Design Phase 2: What is Design Development?

If you have worked with an architect before you have probably heard the term “design development.” If not, that’s okay, here is what you need to know about this phase of design.

What is Design Development?

Last month we discussed phase 1 and how schematic design is all about the big picture and making broad large scale decisions. These decisions are mostly about the form, function, position, and look of the building. Check out that post here if you missed it. The next phase is all about how we build it with the goal being to match the schematic design. From sizing beams to picking insulation this phase brings a pragmatic balance to the sometimes un-realistic schematic. Design development is always a back and forth between the details of construction and the functions and aesthetics of the overall building or space. Think of design development as another layer of detail solving more specific questions related to the broad schematic. How do we make the space this large? How do we drain the water off the flat roof? How does the building façade work? These questions and nearly countless others are answered to eventually help your contractor build your project.

It’s Time for the Rest of the Design Team

Its time to contact the structural, electrical, mechanical, and civil engineers. We need to dig into the math of how it all works. From site drainage to foundation sizing, we need to know what it will take to build your building. The engineers are specialists focusing on parts of the building and know how to respond to unique variables on a custom build. It’s also a good idea to bring in the interior designer at this stage. Since the overall building has been established they can begin specifying the interior details and are experts at making the design cohesive. Although they are not considered a part of the design team, bringing a general contractor (GC) in at this stage is also a good idea, and is what we call the “teamwork” approach. The GC can provide us with up-to-date cost data and can give us a ballpark budget compared to the overall design. No need to engineer and specify something, not in your budget.

How does it work?

Your architect coordinates the design team and typically subcontracts out the other design professionals. Having this contractual arrangement places less risk on you. The architect is then responsible for communicating and helping specify those more detailed areas of the build. Your architect will distribute the schematic design drawings and any updates along the way to the rest of the design team. They will also begin the process of solving all the other items not under the engineering hat. Fire protection, egress, thermal protection, and moisture protection to name a few. As the design progresses and the construction drawings become more refined so do the solutions to the design problems. Making sure the structural, architectural, interiors, and more don’t contradict and conflict with one another is one of the bigger challenges of the architect.

Changes During Design Development

Changes to the pre-design are a constant reality. As the information is compiled, adjustments must be made. Sometimes the changes are large, sometimes they are not. The important thing is to maintain the design as close to the schematic design as possible. It can be chaotic and at times difficult for owners to understand. Remember this, the design process is very fluid; nothing is set in stone until the project is built. This is why design is so important, the changes made on the drawing board are far less expensive than in the field. Specifying and adjusting is the name of the game. Schematic design changes during this phase, however, are very different. Changes to the schematic design can be devastating to the progress made during design development. Even with that said it happens all the time. We sometimes make schematic changes in design phase 3. Once again changes here are far cheaper than in the field. A schematic design change would be a change made to the layout or overall shape of the building. For example, “let’s move the office to the other side of the floor plan.” You can very easily cause engineered elements such as a structural beam to become irrelevant making such a large-scale change.

What’s next?

The construction documentation phase is next. These are the drawings you need to get a permit and build your project. We just have to create them first. Check back in soon for how this phase works.

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