It Is All About Money
One of the ways in which we attempted to distinguish ourselves from other firms was by taking care of our client’s money questions. In my opinion, and in my experience, too, money is usually the main thing that will undermine a project.
I don’t want to have the money conversations after it has become an explosive topic. So right from the beginning we attempted to help our clients set up a sound budget.
I have always found that one of the key parts of getting a grip on the firm's finances is to have a good idea where the money goes. You might not need all the line items in the budget template here, we didn't; but it is helpful to start with all the possibilities and narrow things down from there.
I got the opportunity to design some school buildings right out of college. They were fairly large projects taking six months to a year for the design phases. There was lots of time to recover from missteps. After a couple of these I got an admin building for a small school district. By comparison this was a three-bedroom house in scale. Before I had a handle on what the project would entail, I started focusing on the entrance and how I wanted that to work. After a day or two, the question came. "What the hell are you doing?" I explained about the importance (to me) of the entrance. "Do you even know if this is going to be 1-story or two? Does it fit the site?"
Cardflow+ by Qrayon: Beyond Index Cards
When I am not screwing around on my phone, I am using my iPad. 80% of what I do with Architekwiki is done with my iPad. The app I am describing is for the iPad.
I use the hell out of Trello; but for some things I've found another visual planning tool that works really well. Cardflow.
Cardflow mimics index cards on a tack board - but lots better.
Here Is How I Use Cardflow
The Technical Design Diagnostic came to our attention about 1990. Unfortunately we have lost track of its origins - perhaps Fred Stitt?
The concept of the Technical Design Diagnostic is that it is a first step in getting a handle on the project. If your goal is to find the best design that meets your client's program, including budget and schedule, which it should be, then the Technical Design Diagnostic is the most direct way to do that.
The Technical Design Diagnostic also takes less time than a design study that ignores the parameters that will inevitably bring you back to just a subset of what you once thought was possible. We have found that by using the Technical Design Diagnostic, the project design concept becomes very clear in just a few days for most projects.
The Technical Design Diagnostic is intended to be followed one step after the other in roughly the order shown here. When you have thought all these issues through, then you are ready to start designing.
This week I am playing around with a new toy called Publicate. I think it has some real potential for adding visual interest as well as facilitating the presentation of multiple articles in one post.
Bear with me while I experiment.
The Problem With Plans
I guess the calendar year is the accepted time frame for taking stock of achievements and planning for the new year. That process never worked very well for me. Although client interaction slowed down between Thanksgiving and New Years Day as they were distracted by their own year-end issues and the season, we had the same distractions. Planning takes a lot of time. Nevertheless, the planning effort is always worthwhile. You learn about your opportunities and your obstacles. Good stuff. The problem is trying to implement the plan. Stuff happens. The written plan is too time-consuming to access regularly, and it is disappointing to see the year slipping by with not-so-much being accomplished.
Years ago I stumbled upon a series of inexpensive management booklets published by Dorling Kindersley Limited. The one that was most helpful to me was Project Management. In particular the section on Planning A Project. The booklet describes eight steps that I have used every time I tackle a new project. As designers we have learned to do this, but not in a formal way that always leads to a good plan. Too often we just jump on the first ideas and start designing. Or for non-design projects - just start doing stuff without a clear picture of the whole process.
First Of All ... Happy New Year!
The end of the year seems to be the main time that planning takes place. It is accepted that the new year requires a new plan. So I have pulled together five of the posts that might come in handy for your planning.
I have a number of experiences working with a client’s Building Committee. This seems to be the preferred project management method for non-profits, church-based organizations and higher education. My personal preference is to work with a single person representing a for-profit, the goals are crystal clear, the path you take is straight and logical. But there are these other times when you have a Building Committee.
