Design Process


The most crucial time in development of a project is in the initial definition stage. In the world of product design generally, and in architectural design specifically, there are two main drivers to defining a new product.

One driver would be market research. That is, persons knowledgeable about the wants and needs of potential consumers (purchasers/users) identify a need that is being unmet (or under served) and then determine what features, and in what quantities and at what price, buyers will make a purchase commitment. You may be familiar with the extensive market research developers and builders undertake to determine what the market is seeking in housing and to assure lenders that there will be a demand for what is constructed.

Market research may be made moot where a design is commissioned by a single client. It is still useful to be aware of general trends in housing construction and interior design to help the client make appropriate choices.

The second driver is inside out. That means that as new technologies and/or manufacturing processes are developed through internal research new design possibilities arise. In many instances there may be no prior market knowledge or demand simply because potential purchasers would be unaware of the possibilities. I think that this is very much the current situation with regard to alternative housing concepts and technologies vs. the mass market for residential construction.

The most significant current driver to renewed interest in alternative construction techniques is the astronomical rise in energy costs and corresponding desire to mute their effects over time on personal and corporate finance.

Typically, new development results from some combination of the two drivers discussed above. My observation is that the more a product definition is weighted toward the internal driver the more potentially risky market acceptance is. Even custom designs should be predicated on the fact that few owners will occupy their residence for a lifetime and the resale value will be affected by initial design decisions.

Once the general needs and specific desired features of a new project are identified the next step is to create a detailed definition in writing.

It is a standard part of architectural design practice for the client to provide the architect with a brief or “charge” (to set someone to a task with instructions). The best practice would be a written document which explains the clients desires as best they can be determined initially including hopes, dreams and aspirations. For the most creative result it is better that the charge not be too specific as to the actual physical appearance initially. This can be arrived at my mutual consultation during the design phase. Of course if there are specific dislikes or exclusions these should also be included in the charge.

My experience in implementing complex design projects teaches me that the first step of a project is to write the “user manual”. This doesn't mean proceeding directly to the actual physical configuration. It means documenting in detail what the end result will be and do and how the user will interact with it. An essential part of this description is to determine the I/O (Input/Output). This is applicable to architectural design as follows.

A building has input. Factors such as physical access (car, pedestrian, handicapped, pets, equestrian, etc.), light (illumination and views), air, heat, sound, precipitation (liquid and solid), power, water, data communications, storage, service access and etc. must be considered and decisions made and documented as to the type, placement and user interface of all such factors.

A building has output. Physical egress, light (intentional and possible unintentional effects of light, both natural and artificial), sound (or maybe just noise), odors, waste heat, grey water, black water, runoff, compostable waste, unrecyclable and recyclable solid waste and etc.

These factors apply to both static elements, such as the actual structure, and continue through dynamic interactions, from the mechanical (which way does the door open?) to more technical, such as adjusting light levels (opening or closing drapes, blinds or shutters), plumbing interactions (excuse me, I need to go have a plumbing interaction), setting the thermostat or lighting or using the digital information and entertainment systems.

In addition to the physical aspects of ergonomics the psychological aspects of any design must be carefully considered. Factors such as pride of ownership, aesthetic pleasure and the living experience of occupants as affected by the design are vital to achieving a satisfactory result.

Proceeding to the physical detail design phase then there is immediately the need to determine what types of materials, fabrication procedures and components are appropriate to meeting the desired design goals. I have information on a wide range of options for both areas at my disposal. I believe I will be able to provide pro and con information about particular options in many cases.

This leads to another area of expertise required in the field: Component Specification, Sourcing and Purchasing information. The first bastion of knowledge would be direct holding of related data. I have a significant knowledge base (paper and digital) relating to availability of many architectural elements, fittings and hardware, as well as fabrication methods.

Beyond that I have significant experience in searching for new components and processes, selecting vendors and obtaining or producing the necessary purchasing related drawings and documents.

