Schematic Design – Giving Your Dreams Structure

Posted: February 28, 2017

As a business owner, you’ve decided it’s time to upgrade your facility. You’re exceeding your sales goals every year, you’re hiring new employees at a rapid rate, and you’ve outgrown your current building.  

You have specific needs that you want to address with your new facility. After running your business for some time now, you have a good idea of what you’d like your new headquarters to include. But how do you convey these needs and ideas to your builder?

This is where schematic architecture comes in.

Developing a schematic concept
In a design/build construction model, schematic design is an integral part of the development stage. Once a business owner has found their plot of land, the design process can begin.

First, engineering needs to determine the best location on the site for a building, based on setbacks, zoning restrictions, and height limitations. Once the parameters of the site are set, the schematic architects will meet with the owner to discuss needs, wants and dreams for their new facility.

“If it’s a renovation project, we ask if they have any existing drawings. If not, then we need to do a survey. If you’re meeting at their office you can get a feel for what they like and what they don’t like,” explained Cassandra Alberto, Architectural Designer for REDCOM Design & Construction LLC. “You can tell a lot about a prospect or company from where you meet with them.”

Once a designer has received all the necessary feedback from the client, they can begin working on concepts. Designers will often show business owners multiple concepts after the initial meeting, giving them several options to choose from.

“I’ll show the client exactly what they’re looking for, but I’ll also propose my own ideas based on their needs,” said Alberto. “They’re getting what they want – you always show them what they ask for – but then you also get the chance to open their mind to ideas that you couldn’t verbally communicate, or show them something they hadn’t thought of.”

The choice of what to show a business owner in their design review can vary case-by-case.

“We always start with floor plans,” said Alberto. “Sometimes we show elevations in the second meeting, depending on how quickly the owner wants to see things.”

Depending on a business owner’s experience with commercial construction, they may need additional resources to understand the full scope of the design.

“If this is their first time working with a commercial builder, you should walk them through everything,” explained Alberto. “You review the plan, and read their faces to see if they’re getting it or not. If they start drifting off, or if they’re asking for things that are already shown on the drawings, then you should show them a rendering, in order to help clarify the concept.”

The schematic design stage can last for days, weeks, or months, depending on many variables.

“It really depends on how clear the client is,” explained Alberto. “If they know what they want, then that’s an easy delivery. But if they have no idea, the process can go on for a long time. We’ve done up to almost 20 concepts for some clients.”

Schematic architecture vs. construction architecture
“We bring the clients’ dreams to life,” said Alberto. “With all of the drawings, we try to convey what they want and what we think is best. We’re talking big-picture items, with enough detail for estimating.”

As Alberto mentioned, schematic designs are imperative when it comes to pricing. For example, at REDCOM, the estimating department creates their proposals based off of what is shown on the schematic plans.

Often, design/build firms will have two separate architecture departments in-house. REDCOM has schematic architecture, as well as construction architects who develop drawings and plans.

Once a schematic concept is approved by the client, it will be passed on to the construction architects for the remainder of the project.

“The construction department really brings it all together, with all of the details and wall sections,” said Alberto. “We make sure that it’s buildable and works for the township, but the construction team really makes it happen.”

With two separate architecture departments, communication is key to ensuring the client’s needs and wants continue to be addressed throughout construction.

“We have really great interdepartmental communication, and once a project gets passed to construction, the architects still ask us for counsel,” said Alberto. “The construction team members will come to us, since we’ve been working with the clients for an extended period of time, and ask, ‘Is this something they truly cared about?’ And we usually say, ‘Yes.’”

From concept to completion
It’s one thing to virtually conceptualize a facility through programs such as Revit or SketchUp, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the final product.

“You’re always proud,” explained Alberto. “Architects are known for their sense of pride. I’m usually in awe, because I haven’t seen that many buildings that I’ve conceptualized at this point in my career. It’s a great feeling to stand in the shadow of something that you designed.”