A Site Analysis is a tool for maximizing the opportunity that your project represents by telling you up front which paths of site development will lead to achieving your goals.
A while back I posted an article about Additional Services. There are a lot of circumstances that arise where additional compensation for Additional Services is called for. In that first post I offered a simple way to get the issue on the table and approved. The second part of the issue is recognizing Additional Services.
Most of us don't give a thought to a Janitor's Closet. We put a sink in a small room of 5'x5' and move on.
Well there's a little more to it if you want the space to serve the building owner. We learned what is really needed when we designed a supply warehouse for Banana Republic / The Gap. The owner's project manager, who was in charge of supplying the whole company with stuff for operating the individual stores, was basically an executive janitor.
We received very specific requirements for the janitor's closet. I am passing on his wisdom to you.
Zoning is an odd duck. Zoning is unique among codes because you might not be able to build. Period.
Every other code will allow you to proceed if you can show compliance, which is generally just a matter of money - more of it.
With zoning, no amount of money can buy permission to proceed if you don't meet the requirements. Sometimes you have to wait a year before re-applying!
A year after I started my own firm, I was invited to design a hangar for my Dad's golfing buddy, who happened to have started an airline that was growing by leaps and bounds. We designed projects for his airline for about twenty years until they were bought out by one of the major airlines. One of the main skills that allowed us to keep up with their growth was my knowledge of project delivery methods - mostly book-learning, driven by interest.
There are a number of things about a truck dock that add up to truck docks needing to be more than an afterthought.
I am not thinking of a distribution center when I say that. The docks are the central focus of that kind of building and will get plenty of attention. I am thinking here of the incidental truck dock that may be a convenience or an efficiency measure. In that case safety is a paramount concern, but every truck dock that isn't part of a professional trucking operation should have a safety focus because people will sometimes use the dock who haven't been trained.
The first design step is to contact a local manufacturer's rep for dock levelers. They can look at your situation and give you great advice about the best way to set up the dock.
Here are a few things to consider about the dock, the building and the equipment:
As designers we aren't always comfortable on the site, observing what’s going on.
But there are good reasons to do it anyway.
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.
Specification Notes should have a role in every project. By Specification Notes [SpecNotes] I mean a section by section listing of the key requirements of every type of work, arranged by CSI Division and Section Number. The SpecNotes are placed on the drawings. We usually place the General Requirements on a G-series sheet right behind the Cover Sheet. The Architectural Technical Specs are placed on sheet A001, A002 (if needed) per the National CAD Standards. Take a look at the embedded document to download our 30+ page master SpecNotes to start your own.
The economics of design do not allow for the time it takes to write a specification and assemble a project manual.
You have to be extraordinarily well-organized to spend less than one hour on each spec section. There are usually about 50-70 architectural spec sections. Say 60 hours to produce the spec. If the specification represents 5% of the architect's fee (which I think is about right), then the math tells us that at somewhere above a $3,000,000 project, it might be feasible. This quickly rises to $4,000.000 or more if you aren't as efficient as my example. Or if your spec writer is better compensated. See my math below. You can quarrel with my numbers, but the point is that bound specs aren't affordable on a lot of projects, even public ones.
I like to select colors. I think I'm pretty good at it. I don't do it often enough to be great, but I think my results are pretty darn good.
Maybe if I selected colors all the time, I would know more about the politics of selecting colors and get good at that aspect, too. Because politics is the problem with selecting colors.
After an interiors person returned from a color-review meeting in tears, I developed the following process to head off more unpleasant experiences. Honestly we haven’t gotten to use it often enough to know if it can be improved; so feel free to contribute your experience/advice in the comments. The world -needs- a solution to the “color problem”!
This Schematic Design Process has been developed over many projects. But the nature of design is that there are many ways to get to the end result. The benefits of this Seven Step Process is that each step builds upon the last to avoid re-work, which is the killer of efficiency. Use the process to explain to your client why you need information from them now rather than later (to avoid additional design costs for them). Whether you use this process or one of your own making, I highly recommend that you standardize on a methodology that your team can use to anticipate what to do. Even with a standard like this, no two projects will follow it exactly. I think Eisenhower is supposed to have said something along the lines of "The plan is rarely very helpful, but the planning is indispensable." Also, remember to review each step with your client to make sure your interpretations and understandings are on target with their needs. Yes, pesky, but necessary.
