TO recognize the value in a service, one needs to understand what it provides.
We all have a pretty strong sense what an electrician, a dentist or a mechanic will provide but when considering the services of a design professional things often get blurry.
The design professional is often seen as the dreamer and the romantic, the individual happily nested in the clouds oblivious to the prosaic workings of the world below but when this design professional happens to be in the construction business, an industry with two feet firmly on the ground, confusion can set in. Most homeowners wanting to renovate their home or build a new one recognize that a designer or architect is an important part of the process but they often don't fully understand what role they play in it.
Speaking in the broadest of terms it's the job of the designer or architect to take the dreams of a homeowner and transform them into a design that realizes these aspirations while incorporating the ideas and inspirations of the designer as well - drawn from training and experience - to create something that meets or exceeds the homeowner's expectation, all in a timely manner, within a predetermined budget. The job is one part artist, one part technical expert and one part project manager.
The design and construction of a home, renovated or new, is divided into five distinct phases: Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documentation, Bidding and Negotiation and Contract Administration.
Schematic Design is the blurry start of the process. This is the time when the design professional obtains whatever they can from the client to help shape the dream. Inspiring images and a detailed wish-list are very important to this end but so too is an understanding of the personality of the specific client. Questions need to be asked and behaviours need to be observed. Are the clients organized by nature or should the architecture assist to this end? Are they private people or entertainers, artists or athletes?
Getting in tune with the more subtle habits of the client is very important early on in the process and can play an important role in shaping the design.
Once the information is collected, the designing begins. Like a sculptor making their first stabs with a chisel, the designer begins to explore the larger ideas of overall form and relationship without fretting the details. There's little point in worrying about where to put the door bell if you haven't decided where to put the front door.
By the end of Schematic Design the project will have a direction, an overall concept, a parti. Like the names of the two homes I have under construction at the moment - the Butterfly House and the Cliffhanger residence- that special something in the spirit of the design will have been captured and recognized.
The homeowner can expect rough floor plans, sketchy elevations and a loose 3-D building form. The wish list will have been addressed in addition to other dynamics such as building location, sun orientation and zoning. One will have a sense on what the home will look like but won't feel inhibited to make changes. If the design concept is met with approval the architect will then move forward into Design Development.
This next stage is exactly as it sounds, taking the Schematic Design and developing it further. The designer or architect now begins to shape in detail the different components of the building.
A structural engineer will have been brought in by this point and their input will begin to inform the design. Schematic sketches will have made it into computer-aided design and the design will continue as the magnification of focus brings a change in perspective. By the end of the Design Development the homeowner can expect a legible set of plans and elevations with an accompanying 3D model (real or virtual). The homeowner will have a very clear idea as to what their finished home will look like and, when ready, will give the go ahead to move into Construction Documentation.
The Construction Documentation phase sees the designer or architect transform the artistic concepts generated in Schematic Design and Design Development phases into a set of technical construction documents that can be submitted for a building permit and used by a builder to construct the home.
The original design strategies and planning concepts are put to the test as they are detailed with an eye to their technical integrity. New issues will come to light, as details are resolved and ideas tweaked. It's essential that the designer not loose sight of the original design concept through this process as there's always a tendency to be pulled off track by the onslaught of technical considerations. The soaring roof of the Butterfly House will still need to be soaring at the end of this process. An active dialogue between the designer and the engineer will be going on throughout the construction documentation as the final structural design is completed.
A lean set of construction documents for a home will include dimensioned site plan and floor plans, elevations, sections and large-scale construction details - and any other information required by the local building authority.
A more detailed set will also contain reflected ceiling plans (to clarify ceiling shape and form and to locate lights and other ceiling elements), millwork drawings (detailed drawings of built-in cabinetry), interior elevations, specifications and finish schedules.
Once the construction documents are submitted for building permit, the process moves into the Bidding and Negotiation phase.
For residential projects builders rarely commit to a fixed fee for a project, preferring instead to work to a cost-plus arrangement. A builder will submit an estimated cost to complete the project and will add on a management fee for their work - the fee running typically somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent of the total construction cost. This is always an area for negotiation and I will often ask for the management fee to be fixed to offset the perception that it would be profitable for the builder to have the overall budget creep higher.
During the Bidding and Negotiation phase the design professional will answer questions and clarify details to help facilitate the homeowner in their selection.
Once a contract has been awarded the building process enters the Contract Administration Phase. During this phase the designer or architect will make routine visits to the construction site to ensure the general conformance of work with the contract documents. They will review and process claims for payment from the builder and will certify that payment reflects work done. They will be available to respond to questions as they occur and will issue site instructions as required.
As the project nears completion the design professional will carry out a substantial performance review and issue a Substantial Performance Certificate. The final certificate of payment is issued upon the completion of all deficiency work by the builder. A 12-month warranty review is typically carried out by the designer or architect one year after the date of substantial completion.
Understanding how a designer or architect fits into building process is a critical first step for the homeowner embarking on the construction of a large-scale renovation or new home. Recognizing the five phases of design and construction takes the mystery out of the process and provides the homeowner with clearer expectations as to what to expect from their design professional.
Kevin Vallely is a residential designer in North Vancouver. His website is www.vallely.ca.