Monday, July 13, 2009

Ph-ph-ph-phases (with apologies to David Bowie)

One of the comments on the last post reminded me about all the acronyms we use in architecture and how mystifying they must be to anyone new to the business. Project phases can be especially confusing; they come with their own set of acronyms, and they're not really part of the studio process so you might only touch on them briefly in that one professional practice class you had to take. So let's discuss these phases with a specific project in mind: a small library.

Phase 1: Pre-Design/Programming
This phase has a few different names, but pre-design and programming are the two mainly used names for it. After contracts are signed between the architect and owner, the architect meets with the owner, usually more than once, to figure out what kinds of spaces are needed. Architects ask what kind of services will they be providing? What functions will be going on? In the case of this library, the staff might say that they want some space for computers to be used, and they'd like a computer lab as well as some community meeting space that can be rented or checked out. The architects develop a program from these meetings, and they also check the program and space requirements against codes and past projects:
Check-Out/Reference Desk: 300 sf
Nonfiction Stacks: 1,000 sf
Fiction Stacks: 1,000 sf
Public Computer Desks: 150 sf
Private Study Rooms: 50 sf x 3
Mechanical/Electrical Space 10% of net sf
Circulation Space 15% of net sf

The architect takes this total area and uses it to help establish or confirm/validate a budget. They also use this square footage to help the owner select a site or decide if the site the owner already has is the right site for the project.

Phase 2: Schematic Design (also called SD)
This is the phase you usually get through in Studio. More meetings are held with the owner to confirm how all those spaces listed above should be laid out in relation to each other. Layouts and relationships of rooms to each other are figured out, and exterior elevations are designed as well. All the drawing set consists of is plans and exterior elevations--it's enough to show the owner how everything's related and generally how it's going to look. SD drawings are sometimes used by contractors or cost estimators to figure out some initial costs and budgeting for the project, even if some guesstimates were provided in programming. Sometimes, a building gets larger in SD, so it's good to have someone price the project after some design has been done. Materials are generally established: brick and stone exterior with 1" insulated glazing units for the exterior; carpet, paint, and 2'x4' ACT for most of the library, VCT floors in the storage room and employee break areas, and wall covering in the community meeting room. Code research is performed at this time and that information begins to be integrated into the project.

Phase 3: Design Development (also called DDs)
Now we're getting serious. With a few more meeetings with the owner, the architect finally gets the building layout fixed. The architect lays out casework (that's what we call cabinets) in the rooms and draws interior elevations of all the casework, unique wall conditions, etc. Schedules are created based on the stuff that's in the project. For example, finish schedules that show what materials go in what rooms and on what walls as well with a finish legend that more fully describes what's used where (VCT is now Mannington Essentials 12"x12", carpet is now Shaw New Day in color 34, ACT is Armstrong Fine Fissured 1701, casework plastic laminate is now WilsonArt Dark Cherry and the countertops are WilsonArt Washed Stone). They also create door schedules that list each and every door in the project, how big it is, what it's made of, what the rating on it is, etc. A window schedule is made as well that documents and describes interior and exterior windows. A wall schedule shows what kinds of interior walls are to be used, how they're built, and what their fire rating is. They also begin integrating any technology, like computers, electrically-operated projector screens, and/or mobile shelves. Basic construction information is included at this point, like building sections as well as a couple of exterior wall sections and roof section/details. Code information is fully integrated into the project through plans showing what rooms and walls are rated and how people get out of the building in case of fire. Specifications, or specs, are made at DD as well. For example, the wall section may show that the exterior wall is a stone base (up to 3'-4" AFF) and then brick up to the roof with an airspace and exterior sheathing on 6" metals studs with a layer of drywall to the interior side. The specs will tell what kind of products are to be used and what standards are required (metal studs: must comply with standards of ASTM C345, minimum thickness 20 gauge, available products are (but not limited to) Dietrich Industries). The mechanical and electrical engineers are also putting their systems into the project and providing drawings.

Phase 4: Construction Documents (also called CDs)
The plan is set at this point, and now the architect has to make sure that the project is fully detailed. Final coordination of materials and equipment happens at this point. It's a lot of final checking and coordination with all the consultants and systems: landscape, civil, interior design, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, furniture consultant (if you have one), etc.

Phase 5: Construction Administration (also called CA)
This is the toughest part of the project. While the project gets built, the architect answers questions from the field and makes periodic visits to the site to observe construction and solve problems. This is where you find out if everything you've drawn it actually buildable, but it's also a chance to learn how things are actually built. CA is the best learning experience...if you actually get to do it, and if you can stand finding out how wrong you are on occasion.

Phase 6: As-Builts/Record Drawings
As the project gets built, you keep records of what you've changed in the project. So does the contractor. When the project is finished, you check your records against the contractor's and print a final set of drawings that show the building (to the best of everyone's knowledge) as it was built. Some architects call this set of final drawings and specs "as-builts", because it shows the project as it was built. They consider "record drawings" something that you file with a city or county authority. Other architects call these final drawings "record drawings" because no one really knows what got built, so calling them "as-builts" is to assume knowledge that you as the architect don't really have.

Next time: more fun with acronyms.

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