Curtain walls have certain advantages. The main one is appearance, followed closely by maximized glass for daylighting. Another advantage is that erection can be done as fast as any other system.
Low-rise curtain wall is different from high-rise curtain wall. The sophistication of the water shedding and pressure equalization are the differences. These details show a low-rise solution.
Some of the key factors to consider about curtain walls are:
In my experience stages fall into two broad categories. Traditional Theater Stage (proscenium, arena, thrust) includes stages that are used for plays, musicals, and dance; and Platforms include stages that are devoted to only speaking, town meetings, video and presenting.
Stages can be designed for a specific purpose, e.g. drama, musical theater, dance, or musical performance; or they can be multi-purpose. Once you pass the limits in the building code for a Platform, there are several 'triggers' for specific requirements. Take a look at Chapter 410 of the International Building Code.
The type, size, flexibility and sophistication of the venue (whether Stage or Platform) is dependent on the function and end user: Amateur/Professional, Primary/Secondary School, University/Professional Theater, Broadway Touring House or Regional Theater. All of these considerations will affect the design criteria much more.
I have always liked checklists. Putting a checkmark in the box is (almost) better than completing the task itself. If you can relate to that statement, even a little, this may interest you. I have a checklist of all the tasks required by the typical Construction Documents Phase of architectural design services.
Inspiration came from Glenn Wiggins' book, A Manual of Construction Documentation, that Fred Stitt uses in the curriculum of the San Francisco Institute of Architecture. Mr. Wiggins breaks the Construction Documents [CDs] down into four phases and shows what should be tackled in each phase in order to minimize re-work and changes. This book is a real gem. However, the 1989 book applies to hand-drafting, so there are tasks that a CAD-user would not encounter, and also tasks that are a bit out of sequence for CAD use.
My idea was to move this checklist system from paper format to digital format, and to update it from a hand drafting guide to a CAD guide. The goal was to extend it the Design Development [DD] phase and the Schematic Design [SD] phase with the end result being a customizable series of checklists that would aid in delegating tasks all through the design process. At the same time omissions and rework/changes would be reduced to a minimum.
Every time I have used this technique for understanding cut and fill, an engineer has told me "You can't do it that way" or even "That doesn't work". And yet I always get useful information that engineering can't provide. Well, it can provide it but there are impediments. First you need an engineer on board. Second you need a proposed topo to give him to work from. And third you have to convince him to do this several times. Of course all this takes a week to get the engineer on board, a day to create and send the proposed topo, and an indeterminate amount of time to get the revisions. I can use this technique to get a 'good-enough' answer in a couple of hours.
Why do I want to know about cut and fill? Basically I want to know because I don't want everyone to get excited about my fabulous site plan only to learn later that earthwork will cost more than the building. So I want to know that my idea will be defendable. Plus I love this site planning stuff.
My first experience with NFPA was the Life Safety Code, NFPA 101. Back in the day, the National Building Code was the building code. The Life Safety Code was used as a supplement. I thought that was it. Then we were hired to design a hangar...
It turns out that hangars have the military’s fingerprints all over the governing code, NFPA 409. When we were designing that hangar, the plan examiner insisted on a deluge fire suppression system. The then current version of NFPA 409 said we were under the limits for that very expensive (and unnecessary?) requirement - $500,000 in 1983 dollars. Testing and accidental deluges cost $25,000 each for clean-up and re-charging the system. Ouch!
So we appealed the ruling, and WON! Happy client. Angry code official...
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.
I’ve never worked for a federal client, but numerous times for state agencies and almost as many times for city or county government. The state agencies included the Administrative Office of the Courts, School Boards, projects funded by Community Development Block Grants, and regional Agencies like planning, water and sewer districts. Finally there are the Counties and Cities. These tend to be the least bureaucratic and most like private clients except for that one thing that is common to all public clients - procurement regulations. These regulations are very similar in intent, which is preventing misuse of public funds by closing loopholes. The big difference for the architect is that several additional tasks are required and there isn't a lot of leeway in how you do them.
This link takes you to an article on the bidding process.
Besides the procurement regs there are a few other issues that come up; they are listed here by phase.
Politics can be a wild card in the process. It is wise to remember the naval advice: "Loose lips sink ships."
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.