I’ve never had the chance to really shape a Building Committee. If I could, I would start by explaining their mission to them, because they don't know. Being a building committee member is a once in a lifetime occurrence for which there is no training. The typical Building Committee member thinks they are going to ’oversee’ design. So they are taken aback to learn that before design starts, they need to plan the project, to set the goals so they know HOW to judge a design.
The Building Committee’s Planning Mission
The Building Committee's planning mission normally includes eight issues - organization, space needs, character, context, constraints, schedule, budget, and methodology. So I would elaborate on these eight. My Cliff’s Notes version is:
The first task of the Building Committee is to organize itself. Who will be members, who will be chairperson? When will it meet? Will it operate formally or informally? What staff can assist? What does the Building Committee need to do its job?
SPACE NEEDS & CHARACTER
The Building Committee's next task is to determine the Space Needs of the organization. The tools for gathering this information are interviews, surveys, projections and reports. Most of the data will come from staff. In this process the desired Character of the facility should be addressed as well. This means determining what features and systems are needed. Durability, operability, aesthetics and environmental issues would also be part of Character considerations.
CONTEXT & CONSTRAINTS
The next two tasks are to look at the physical (Context) and non-physical (Constraints) environment in which the facility will be developed. The Context issues are location, needed exterior features, assets to exploit and disadvantages to minimize. The Constraint issues are zoning, building code, ADA, storm water and special issues dictated by the organization itself or its parent - for instance the approval process.
Now we get to the big one. The Building Committee's main charge is setting and managing the budget. This will include determining the source and amount of funding and how to allocate those funds. It is crucial that all the project costs are considered (not just construction) and that an adequate contingency is included. I like to make costs part of all the issues. There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room until it steps on your foot.
SCHEDULE & METHODOLOGY
The final tasks of the Building Committee are to set and monitor the schedule for the project and to determine the methods and type of contracts that will be used to design and construct the facility. To a great extent the Building Committee's work is nearly done once construction starts, but first there is a year or two of planning and design before that milestone arrives.
Building Committee Membership
So who should be on a Building Committee? The ideal focus for the Building Committee is the planning and process. Some of the key skills that the Building Committee needs are Facilitating, Researching, Coordinating, Organizing, and Communicating.
Desirable Building Committee Members are people who know how to lead, plan and manage. Involvement in the construction industry isn't necessary, and many times it is a handicap. Examples of the individuals you want to see are executives, entrepreneurs, educators, administrators, and managers. Specialists who diagnose and implement aren't accustomed to the analysis of multiple alternatives that need to be explored.
I’ve noticed that active participation in meetings decreases as the size of the group increases - so smaller is better, say 6 - 12. There needs to be a chairperson who speaks for the committee and communicates with the parent organization. "Symbolic" members of the Building Committee require special handling. I have watched helplessly as a key donor, who is used to giving orders, grabs the reins and has everyone chasing his whims - because no one was prepared to risk annoying him.
The ideal characteristics (virtues?) of a committee member are open- mindedness, diligence and perseverance.
Only the simplest of projects can be planned in one "pass" through the eight issues. Often three or more passes are needed for a coherent plan, so that every issue makes sense in terms of the others.
So that’s what I’ve gathered from my Building Committee experiences. Hopefully this gives you some ideas for how you can handle your own Building Committee adventure.
SIZING A Conference Room
I think conference rooms might be on the endangered species list because of all the alternatives. But let’s say you are past that discussion, and you need to size a conference room.
The first thing to remember is that conference rooms are always too small. If you get the size correct, your conference room will be a more valuable asset. The two main factors in sizing a conference room are number of attendees and the function of the room. Since not every group needs their own conference room, part of the sizing process is to determine what everyone's needs are.
While you are surveying everyone's needs, determine the function of the room, too. The three main functions are discussions, presentations and teleconferencing. If discussions are the main function, then the size depends on the table and appropriate clearances for chairs. These clearances should be 42" in most cases. 36" is adequate for six people or less, and 48" is desirable for 10 or more people. For more than 24 people, it may be desirable to place a bank of chairs behind those seated at the table. In this case 84" is the ideal distance from table to wall.