Although I will be able to supply relative cost information, in most cases, for actual cost estimations I would defer to someone familiar with local labor and construction costs for such information. This would usually be the contractor. Selecting and involving a reputable and competent contractor should be done at the earliest stages of any project. It is of no use to select construction methods for their abstract potential without regard to available tradesmen and sources.

During the design phase, unless cost is no issue (rarely the case), the overarching necessity is to determine the simplest, in every respect, way of achieving all the necessary goals, excluding none and particularly never excluding spiritual and aesthetic needs. In some instances a conscious choice may be made to go beyond simplicity if an important goal, e.g. Aesthetics, can be enhanced and the budgetary impact is acceptable.

Another consideration would be financial implications of design decisions. Are there local, state or federal programs that may offer tax advantages, rebates, etc. for use of insulation, energy or water saving appliances, solar-electric power installations, wind power installations, etc. An insurance expert should be consulted. Different types of construction may have different insurance rates, which could be significant over time. These types of factors should be researched and documented so that they may be considered during the design phase.

Detail design. All facts in rank and ready to march straight to the goal. Unfortunately that is fantasy. I have never been involved in a design project where changes in the “user manual” weren't made as detail design proceeds. I am pretty confidant that it is highly unlikely that I ever will be. Change and iteration are the lifeblood of improvement. With modern CAD tools the time spent altering a design is much reduced.

Unfortunately the ripple down effect of design changes to (potentially) cost and completion of a project is more likely felt in other areas e.g. purchasing, where supply lead times may be considerable. Or by causing certain construction phases to occur during periods of unfavorable weather.

It must always be kept in mind, however, that perfection of design is impossible. The goal is to achieve the best design possible within the development budget and in the time allowed.

Being overly specific about the appearance and layout of a structure before all factors are known and considered is ill advised, by my counsel. Clients are encouraged to create many possible layout relationships of functional areas rather than narrowing down to a specific floor plan. Once the other factors necessary to proceed have been determined it will then be of benefit to be able to select from among numerous possibilities, combining and paring away ideas as concepts crystallize.

The best approach to the design of a project is to first gather all inputs as to the design requirements and organize them in written and pictorial form. This process might proceed through a number of iterations until the client felt the statement of action fairly represented their goals.

Examples of such input would be aerial photogrammetry of the property with high resolution photos and one foot contour map of potential building areas with significant grade changes, where applicable.

Another basic data requirement would be the aforementioned “user manual” or project definition.

Creeks, springs and other water sources and significant natural runoff courses should be identified and located on a master site plan. Soil types and composition must be identified to allow determination of appropriate foundation structures.

For clients interested in use of alternative energy sources, e.g. passive or active solar heating who are not building in a location with available historical weather data I would recommend that a battery operated recording weather station be located on the presumptive building site and temperature, precipitation, humidity, barometric pressure, solar flux, wind speed and direction recorded over an annual cycle (or as long as the schedule permits before the data become moot) as an invaluable aid to design decisions. Such data is particularly useful in making design decisions where natural energy is to be utilized.

Once a viable detailed project definition has been approved I would then focus on site planning. Generally, in what areas and with what orientation will roads, parking, paths, structures, gardens, landscaping, mechanical services, etc. be located? Drawings and pictures would be produced to overlay these functional areas on site plans, aerial photos or contour maps as appropriate for further study and consideration. A 3D model of the terrain created from contour map data would be invaluable for designing earth sheltered structures where is is desired to use the natural terrain to advantage.

Once approval had been received for the master site plan then detail physical design of all elements of the development could proceed. I am available to provide architectural design services.

The preferred approach is to develop, in abbreviated form, multiple design concepts initially for presentation and subsequent refinement through iteration to a final buildable design, meeting, as well as can be achieved within the budget and time allowed, the defined design goals.

As a proponent of rational planning of storage requirements I believe the general use of built-in cabinetry more perfectly suits the defined requirements and use of space than standalone furniture added after the fact. Japanese architects and craftsmen have been masters in this area for centuries.

