House Design Story
I was referred to the client by the contractor of another project I was working on. And referrals are always a great thing for architects, or for anyone in the service industry. It means they like what you’re doing and inspires you to do better because its positive feedback on your work.
A house commission is another important matter too, because its very personal to the client. Despite the many large and diverse number of things an architect may design, a house is one of the most difficult in terms of detail and design partly because of the level of attachment for the owner, who will be the daily user as well as their family.
Here’s a short story for a recent house I designed for a client in a city subdivision for a family of 7 members, a wonderful privilege and a good glimpse into the effort behind the architect’s work.
To order my thoughts a little bit we shall follow the order of the Standard Architects Design Phases which are Concept-Schematic, Design Development & Contract Documents. For the Construction Phase please see my earlier blog entries that showcase some of the images from our weekly site visits.
In the beginning after getting to know the client and their requirements, visiting the site and familiarizing with the design restrictions and orientations. We try to put together an idea of the plan, starting with sketches for what could be called a bubble diagram, its not really a floor plan rather its circles that represent activities, spaces and pathways that we sketch onto the site to get a ‘feel’ for what could be possible. Eventually a block diagram is formed, basically because they look like blocks. Depending on the nature of the lot, the requirements of space, the taste and requirements of the owners and designers, form finding techniques varies from architect to architect. A Massing is also done, its basically an initial assumption regarding the size and stature of the structure of the house, to give an idea to the client regarding the size and over all look that provides insights on the style and direction the client may want to take with the architect.
When the adjacency and general layout of the plan with respect to the lot is finalized, and an idea of how the house will generally take shape is started, schematic floor plans and elevations are done to thresh out the plan with the walls, dimensions and furnishings. The Elevations are brought together with the location of the windows, doors and other features. All of this to test if the over all concept of the house will hold up with the minimum real world realities to make it stand, be functional and within the direction of the style or architectural vocabulary that the architect and client are going for. From this point multiple meetings are held for the finalization of the plan and the exterior, always balancing and moving one with the other in a give and take between the client’s requirements, the restrictions of site and budget, and the architects efforts to synthesize these and a number of other items that demand attention and inclusion.
A good deal of effort is put into creating the look of the exterior, this takes as many and even more schemes than the plan. With the advent of powerful and useful computer software it has become easier to create and experiment with accuracy, but I still take to the pen and pad to help synthesize and finalize the design, and this design is among those many times that the final look comes from the hours sketching on a pad, rather than working with a keyboard and a mouse.
Design Development Phase:
During Design Development all the engineering issues are considered and integrated into the design, from structural, electrical, plumbing and on larger projects mechanical and fire protection. Other design activities from the corrections and updating of the plan and the elevations are also carried over to this phase as new information and requirements are taken into consideration. The idea of design development is that all items must be finalized so that in the following phase which is Construction Documentation there would no longer be any major changes, but should there be any these should be minimal at best. Though it is more of a goal than actual result most of the time.
Finally in Construction Documentation all the design decisions and instructions are drawn and lettered accordingly to become the basis of permits, bid documents and construction documents for the realization of the client’s requirements and the architect’s vision. The contract documents are to be interpreted by the contractors to the best of their abilities to deliver the structure and utilities within the sum total of the architect’s design intent, it forms the bulk of the architects efforts and usually the hardest part that he/she is most careful with, because it will become the basis for billings and payments as well as the final structure that will be product that the client has all along been aiming for.
Upon completion the house will be the permanent record of the Architect’s services, of the design team’s, and of the construction team’s. Most importantly at the end of the process it is hoped that the client will be pleased with the work, and the design.