How Zoning Affects Your Project
In contrast to building codes, zoning applies to the property on which your building sits. Zoning restricts how you may develop your property. It prescribes what uses are permitted on the property. Unlike the building code, zoning can prevent a project from being built. If the proposed use is not a Permitted Use you can be out of luck.
Zoning is promulgated locally and a zone change may resolve the issue of Permitted Uses. However, the requested zone change may not be granted. Besides Permitted Uses, zoning governs many other development issues, namely setbacks, height restrictions, parking, exterior signage, fence locations, landscaping, storm water management, paving, curbs, access points to roads, steepness of grades, erosion control and exterior lighting levels.
Next after the major issue of Permitted Uses are the key site planning issues that control building size and placement: setbacks, height limits and parking. Setbacks determine how much land must be reserved at the perimeter of the site. Parking regulations determine how many parking spaces will be required. Height limits determine the number of stories permitted above the ground.
Both zoning and building codes should be investigated at the same time before starting design because of their overlapping criteria when it comes to building size and use.
What You Should Know About Building Codes
Every project must comply with the building code. Building codes apply to the building itself and usually are statewide. Compliance is always possible. In worst-case situations, the cost of compliance is what ruins a project's feasibility.
Code requirements fall into major and minor issues. The minor issues are things like fire ratings of materials, use of plastics and other flammable materials, handicap accessibility and structural requirements. All of these are easy to comply with and rarely increase costs significantly. Complying with the building code for new construction is rarely problematic, but additions and remodeling may run up against the major issues.
The major issues are Height and Area Limits, Construction Type, and Use Groups (especially change of use). Building codes limit the area per floor for each Use Group depending on the Construction Type. The number of stories permitted is also limited. These are the height and area limits. The Use Group is the type of function that the building houses: residential, business, education etc. The Construction Type is a measure of fire- resistance. The more fire-resistant, the larger the building is permitted to be. In order to determine the maximum size that you are permitted, you must determine your Use Group and Construction Type.
In the case of additions, the allowable area may be exceeded because of the Construction Type of the existing building. The solution may be to separate the addition with a fire wall, sprinkler the whole building or upgrade the Construction Type.
Remodeling an existing building can run afoul of these requirements if the Use Group is changed. This triggers the need for the building to be brought up to code, including adherence to height and area limits. It is wise to evaluate these code restrictions before embarking on a design that may not be permitted.
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.
A system for storing our standard and typical drawings has eluded us for years. After all, the real promise of Computer Aided Drafting is saving time by not having to draw the same thing over and over. Everybody wants that.
What this has amounted to for us is scavenging details by cut and paste from one project to another. Everyone has their preferred sources that they have worked with in the past. Standardization implies “perfected over time”, but scavenging implies “re-used as is”. There’s a big difference.
For the longest time we tried to make the CSI 16 Divisions work as the filing system. This was very unsatisfactory. Then we hit on UNIFORMAT assembly divisions and found that it worked great for the filing system. The only problem was that it took too long popping open file after file looking for appropriate details.
Finally we came upon the concept of storing the details of each assembly in its own sheet of drawings. That minimized the search to opening just one file and panning around. This guide below was placed in the folder with all the standard sheets of details as a reference.
Most recently we hit on an improvement to this method of storing and retrieving standard and typical details. And that was to store the details in a template drawing that would actually be used in each project where its contents apply. The process was to simply copy the whole .dwg file to the current project folder; re-name the file; 'viewport' the applicable details; and add custom work as needed.
EXAMPLE: In a template sheet named “A-50b-InteriorDetails” collect all your drywall, masonry, casework details, etc. These are in Model Space. The “b” in the name is a placeholder for the actual sheet number when you know it. If any of these details are ALWAYS used, say a standard drywall partition detail, place it in a viewport in the Sheet view. On the next project that comes along, copy the file to the project folder, ’viewport’ any other details that apply, and then continue as always.
You can get a jump on this sheet template system by assembling good examples from past projects to use as your templates. Delete the non-standard stuff and you are ready to go. Add in other standard details as you find or create them. In about a year you will have a very nice addition to your firm’s intellectual property that will continually pay dividends.
We haven’t completed the transition from the system shown above in the image to using template drawings. However, we think the templates hold a lot of promise because even a Site Plan, which is always unique, could have a template sheet populated with items that will be needed: north arrow, legend of line types and symbols, paving key, standard boilerplate notes, etc.
Are you inspired to start saving time on the mundane stuff so you can spend it on Design?