the extras for a house in terms of a commercial building.
Stair: As a means of egress the stair will need a fire-rated enclosure. The stair itself will be larger because of the commercial tread/riser ratio, minimum width. It may not even be wood. And you may need two of them.
Slab-on-grade: The ground floor of a commercial building was going to be a slab-on-grade. Now you have moved it to the basement, and you have added a structural floor in its place. The structural floor is about five times as expensive.
4’ higher foundation walls: Story heights are greater in a commercial building so you have not only added about eight feet instead of four but the wall thickness and reinforcing have increased as well.
Damp proofing with a footing drain: Because of the taller basement wall, waterproofing is often called for. It is just too critical to hang your hat on damp proofing.
But of course that is not all.
And where do you draw the line on partitions (for security of stored goods), future toilet rooms, future doors and windows, and electrical infrastructure.
I haven't ever had a client who thought that the real cost of a basement was worth it. Just quote the cost up front and save yourself the design time.
So here is how Construction WorkZone works.
Register for free to look up 10 items; or sign up for monthly use - $.99/first month, then $3.95/mo., cancel anytime.
The data search looks like the screenshots below.
The localized cost modifier seems to be a constant percent when I spot checked it. So you could do that just once on your subtotal.
The key features of cost estimating don’t require exact unit costs, which don’t exist anyway. Just look at the bids you receive for proof.
SUMMARY - PROs
Lots better than guessing
Low learning curve
SUMMARY - CONs
A little more time-consuming than I would like
Must transcribe costs, which is error-prone
Results not saved for you (so take screenshots??)
The ideal follow-through on your fee calculation efforts would be to capture all the key parameters of the fee and project. Put this data in a table for future reference when you are proposing the next fee. Strictly speaking this is not necessary, but there will be many times that you wish you had this information. Besides this table, keep a copy of your calculations in one folder for easy research when you have a similar project or client under consideration.
I recommend setting up the table as a spreadsheet. Place each fee proposal on a row and use the columns to capture the data. The spreadsheet will let you sort the proposals by any column or even filter out proposals that are not relevant.
Here is a master listing of column headings you might consider, but just use the ones that pertain to your type of work.
You may never need to print this table, so don’t worry about how wide it is getting, but use ’word wrap’ and vertical column headings if you prefer. If you do need to print it, use 11x17 in landscape or your plotter.
As you can see from the list, not all information that you want to have is available when you are working on the proposal. Fill in what you know right after you complete the proposal. Then update any blanks in the table the next time you work on a new proposal.
Over time I think you can see just how valuable this information will be.
Every profession has terms that are specific to it. Jargon. Jargon within the profession can have a clarifying effect and can often be a shorthand for more wordy concepts. So jargon has a worthwhile effect WITHIN the profession where everyone understands what is meant.
A profession’s jargon when used with the public or with clients has the opposite effect - obfuscation, confusion. It doesn't matter whether you intend to make it difficult to be understood, or if it is unintentional. The result is the same. You have chosen (intentionally or not) to rely on the authority of your role as a specialist instead of making yourself clear. I think that this comes across as arrogance. I think it is another way of saying, "Just trust me." Trust is earned, jargon gets in the way of trust.
Everyone has experience with obfuscation. You are in the minority if you don't find it at least annoying.
Why would you choose to NOT be understood? I can think of one or two scenarios, but they are outweighed by many more that are not very attractive.
What if you think in jargon? Well, that clears up your motives for using it, but you are still left with poor communication and lack of understanding.
Whenever you need agreement, jargon works against you. Even if you get the agreement, the client has an escape hatch - "I didn't know that's what we agreed to" or "I don't remember discussing that".
You can tell that I am not a fan of jargon. I don't think it is just me. If it sounds better when you use jargon, I think it is because the jargon conceals the weakness of the idea(s). Do we want weak ideas? I don't.
But let's go back to the trust issue. I have heard it said that there are two things you must demonstrate to win a design job - technical competence and trustworthiness that you will deliver on your promises. For many clients judging technical competence depends on past experience. Have you done this before or not? But all clients can judge trustworthiness. They do it all the time. So I think jargon lets you down in the exact scenario where you are really depending on it to make you look like a good choice.
Lack of understanding (jargon) and trustworthiness travel in different circles.
Using a survey as a marketing tactic is an interesting idea I heard about from a university development director. He uses a survey to ask for prospect's help in determining what is important for the university and ends up knowing what is important to them. He then looks for opportunities to focus on what is important to them.
For instance he would ask prospects to rank 8 initiatives in order of importance. (These initiatives are plans that his development department is working on.) Then months later he can use their ranking to go back to them and tell them about what was happening on that issue. And perhaps win their financial support.
