The first step in a construction project is to define the problem. For those considering their first building space, a needs assessment is the process of asking “What functions occur here?” Whether contemplating a building for office workers or an industrial process, we can help document the qualitative and quantitative requirements that will need to be met by the project. Facilities decisions can impact an organization for decades. Future growth may be possible, or even imminent. Needs assessments are often forward-looking anticipating future growth.
A facilities assessment is a common tool to periodically gauge the health of a building or campus. Particularly for the purpose of setting maintenance and operations budgets, facilities assessments are a valuable tool for projecting costs five or ten years into the future.
Our assessments look at mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. We compare buildings to energy efficiency benchmarks. We assess facility code compliance, using the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code, the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, and the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act. We also include projections for growth and changes in use. For instance, a school district may be contemplating a new early childhood education program, or a college may be considering expanding their housing offerings.
Detailed analysis of a building’s occupants and processes, called programming, is the key method to understanding the gap between present facilities’ capabilities and that of an improved, future facility. Programming documents frequently include forward-looking and qualitative statements about an organization. For instance, an organization may desire a strong public-facing building, or meet building performance goals for energy and resource efficiency. Some organizations are comfortable creating a programming document on their own. We find many organizations appreciate our experience and guidance with this key phase.
Some organizations can fund their projects with cash on hand. For others, a fund-raising period is necessary. Whether funding comes from private or public entities, or even a commercial lender, experience shows thorough documentation of a project’s goals and its ability to meet the organization’s long term needs is critical to a successful capital campaign.
Documents to support a capital campaign can include a facilities assessment, a programming document, schematic or conceptual architectural drawings, and photorealistic renderings. These documents are the fruits of a schematic or conceptual design effort, where the building takes on a solidity that demonstrates an organization’s commitment to the project, how the project benefits the organization, and the proof in concept of the project. We work with owners, whether they have a development staff or not, to create compelling documents to show to potential donors and lenders.
As an architecture firm with strong project management skill, we organize and lead project teams to design buildings that solve facilities needs. The typical process of designing a building begins with understanding the project’s goals as articulated in programming and needs assessment documents.
A first step is to develop the right design team. As an independent architecture firm, we can choose consulting engineers to join the design team based on the project’s unique characteristics. A large, industrial project will need a different mechanical engineer than a small office building or school renovation.
Many design projects begin with the architecture, and are then tweaked by engineers so they work. Our approach is to think about buildings as integrated systems: life safety, programmatic, structural, mechanical, and so on. While the architecture is often the most visible portion of a building, if the other systems lack design attention, the building will suffer. It may cost more than necessary to build, or to operate. A room that needs quiet may suffer from nearby equipment noise. As the prime consultant on the vast majority of our projects, we provide the organizational management to keep projects moving smoothly forward.
Our facilities and needs assessments include an analysis of a building’s code compliance. The building codes are also an integral part of the design program we develop for every project.
Code compliance is based on the concrete language of building codes. We still find that code interpretation can vary between design professionals, and even between code officials. It is also true that code compliance can sometimes be achieved in more than one way. By focusing on the code’s intent- to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public- we can bring clarity and logic to the code compliance process.
Hiring a general contractor, also known as project procurement, can be tricky for those unfamiliar with the processes available. Competitive, or hard bids, involve soliciting bids from contractors in the hope that market forces will produce a low bid within the project’s budget. Fairness dictates that no general contractor has inside knowledge about the project before the bid period begins. A corollary to having fair bids is that the owner has not received any direct insight into construction cost prior to bids being received.
A negotiated bid is just that: the owner negotiates the construction cost with a chosen general contractor. Since the general contractor will be supplying cost information while the project is being designed, the owner and designer can adjust the project’s scope or quality level as needed to meet a budget. The caveat is that market forces that might drive the project cost down are not as strong. Some level of trust must exist between the owner and contractor that both are negotiating fairly.
Construction Manager at Risk and design-build are other versions of a negotiated bid process. They are designed to respond to some of the shortcomings found in competitive and negotiated bidding. We frequently find ourselves discussing procurement options with owners, and describing why we advise that one type of procurement might be a better fit for a particular project than the others.
Surprise surprise, projects do not always proceed smoothly once a contractor is awarded a project. Rather, there are a number of quality assurance and oversight responsibilities that, when made a part of the project, greatly increase the chances for project success.
For instance, while drawings and specifications attempt to be incontrovertibly clear in their intent, this is not always the case. We often have contractors calling us looking for an answer to a question. Often, our response is to direct them to the sheet or page where they can find the answer. In other words, the answer was there; they just missed it.
We also validate pay requisitions-- the invoices contractors send for work put in place. The process involves going out to the job site and making sure that, if the contractor is sending a bill for 10 doors installed, that ten doors have actually been installed.
We provide a quality assurance service by checking on the quality of the work being done. Architects have the power to reject work that falls below a specified quality level. We do not wield this authority lightly, but it provides a mechanism to shield owners from substandard work.
The process of identifying a project need, developing the resources to execute the project, translating project goals into a building design, communicating that design to a contractor, and then assuring the end product is as intended-- these are the steps that must be done successfully. Our role as architects is to shoulder some of this burden, and to assist or advise with other parts.