Design to Cost

Designing to cost is one of the most important tools to bring to the design/build table. Too frequently, designs get shelved due to budget overruns. There is no better way to ensure that a project reaches fruition than to administer reasonable budget control starting at design inception. And who better to make this happen than the architect?

By knowing cost, the architect can better control the direction of the design. If the client has no point of reference on cost, the architect can use cost as a tool to reel him back to reality before expending countless hours in redesign. Working with third-party consultants such as builders or interior designers, the architect can engage in discussions of cost as it relates to design issues. This will expand options for the client, who then will look to the architect for leadership.

Regardless of budget size, it is always important to establish reasonable cost parameters and stick to them. The most effective way to fulfill a design’s potential is to incorporate cost at the preliminary design stage. Clients will perceive added value and be happier with the outcome.

It requires an expert’s finesse to take a client’s wish list and edit it, add some value engineering, and end up with a buildable program. Cost becomes an important qualifier in the decision making, and establishing a reasonable benchmark up front for budget is critical to the ultimate success of every design. Costing during design also eliminates the client’s worst fear — the change order — by dealing with issues on paper rather than during construction. It will eliminate the frequent finger pointing that usually is in the architect’s direction.

Everyone has a budget, but clients often are not quick to proffer this information. As an architect, it’s important to be comfortable broaching this subject. The sooner you can provide cost feedback, the quicker you will get the green light to proceed with the project. Designing to cost can benefit the client with savings of both time and money, and ensures a successful construction start.

Specifications are an integral part of design intent but often do not get addressed until the end of a project. The development of specifications should parallel that of the design itself. Leading the client through this decision-making process early has many benefits. A preliminary set of specs brings a lot of additional information at the time of initial cost presentation. It allows for better design and cost controls, and is the best insurance that the project ultimately is doable.

For the truly ambitious architect, specifying and refining the selections with clients during the design process will address many issues that relate to cost. Nothing can bring a project to a halt faster than lack of client decision making. This level of extensive documentation will result in much time and money saved for a client.

While it requires organization and additional time to evolve specifications throughout the design process, the savvy client will appreciate the increased level of documentation, and will be happier with you as the go-to person for solutions.

If an architect knows and understands cost, and a builder knows and understands design, a project can leap forward and quickly evolve. It’s expected of the builder to be the expert on cost and budget, but if the architect is also familiar with cost, then design and estimating can evolve concurrently.

Ultimately, the design/build team does it better, and clients are actively seeking this project-delivery method. To execute it well, you will need the architect, builder and depending on the size of the company and project, an estimator. Design/build is the way of the future, and is more common today than ever. So grow your reputation as the architect who designs to cost and watch your client list grow.