This approach accomplishes two important things. First, you are gaining an insight into what your prospect's interests are, which can inform your approach to them in the future. Second, you are creating a basis for interaction before a project is launched. Asking for help is a well-known tactic for building a relationship. A third benefit is that the process offers an additional opportunity to remind your prospect that you exist.
My development department friend asks for an appointment and does the survey in person, taking notes. That is a very powerful way to implement this tactic. However, the time and attention this requires might not work in every case. Plan B is an electronic survey distributed by email. Survey Monkey is a free (and easy) survey tool you could use. There are others.
You should keep the survey brief and state up front how many questions and how long it will take. Make it as brief as you can while still getting some useful feedback. Below is an example/sample survey. Feel free to use these questions as-is or customize to suit yourself. Each of the first four questions offer the same choices to choose from.
We once surveyed all of our past clients about their experience with us. The feedback caused us to make some improvements. You might consider that use of a survey, too. Or you could make it part of your project closeout. Or make it an annual event.
orig post date Dec 2012
orig post date OCT 2012
The economics of an architect's office are fairly simple. Like every other business you need more money coming in than going out. Here's how you can tell if that is going to happen.
Add up the money you are paying per month to actually produce the work that you are getting paid for. This will be primarily salaries, but more particularly the portion of the salary paying for productive work as opposed to office tasks.
Now add up all the money you are spending per month to run the office, everything, project-related expences included.
Divide the total expense by the project expense. You want the resulting number to be about 3. The lower the number the more profitable you will be. The higher the number the less profitable.
What this is telling you is how much you have to charge for each hour you work on a project to cover all your expenses. The higher the number you got, the more you have to charge. At some point no one will pay what you need to charge.
This is simple math and there is no way around it.
Let's say you want to make $100,000 a year (about $50 an hour). If the number you calculated is 4, then you have to bill out at $200/hr. If you calculated a 2, then you have to bill at $100 an hour.
If market rates in your area are $150/hr, there is a real problem with having calculated a 4. On the other hand if you calculated a 2, you can charge less than your colleagues and get more work. Or you can charge the market rate and put some money away for a rainy day, replacing equipment, or bonuses.
How do you reduce the number you calculated? Here are the things you can do:
Keep in mind that this discussion about profitability depends upon keeping the pipeline full of work and being effective in the execution of your work. Rework and poor procedures will undermine the economics of any organization.
The Article How Much Are You Worth An Hour? takes this description of finances a little farther.
There are four Value Propositions for any business:
1. Best quality.
Richard Branson once said that being the best at something is a pretty good business model, and I agree. Think of brands that set a standard, like Louisville baseball bats, Benjamin Moore paints, and Stradivarius violins. You don't have to be a sports nut to have heard of the 125-year history of the Louisville Slugger, nor do you have to be a classical music aficionado to have heard of the legendary Stradivarius violins. Brands that set standards are sometimes luxury brands, but not necessarily. You don't need luxury to set a best-in-class standard. Brands like Benjamin Moore define quality in their categories. That's an enviable position and a value proposition that works.
2. Best bang for the buck.
Recessionary woes have amplified the fact that some consumers will always buy on price. Best-in-class value doesn't always mean lowest price, however, but rather the best quality-to-price ratio. Jet Blue is a good example of a company that, though it may not offer the cheapest or best in comfort travel, does a good job of communicating its value relative to its price point. Dell, Chipotle, Ikea, and Toyota are other good examples of best-in-class value, and their value propositions have been sustainable through the years. Incidentally, the founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad, has regularly traded places with Bill Gates on various world's richest lists.
3. Luxury and aspiration.
On the other end of the spectrum from bang-for-buck players are luxury providers that promise the experience of a wealthy lifestyle to aspirational consumers. Ralph Lauren is one of the masters of a lifestyle luxury brand; others are Rolex, BMW, and Hermes. While the luxury segment was hurt during the downturn, it is almost certain that as the economy rebounds that customers will return to luxury goods as their discretionary spending increases.
One of the most attractive value propositions we have seen and studied are the "must-haves." These include basic goods — certain foods, for instance. During my prior work with Thomson Reuters, we often talked about "must-have" content that business professionals could not do their jobs without. The critical legal information and tools WestLaw provides to lawyers are an example. As long as there are legal cases, there will be a need for legal information. It does not mean there will not be competition, but if the category you are pursuing is must-have, then the market leaders will have a great prize to share.
Lifted from an article titled "Value Propositions That Work", by Anthony Tjan on the HBR Blog Network.
orig post date OCT 2012