Two Design Schedule Paths / by Josh Brincko

There’s two approaches Josh Architects uses sets up the schedule to complete design services: 1. The fast way or 2. The cost effective way.

In the fast method, the client has a stronger desire to move forward quickly than a desire to save on the cost of design and construction fees. In the cost effective method, the client has a stronger desire to save on the costs of designing and building which causes the process to take a bit longer. Let’s examine the benefits of both methods.

Both methods start out the same. The client gives the architect design goals, and we use this criteria to design the basic concept. We review that concept with the client to get feedback to modify and enhance the drawings as needed. This is where things branch off in one direction or the other.

In the fast method, we continue to add more and more detail to the drawings, so we may quickly move into the permit process. While we are waiting for permit approval from the building department, we continue to develop the plans with more detail (not knowing if the building department will approve the project exactly as designed). This includes designing the trim work, cabinetry, specifying finishes, grout color, grout sealer, etc. The goal is to have all the decisions finalized by the time the building department issues their approval to begin construction. This includes the cost to coordinate with an engineer to calculate the structural requirements and also soliciting bids from builders to have a construction contract in place, so the project is “shovel-ready” by the time the permit is approved. In working within this method, we move quickly and have less opportunity to modify the plans to keep construction cost in check. There is limited feedback from builders in this shorter timeline, so the final construction cost remains an unknown until the permit is pretty much approved. The danger with this method is that the permit may be approved, but the builder prices the project over the client’s budget. This means additional expenses will be incurred by the client to redesign the project if it is over the budget. Also, the permit may need to be revised to reflect the change in the scope of work which also has an additional cost. If the budget is not all that important, this faster method is the way to go.

In the more cost-effective method, the architects take baby steps. We design the bare minimum, then we get rough estimates from builders. This is called an ROM estimate (Rough Order of Magnitude). Since the drawings are very basic (without any detail or specifications), the builders make a lot of assumptions for all the ambiguities in the plans. This results in an estimate that can vary quite a bit, but it gives the client and design team an idea if the construction cost will be in the right ballpark. If it’s not in the right ballpark, not much time was wasted in getting to that point since the drawings were only minimally developed. These incomplete plans can next be further updated to include feedback from the builder to keep the project close to the expected budget. These iterations can go back and forth several cycles to continue to get pricing feedback without developing the plans too far down a wrong path. Once the plans are within the right ballpark for construction cost, they are developed further to include structural engineering (which is another cost), so they may be submitted to the building department for permit review. While the building department reviews the plans, we wait in this slower method until the they approve the plans and possibly stipulate any additional items that may need to be included during construction (like fire sprinklers). In the event the building department requires some additional items that would cause the construction cost to go over the budget, the client can pull out at any time. The plans have not yet been fully developed at this time to include the specifications and additional design details, so there is minimal time wasted on the design fees by this point in the process. If the permitted plans do not require any additional construction cost and the project is still within budget, the client can elect to continue to proceed with the design process to include the detailed design work, specifications of materials, selection of windows, etc.

Each client has different goals, and we are happy to work in each method. Design is a bit of a chicken-and-egg process since a builder can really only provide an estimate on the things that have already been designed. So we have to take a leap at some point and design something for a builder to bid on. We have to guess at what will be likely to fit within the budget. We can take a giant leap and do all the designing at once to speed things up, or we can take many baby steps by designing a little at a time to get more frequent feedback from builders to inform the further development of the drawings. It all depends on the client’s desire to save time or save money.