Next consider the table size and shape. Round tables are good for discussion-type meetings of six or less. Rectangular tables are best for presentations and any group over six. Allow two feet of table edge per person along the sides and add one person at each end. The table width should be at least 36"; and 42" or 48" is better for groups of eight or more. For groups of 12 or more consider a boat-shaped table (wider in the middle) or increase the table width to 48 or 54 inches.
If the function of your conference room includes presentations, then you should increase the chair clearance at the presenter's end to a total distance of 84 inches or more up to 120". For presentation-type conference rooms the door location becomes important. Place the door in one of the corners away from the presentation area and reserve the walls at the ends of the table for displays. Presentations will work better without windows to outdoors, which is true of almost any conference room.
Teleconferencing is beyond the scope of this article because the system selected becomes a major factor in the size of the room. The market for these systems is shrinking because of the prevalence of inexpensive or free alternatives: GoToMeeting, join.me, Google Hangout, Apple’s FaceTime, Skype.
For the other types of conference room, you should be well on your way to determining the size that is right for your needs. Start with the table, add clearances for chairs and presenting. Add a door. Consider accessibility, which would add, at least, part of a five foot diameter circle near the room entrance.
Remember, when in doubt, make it larger. In operation, a too small conference room can be a problem; too large never is.
When you are starting the design of a new stand-alone building, a number of considerations come up that don't enter the picture for a remodeling or renovation. A major one: How many stories? More stories may allow more overall area or allow space for future expansion. A basement may also be a consideration.
Additional floors for your building can offer several advantages:
There is one final way in which costs increase because of additional floors - incidental features. The incidental features are stairs and, most likely, elevator and toilet rooms. Besides the cost of these features, they will either displace useable square footage or cause you to increase the overall size of your building.
Another consideration is the area of each story. Stories that are less than 10,000 SF are not as efficient because of the higher percentage of floor area given over to ’core’ functions. So multiple floors can work against you in this way too.
Most of the time the advantages of additional floors are well worth the additional cost, but additional floors are inherently more expensive. This article has a more detailed analysis.
What About A Basement?
Basements are a special case when it comes to stories. Even though the same issues apply as discussed above, basements cost less than upper floors of a building. This is due to the lower cost of the exterior walls, lack of windows, and (usually) more Spartan finishes.
Basements may make sense because of sloping land or the need for significant space for storage and building equipment. If this is the case, a basement will save money overall because the cost per square foot of basement space will be 20% to 40% less than upper stories.
However, basements are not free. If the basement space is not really needed, it will increase overall costs. Perhaps the idea is to use the basement when you need more space. But a basement will not be as flexible or as suitable for many needs when that time comes. For a more in-depth analysis, see this article.
An alternative strategy to consider for expansion is unfinished upper floor space. Unfinished upper floor space will cost more than a basement but it will be much more flexible in how you can use it. And significantly cheaper than an addition.
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.
The Phase Deliverables Checklist is a tool that we use to estimate fees, plan the work and manage the design process. The master deliverables checklist is a list of all the drawing sheets that we routinely have on a largish project (for us). The downloadable checklist, partially visible below, uses a loose adherence to the National CAD Standards. You may use a different sheet naming convention but the idea is the same.
The first steps during either estimating a fee or planning the design work is to copy the checklist, rename it, and edit the list for the anticipated scope of work. This is mostly striking off unneeded sheets, but also adding sheets that are needed for this project. Next is to check off which sheets will be needed for each phase; see the columns headed with the phase initials. Use the COMMENTS column to make any observations about the sheet content or research that will be needed.
Use to estimate fees
If your projects are similar and you collect time-spent data on each type of sheet, you would soon be able to estimate a fee using this form as a checklist with historical average cost per sheet embedded for calculations. If your work is more varied, reviewing the list will help you estimate the hours you will need to produce the deliverables. The master list often spurs questions regarding scope of work. Get questions resolved early before you find yourself expected to provide services that you haven't budgeted for.
