The Nature of Architectural Design

Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings. It is the creative process of conceiving and developing physical forms to accommodate human needs and purposes. Architectural forms, while composed of material elements, establish spaces in which  human activities take place.

The process of architectural design is extremely complex and demands considerable experience if one is to do it well. It is an exercise in synthesis, of  putting together a complex array of disparate parts to form a unified,  interdependent composition.

Design is the process of giving form to an idea. It results in a purposeful, physical creation that serves a practical need. Design involves setting forth objectives, analyzing information, planning, and conceiving appropriate spaces and forms. Inspiration, talent and intuition are invaluable to the process  of design. But it is a process that occurs, not a mystical activity.  Thus, as a process, it can be analyzed and comprehended.

By understanding the specific functional requirements, and with properly developed skills and sufficient experience, one should be able to solve  any design problem. Obviously, the degree of skill needed for a simple  design exercise is far less than for a highly complex one: a small  factory is easier to design than a hospital.

The  difference between the ability to design and the ability to design well  is the distinction that elevates mere construction to architecture. When  design is particularly well done, we may say that the rare element of  art has transcended that rational design solution. In architecture, as  in every other kind of design, artful solutions are the goal to be  sought.

The Five Phases of the Standard Owner-Architect agreement

1. Schematic design, consisting of schematic drawings and other documents which describe the general relationship and space requirements of the project, along with a cost estimate.

2. Design development, consisting of preliminary drawings, outline specifications, and other documents which describe the form, size and materials of a project and the structural, mechanical, and electrical systems to be utilized. A preliminary cost estimate is also prepared during this phase.

3. Construction documents, consisting of working drawings, final specifications and a final cost estimate.

4. Bidding or negotiation, which includes the receipt and evaluation of bids or negotiated proposals. It may also include preparing addenda to the contract.

5. Construction administration, consisting of the services rendered by the architect after bidding or negotiation to assure that the structure is built in accordance with the construction documents. In this phase the architect may issue change orders, approve shop drawings, choose or approve materials and colors, and issue payment approvals.

Design/Award/Build Delivery Method

The design / award / build  delivery method typically begins when an owner hires an architect to develop a project program and its subsequent design and construction documents. Bidding of the project to several contractors occurs after all of the construction documents and specifications have been completed. This allows for the establishment of the lowest reasonable  cost for the project. The owner then awards a single prime construction contract to a general contractor to build the project based upon the completed design documents. The architect acts as the owner’s agent, representing the owner’s interest throughout the design and documentation phases. The architect’s services typically include  construction administration services. The architect then acts as an  impartial interpreter of the construction documents during construction.

Construction Management Delivery Method

The construction management  delivery method allows an owner to address constructability and cost  issues during design. An owner can also address time issues by utilizing  fast-track construction, in which multiple construction contracts are  let for different parts of a project as soon as each part of the work is defined enough to for a contractor to reasonably commit to a price. In  this delivery method, the owner hires or utilizes his or her own construction manager to work with an architect to facilitate the process of design, bidding and letting of the construction contracts. The construction manager can act as either an advisor to the owner or as a construction contractor. The construction manager typically has substantial expertise in construction technology, constructability issues, construction scheduling and construction cost.

Design/Build Delivery Method

The design / build delivery method  allows an owner to utilize a single entity that is responsible for both  the design and construction of a project. This is the single greatest distinction between the delivery methods. A design/build firm can be a single company that has it’s own architectural and construction staffs,  or a company that has its own construction staff that hires an  architect to perform design services. A developmental firm can hire an  architect for services and a contractor for construction services. A design / build firm can also be a joint venture between an architect, construction and or developer. The design / build delivery method minimizes the ability of the owner to participate in the design of the project. The design / build firm acts solely as a vendor so that the owner does not have an independent agent working for his or her interest. This requires the owner to be adept at managing the design /  build contract through construction, or to hire an independent firm to  act on his or her behalf. Also, a selection that is based solely on the  lowest bid may have significant quality issues that would be difficult  to address.