Unorthodox Predesign Programming

Architects are responsible for designing buildings; this is known. What is not as apparent is the differing types of buildings designed. Architects design schools, religious facilities, hospitals, jails, industrial plants, and residential structures among others. Each of these types of buildings offers a unique set of design requirements, operational and functional prioritization, as well as compliance with regulatory requirements. In short, every building is as different as the occupants who inhabit them.

It is not uncommon for an Architect to be commissioned to design a building in which the quantifiable goals have yet to be determined. We have had clients in our office for an initial consultation who couldn't provide fundamental information related to the functional uses of the building. No problem!

Part of an Architects responsibility is understanding how clients intend to use the buildings we design. The use is not limited to the day that the building is turned over to the owner, but may also extend 3, 5, or 10 years or more into the future. Clients may have a general knowledge of their needs, but have not dug into the details and requirements necessary to allow the Architect to start to design the building. As most Architects know, a haphazard Programming Phase only leads to additional design revisions losing time, affecting project profitability, and creating frustration among both the Architect and Client. What is the Programming Phase? Let me explain.

Architects are trained to ask the questions needed to define both the scope of the project as well as the scope of services necessary to deliver on those goals. Using a residential design as an example, simply knowing that the owner desires 3 bedrooms over 2,400 square feet is not sufficient. What style is desired? Where will the house be constructed? Is a primary master suite desired on the first floor? Should entertaining be considered and for how many people? How many cars need to be garaged? Is this your "forever home" and are accessibility considerations important? All of these questions related to a residential design are imperative prior to starting design. There are many many more questions to be answered, and the answers provided by the owner begin to paint a picture of their expectations.

Remember, Architects are often tasked with designing building they may never use, have little knowledge about current operations, and don't understand the long-term needs or desires of the client. However; in order to provide a successful design, all of these factors need to be considered and implemented.

Programming is the systematic process that Architects utilize in order to obtain all of the necessary quantifiable project goals. Defining quantifiable goals as it pertains to the end deliverable is imperative to ensure the clients future success. Some questions are more straight forward. When designing a fire station, we may ask for the height and length of the fire apparatus clearly to ensure we design the overhead doors large enough to get the equipment into the building. Another example would be, how many doctors will be actively and simultaneously engaged in the delivery of care? Though focused on a hospital's operational requirements, this question would establish how many examination rooms are to be provided, waiting room capacity, and even how many staff would utilize the break room at the same time.

In some cases, the process of programming may seem unorthodox or the questions asked by the Architect may outwardly appear convoluted or weird considering the particular building we plan to design. Asking our residential clients if they plan on having more children may seem like an intrusive question posed by parents desperate for grand children. This question, and its associated answer provide valuable knowledge to the residential designer on both current and future considerations for the design. What if baby 4 arrives un-expectantly in a three bedroom "forever" home?

In most cases, many of the initial questions are geared toward wholistic high-level goals that help the Architect asked the correct questions about specifics. Providing surveys to users and staff to determine what qualities and design considerations should be prioritized helps us identify how individual spaces are provided to meet the functional requirements through the process. What do you want your customers to feel when they entire your retail establishment provides the knowledge necessary to ask the correct secondary questions such as the ideal material finishes for the lobby. How big does that lobby need to be? Is security of the back of the house imperative, and if so though what method of gate-keeping? As you can see, questions can go on and on, leading to stress and anxiety.

An important component of the Programming Phase is asking the right questions, at the right times, in order to make the correct assumptions. In the end, a Programming Report defines these goals, the number of spaces and their functional uses, amenities and resources required in each space, and even the type of finishes. Arrangement of the spaces, that is putting the puzzle together and identifying spatial relationships is also an important part of the final deliverable.

When meeting with an Architect, be prepared to answer questions that may not outwardly appear pertinent to your immediate goals. These questions, and the Architects professional expertise leads to a well rounded and quantifiable programmatic report leading to better outcomes though future phases. Predesign phases, including Programming and Analysis are essential to keep the horse in front of the cart.

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