Use to plan work and set priorities
When getting started on a project you can use the checklist to assign staff. Two ways of doing this are to replace the 'Xs' with the individual's initials to make the assignment. Or add columns to hold the initials. Color coding the assignment cells helps to focus attention on responsibilities and to make workloads obvious. To set priorities you can make the entire row bold to stress what is most important.
Use to manage work
As the project progresses, you can update the assignments and plan subsequent phases. With the addition of another column you can track an estimated percent completion for each sheet. Add a formula to calculate the average completion. This isn't terribly accurate but it is at least a partially objective evaluation of where your progress stands.
Use the model to create your own version based on your project types and typical scope of work. Add other tasks such as Code Review, Cost Estimates, Scheduling, and Specifications to suit your standards. Add engineering disciplines if you normally manage their work too.
BOTTOM LINE: You have probably used something similar to manage projects. What I am suggesting is that a spreadsheet offers several advantages.
Orig post date: 12Mar2013
Our design of coffee bars / kitchenettes improved immensely after we designed one for ourselves.
The client usually has a list of what they are looking for, but it is a short list and there is more to it than a sink and coffee maker.
I think that an eight foot long counter is the absolute minimum for a coffee bar shared by 10 or more people. Ten feet is better. There is a lot of stuff to accommodate.
Click the image to download a PDF copy.
A coffee bar counter will need space for:
The flooring in front of the counter for a distance of 3-4' will endure longer if it is a hard surface. Also consider a floor drain, just a thought in case of a leaking sink or dishwasher, or a refrigerator defrosting that goes wrong (guilty).
The last issue if this is for your own use is economics. We have used an honor system, priced for the 'house' to pick up part of the cost.
When you are embarking on a new project, it is crucial to have a plan for the project. You need to know the goals you need to achieve for success. This building planning process has six parts that build upon each other:
From that point of view the whole planning process is about money. Each of the six areas of the planning process, while necessary in its own right, are also needed to answer that bottom-line question about cost. Space needs translate directly into construction costs; and so do the building characteristics and land use. These might also affect design costs. Project constraints and implementation issues can affect design costs as well as other "soft" (non-construction) costs. Finally, budgeting is about bringing all this cost information into alignment with the money that is available to fund the project.
It really is all about money.
To keep nasty surprises at bay, we've found that, if your budget is comprehensive, then surprises are much less likely to occur. "Comprehensive" means lots of detail; and lots of detail also makes your budget more accurate. Besides the main costs of construction there are many issues that are easy to underestimate or overlook altogether. Construction costs are the "hard" costs. The "soft" costs fall into two categories: Design, Development. All these costs are listed in our template for a comprehensive Project Budget. Strive to incorporate all of these budget concepts into an integrated process for answering "How much will the building cost?"
What is needed to start an architectural firm today?
This is a thought experiment. If you were starting an architectural firm today, how would you do it? At the time of the American Revolution, what did an architect's office look like? Probably not much different than in 1900, except the projects may have gotten bigger. In 1976, what would the differences have been? Well things have changed on the technological front. There are electric lighting, telephones, electric erasers, adding machines, light tables, automobiles for site visits, diazo and mimeograph printing for plans and specifications respectively. There is still that timeless part about needing a client with a project, however. Programming is more sophisticated. But designing and detailing a project isn't really any different.
What about today? In 2013 what would be different? What could be different? What should be different? Except for that timeless part - a client with a project - EVERYTHING!
You don't need: an office, a phone system, a plotter, a fax machine, a library, flat files, a conference room, a reception area, a server room, a network, a GBC punch and binder, past project files, etc.
What DO you need? You may already have some of this.
