The Value of Design Programming

MD Architects

MD Architects

MD Architects is a full-service, relationship-based firm dedicated to providing superior planning, design, specifications, and construction guidance to our clients.

August 20, 2021

We are often asked by clients to design their new hospital after they have chosen a tenant space and signed a lease. It is also not uncommon for a client to say that they leased the space because it was similar in size to a space they worked in before and liked. After all, veterinary facilities are all basically the same, aren’t they? Nothing could be further from the truth. In the design of more than hundreds of animal healthcare facilities for both our private and corporate clientele, we have yet to design two facilities that were exactly alike.

To your architect, leasing space before you define what you want the space to accommodate, how you practice, the number of providers to be accommodated, future growth opportunities, what your budget is, and a host of other questions will seem a little backwards. The keystone to a consistently successful design process starts with entire project teams thorough understanding of the project requirement from an aesthetic, functional, and economic perspective before the tenant space has been chosen, and well before the design work gets underway.  

What Is Design Programming?

The process of defining the overall scope of the project is called design programming. It is simply a process of discovery, driven by curiosity. Taking time to identify, consider, prioritize, and balance all ideas and alternatives will allow you to achieve your overall values and needs for the project without busting your budget or restricting your future growth. That, in turn, reduces wasted effort on your part in looking at real estate or tenant spaces that won’t work for your practice and speeds up the tenant space selection and project completion process.     

An experienced architect will be able to lead their clients through the programming process and challenge them along the way to think outside the box in search of increased space utilization efficiencies, higher staff satisfaction rates, and reduced construction costs. However, for the process to be successful, your architect also needs you to articulate your priorities and expectations for the project including your financial comfort zone. You too need to challenge your design team to offer alternatives solutions that meet your specific needs. There is seldom only one solution for anything, and the design team should always be willing to explain what the alternatives are and why they recommend one over the other. Unless you have an unlimited budget, there will likely be some compromises, but the design programming process provides you with an opportunity to consider and discover the best path forward in light of all your goals. The result of these conversation’s is a written design program outlining the project goals, functional needs, operational requirements, and of course a spatial assessment.

Defining The Spatial Assessment

The spatial assessment if often prepared in a spread sheet format listing each functional element of the project and the estimated square feet of space required to accommodate them. It should also include a load factor for common area spaces such a hallways, stairs, walls, mechanical shafts that aren’t allocated to a specific functional need such as an exam or surgery room. This is often expressed as a percentage of the functional floor area that is identified and is based on the architect’s experience with similar project types. For many design teams this is where design programming ends, but in my opinion, the design program is not complete until a preliminary project budget is developed.

What Goes Into A Preliminary Project Budget?

The preliminary project budget should not be an estimate of the construction budget based a dollars per square foot approach. It should as well include all other identifiable costs such as state sales taxes, mitigation fees, professional design and engineering fees, building permits, utility connection fees, fixtures, furniture, equipment, real estate fees, and legal / lending fees. As such it will require your input as well. The project budget should also include a contingency value to account for unknown development costs and potential material price increases. Without the development of a preliminary project budget, there is no way of knowing if the project, as defined in the written program and space assessment documents, meets the financially requirements of the project. If not, then the entire project team will have the tools at hand to discuss and quickly adjust the project programming documents as necessary and allow you to confidently move forward without having to guess what the right sized space really is for your project.

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