Halls should be generous in proportion and must be designed for movement of household contents as well as people. There is a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on the beach in Carmel, CA on Monterrey Bay (Walker Residence) which I have walked by a number of times over the years. The hallways are three feet wide and with angled access doorways. To move in large furniture items it was necessary to remove the windows and place the furniture into the rooms through the openings from outside. Wright should not be emulated in this matter (or as a civil engineer, many of his designs had/have serious structural deficiencies)

Extensive knowledge of the planning and design of baths and kitchens, including both aesthetic and ergonomic considerations and a large data base of residential kitchen and bath designs and options is at the client's disposal.

Design of office spaces, particularly the integration of modern office equipment (computers, etc.) into functional and esthetically pleasing custom built-in furniture allows for beauty and efficiency in these task oriented areas.

Design of media rooms and music studios from modest spaces to full blown home theaters is offered. Ditto, garages, workshops and art/craft studios. Knowledge and experience of theater auditorium construction, equipment and stagecraft, which I provide, underpins an understanding of the dramatic effects of colors, textures, forms and lighting in achieving the desired emotional feeling to interior design.

Understanding of the requirements and installation of both power and signal (phone, data, audio and video) wiring in residential structures assists in the thoughtful integration of the necessary utilities without intruding into the aesthetic design.

Lighting, both available sunlight and artificial lighting, has long been an area of interest, study and application for me. I encourage you to visit Casa Vista at night with advance notice and I can demonstrate the exterior, interior and landscape lighting design as currently completed. Integration and automation of lighting control has not yet been completed but is planned.

Solar angle design data and creation of 3D models of structures including simulated solar position as a function of season is offered. Renderings can be provided that illustrate the dynamic changes in light and shadow on a structure created by the daily solar cycle. This information is vital to the design of passive solar architecture.

The discussion of the aspects of the interior design prior to exterior architectural design has been intentional. As a first approximation I believe a structure should be designed from the inside out. Clearly there will be an iterative process between interior and exterior design considerations.

The personal knowledge and preferences of any architect will clearly affect the end result. I have outlined above some of the knowledge that I believe to be applicable to such an undertaking should I have a role in the architectural design of your project.

My preferences as to architectural design could be described as contemporary. While I have studied and have respect for classical and historical Western architectural design I personally have no interest in creating emulations or copies of traditional forms. Santa Fe architecture is one of the few traditional residential styles whose essential elements are still relevant to contemporary needs in the Southwest.

I feel comfortable in interpreting Southwestern design elements in a contemporary idiom. I have been inspired by both contemporary techno (glass, steel, concrete) architecture as well as organic architecture using both natural and contemporary materials (adobe, rammed earth, ferrocement). I find the arguments for earth sheltered buildings compelling for both practical and aesthetic reasons.

For clients wishing to construct reproductions of historical western residential styles I would decline involvement in the architectural design. I will offer other services, such as creation of 3D models for visualization or general planning and construction advice should it be requested for such projects.

My library is a useful indicator of my architectural interests and resources. A list of titles in my library relating to design and architecture may be accessed from the bottom of this page.

As an artist and sculptor I am always cognizant of light, color, form and decoration. As an example of architectural designs I find fascinating and with which many people are familiar would be Luke Skywalker's parent's below grade home on the planet Tatooine (Star Wars) and the Hobbit village and dwellings in the Lord of the Rings movie. These production designs actually borrow much from traditional dwellings in remote parts of the world that are not so generally well known (see library titles and Galleries > Vernacular Architecture). Closer to home I am appreciative of both the aesthetic and practical construction achievements of ancient Anasazi and Pueblo peoples.

That said, the design of any new development must be approached with a minimum of preconceived notions regarding the final form, allowing it evolve as the design process proceeds and as esthetically appealing solutions meeting the design goals are imagined.

I believe engaging me to take a more synoptic role in your project could be of valuable assistance in achieving your goals.

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