Computer - $1,000
iPad - later ($750)
Smart phone - $200
CAD - DesignSight - FREE
Basecamp subscription - $25/project for now
Invoicing System - PayPal account
Bookkeeping service - Wave - FREE
Insurance - later ($500) - once you have work
Website/Domain/Email - Weebly - $100
Google Apps with Drive - part of Weebly
Dropbox - FREE (for additional shared storage)
Wide format printer-copier-scanner - $300
Total to get started - less than $2,000 the first year, and about $200/month expenses.
You may not need employees for some time. You can farm out work that you need help with to other self-employed architects, who could be anywhere. India? You really can't overstate how much Internet-based services change the need to be in one place with your design team. Add Google Hangout to your repertoire with its ability to share your screen with up to 10 people and you may just be old-fashioned if you think an office is necessary.
So, work on getting that client. That is the only real barrier to having your own firm.
Finding the resources for project funding is THE KEY ISSUE for getting your building project implemented. You may not need a lot of money to start up your project planning, but it is the nature of building that you will need large injections of funds to get beyond the planning and design stages. There aren't endless solutions to the funding issue. The main solutions that are used over and over are listed here for your consideration.
Money in the bank.
This methodology either takes foresight and patience or the project must be small in comparison to the organization's annual revenues. A large benefit is that interim financing is all but eliminated, and that can be a major cost.
Borrow money from a bank.
Borrowing money from a bank would usually take the form of a mortgage. Complications may arise if ownership of the land and any existing buildings is not simple, or if the proposed building will be non-commercial, e.g. a museum or a church.
Industrial Revenue Bonds.
Not every project will qualify for Industrial Revenue Bonds, but despite the name the project does not have to be industrial. Experts will be needed to handle the "red tape". Even so, the overall cost can be less than bank financing.
Developer or investor funding.
This method provides the funding through a developer or an investor who then leases the completed project to you. This is like leasing a car. This "build to suit" approach can be more affordable because there is no limits on how you structure the deal, but it usually costs more in the long run - just like leasing a car. This process is simplified if the other party already owns the land.
Community Development Block Grants are available for very specific community needs and are open to government agencies and some non-profit organizations. Competition for the funds is stiff. The big
benefit is that up to 75% of the costs could be paid by the grant. The downside is that you will spend about 10% of the cost of the project with no assurance that you will ever receive funding.
This approach is usually only available to non-profit organizations. The first key to making this work for you is to find a foundation whose mission is in alignment with your own. The second key is making a compelling case. Most foundations are very rigid in their requirements for submitting an application, so don't give them a reason to turn you down by not following the "rules".
You need to be a non-profit organization for this to be viable. A 501c3 tax status is almost mandatory. An appealing mission and a compelling need are big helps. A fund-raising consultant can teach you the ropes and guide your efforts. It is a major advantage if you already have a good base of supporters.
This is rare; but, if you are part of a larger organization, your project may be able to get funding from your parent organization.
If you have the right political connections, you could be the beneficiary of an "earmark" or "line item grant" in a spending bill at state or federal level. This is otherwise known as "pork barrel legislation".
SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED a lot has changed. So it's time for an update.
Finding information on Architekwiki can be done in two ways.
The first way is by using the Google site search widget to filter the articles based on your key word(s).
The second way is by using the categories of the blog in question to filter the articles. We will address them one at a time. [Footnote: from time to time duplicates show up in the lists of categories for unknown reasons. I attempt to eliminate them.]
For the WIKI page there are 20 categories, listed below. Every article is tagged with one of the first four categories and also with one or more of the other 16 categories. (You will note the actual category list are in alphabetical order.)
WIKI categories and a brief description of their intended content.
For the DETAILS page there are 14 categories, each represents a category in the UNIFORMAT II system. This article will give you more information about UNIFORMAT. The one exception is Proj Dwgs, which is used to tag articles about an entire project.
For the BLOG page there are 6 categories as follows. Others may be added from time to time.
Updated: September 28, 2013