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.
Step 1 - Organization
Obtain a signed contract, set up billing information, establish your design budget.
Are there anticipated additional services? Make sure you understand what's expected by contract.
Review the Owner's Program and get any clarifications you need.
Review the context of the project - new site, addition, remodeling. Are there any obvious issues? Do you have a survey and geotechnical report to work with?
Has the Owner addressed any zoning issues? Does he expect you to investigate this?
Are there any code issues that will inform the design? Any other special approvals or constraints?
Set milestones that meet the Owner's timeline. Is it realistic?
Does the Owner's budget seem realistic? Does it cover more than construction? Verify if necessary.
Review a specification master Table of Contents for ideas/issues that might develop.
Have a Schematic Design Kickoff Meeting with your client to review what you are thinking and ask them for input.
Step 2 - Site Analysis
Some of this may not apply, but it is best to start with the big picture.
What are the assets and liabilities? What are the opportunities to capitalize on?
What are the zoning restrictions - setbacks, height limits, open area requirements?
How will traffic flow onto and within the site?
Where are utilities coming from?
How can you work with topography?
Where should the building be located, where parking?
Step 3 - Building Program
Digest the owners program in detail. Keep in mind what you learned from the site analysis.
What is the gross area?
How many levels should there be?
What spaces should be grouped together? What is the proper relationship between groups or departments? How big is each group?
If more than one level, what goes on each level and how well do the levels stack?
How much parking is required? By zoning? By yours or Owner's estimate?
Step 3.5 - Technical Design Diagnostic [TDD]
Complete the TDD at this point to further inform your design decisions. See Technical Design Diagnostic.
Introduce your consultants to the project at this stage.
Step 4 - Bubble Diagram
Using the site analysis as a base drawing, and the building program as the pieces of the puzzle, where should building groups be placed on the site and relative to one another?
Work out diagrammatically how site circulation will work and where parking will go? All Vaguely to scale.
Try alternatives and weigh the pros and cons. Take your best scheme to the next level.
Step 5 - Site/Floor Plan
Using the bubble diagram as your guide and the topo site plan as the base drawing, lay out the building ground floor to scale using blocks of space for each group or department. Include infrastructure spaces like stairs, elevators, toilets, major corridors, etc. if there are other levels show them as an exploded view or off to the side; but consider them critical to proof of concept.
This is going to have a major impact on everything that comes after. Get all the input you are comfortable with. Sleep on the first solution(s). This isn't a final floor plan, so some loose ends are OK; but everything should hang together and look like all the project goals will be addressed.
Step 6 - Massing Diagram
When you have a lot of experience designing, you may have considered this step as part of step five. REVIT or Vectorworks may have allowed you to see where the design was heading in three dimensions. But the point of this step is to make sure the shape that the building is taking doesn't have unfortunate consequences.
Will you be able to express the building's function in a positive way?
Does it become obvious that utility entrances and building support spaces (e.g. dock) aren't going to get in the way of an attractive scheme.
So if you have not considered these issues yet now is the time to block out the elevations or a 3D model to see what the layout decisions you have been making are giving you to work with. Now is the perfect time to decide to tweak the plan to achive the overall look you want for the building - say a symmetry that's not quite right.
If you have sloping roofs in mind, it will be critical to make sure you have a building configuration that works with sloping roofs rather than fights it.
Consider glass placement for aesthetics, orientation, heat gain, shading.
These considerations might suggest ways to develop the floor plans. It is very easy to work some big picture issues out at this level of detail compared to farther along in the process.
Step 7 - Pulling It All Together
Your civil, structural, mech/elect engineers should provide rudimentary drawings based on your scheme and an estimate of construction costs for their portion of the construction work.
You should make sure your drawings are likewise coordinated internally.
You might decide to add doors and windows to make the concept more understandable for the client, but it isnt mandatory. 3D views, fly-bys, walk-thrus would all be nice. Consider them in light of the 'selling' that needs to be done with stakeholders and the promotional opportunities for you and your client. The end result you need is an acknowledgement that this is the building concept that you should pursue. Once given this, you are entitled to additional compensation if the concept changes significantly; so it is important that your client understands the project thoroughly.
It is counterproductive to get a 'go-ahead' based on feelings, make sure your client understands your design. Without understanding, dissatisfaction with the project later is much more likely. One dissatisfied client outweighs ten happy ones.
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Original post date 2/13/2013