How Does a Building Design and Drawing Go From Concept to Possible?

A building design and drawing blog post by Larry Gilland with Heather Sellers from LGA Studios

Designing a home–taking a client’s initial thoughts and ideas and creating documents to use for construction–is a complex, multi-phase process. This process varies from one design professional to another. It’s a process that involves clear communication with your client and creativity in approaching each project. And one which we can enhance by new technologies and visualization tools, as discussed below. So, how does it all start?

Every new project begins with the goal of creating a built environment or home that fulfills both basic structural needs and the heartfelt desires particular to each individual. That means getting to know and understand your client.

The Programming Phase

Whether your client wants a sprawling beach house or a modern urban infill multi-story home, it all starts with criteria we call programming. Programming generally involves figuring out a target square footage. Next are critical considerations such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms required. It also includes lifestyle criteria. These are home offices, studios, hobby spaces, living rooms, and entertaining spaces desired by the client.

The site or land where the home is to be built is also important at this phase. If known, this will determine the maximum footprint of the home and any hillside or site considerations or complications.

A client’s aesthetic taste will also be important at this early phase. Have they been dreaming of Tuscan warmth, Craftsman detailing, or Contemporary sleekness when imagining their dream home? Architecture by nature is extremely visual and all about evoking the right feeling for the right client. The advent of websites such as Houzz, Pinterest, and Instagram has allowed clients to explore architectural details and styles more freely. They can express the story of what they want in a home through images. A trained building designer knows how to glean all of this information into an initial concept design.

The Bubble or Block Diagram Phase

Building Design Block Diagram Phase.

From this essential early communication with a client, many designers will start by creating a home bubble or block diagram. (SEE IMAGE) This helps the designer establish spatial relationships, consider site topography to take advantage of any views, slopes, or driveway preferences, and allow the designer to formulate the square footage roughly.

Methods for this process vary. Many designers tend to have an artistic touch and work with sketch tissue and felt tip pens. Software, including SketchUp, Revit, and ArchiCAD, all have similar modeling functions that aid the designer through a diagrammatic approach.

Generally, the designer will produce a concept or schematic design after evaluating and working through the initial programming input. We present these schematic/concept designs to the client as floor plans, exterior elevations, and site plans for the client’s review and notes.

Television shows, such as those on the DIY Network, often show great graphics in a 3D format. However, these shows generally work with a remodel or an existing structure, so a known size and shape are a given. For a new home, it is the designer who creates the design. A good designer will be able to create designs that can meet various style vernaculars, work well with spatial relationships, and consider specific site conditions.

The Building Design and Drawing Development Phase

Building Design Development Phase 1.

As the design and project evolve, these initial concepts/schematic designs turn into design development drawings. Design development drawings are an essential aspect of the process. These drawings can help establish a preliminary schedule of the value or cost of the project. They also set the tone for many of the decisions that we need to make. At the DD phase, we establish preliminary structural and mechanical systems. Ceiling vaults and/or other treatments can be discussed and determined as well.

The use of truss components or other structural systems can impact the floorplan flow. Columns and beam placement may impact the ceilings and walls. 3D programs can model windows and exterior natural light at this phase. This gives clients a more realistic view of their future homes. We can make adjustments as necessary. The designer and clients will more closely examine the furniture placement and flow of the floorplan at this point as well.

Home design has come a long way from the traditional drawing board and pencil on paper drawings. Today’s sophisticated software allows us in the profession to build a model of our ideas on the computer. This helps our clients visualize their homes.

As the process evolves and continues with the client, the designer can discuss materials for finishes and textures through 3D modeling or 2D elevations. Exterior finishes such as siding, stonework, roofing, and trim details will begin to take shape.

Building Design Development Phase 2.

On the interior side, we establish floor treatments and floor transitions. Casework designs include kitchen cabinets, built-ins, and interior shelves along with bathrooms, kitchens, offices, closets, and any other spaces needing more detailed trim. Lighting design can begin at this phase. This includes discussions regarding lighting the client desires, such as decorative chandeliers and task lighting and levels.

To best sum up the design development phase: it’s the process of beginning to work through all the decisions that impact the home’s building.

The Construction Documents Phase

The design process continues next to the CD–or construction documents phase. These will be the drawings that we create for actual construction and permits. This allows clients to contact builders who can then produce more accurate bids for the cost of building a home. Even with all the details, they desire.

In the case of BIM, or Building Information Modeling, designers can create an intelligent, insightful model that we use for the building’s lifespan. We use these models for more accurate material estimation, energy models, and document recording all of the products to be used in construction. The future of BIM is to create an information model and use it to automate systems, emergency, and security management.

A Lot Goes into Building Design and Drawing!

Photograph of the Final Product, a contemporary Home.

As you can see, designing a home is much more than simply drawing lines on paper. It begins with fragments of inspiration that we transpose into documents and models to create our built environment–the spaces that shield us from the elements and the spaces where we live our lives and thrive with family and friends. Then, these places become a home that we cherish, enjoy, and that inspire us. But it all starts with an idea.

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