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When In Your Design Process Do You Have Most Leverage Over Cost and Quality?

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © lumaxart | Flickr

Over the decades, architectural design methods have been intrinsically linked with new tools that architects use to turn their visions into realities. New tools like virtual computer visualization techniques and remote computing while on a construction site allow architects and designers to have a new way of not only “drawing/modeling” how a building should be assembled, but also to innovate new building materials and construction methods.

But using these tools to their fullest requires optimizing your design process to its fullest, both at the beginning of early programming stages all the way past bidding, negotiation and even well into construction stages. So, how do you know when to use what tools and for what reason? How do you know you are really leveraging them during your design process to streamline your efforts — lifting the quality of your design, the speed at which you design and lowering your final building cost?

Where Are Your Leveraging Points

In many ways, it can be said that you gain the most leverage at the very onset of your architectural design process. The earlier you are in your design process the more leverage you have to affect the overall design quality of your building project. As your design process continues the less leverage you have over design quality.

Conversely, as your design process continues into bidding stages, the more leverage you have over the overall cost of your building. So, in the beginning you get the most “bang for your buck” over design quality, and toward the end you get the most “bang for your buck” over design cost. You can say, leverage is all about getting both design “bang” and “buck”.

How to Leverage Your Design Process

Leverage is as much about maximizing good results as about preventing bad ones. The main idea is to get rid of that which holds back your design process the most, which in turn will maximize what does work in your design process. So, a big part of leveraging your design process is to fix the “bottlenecks” and “weak points”. This article about the concept of leveraging says it best:

“The conclusion we can draw from this discussion of the Pareto Principle, leverage points, and non-constraints is crucial in simplifying management’s primary job: ensuring overall system success. It’s that we must worry about efficiency really at only one point in the system: the constraint or leverage point. The efficiency at non-constraints—almost all of the rest of the system—matters only when a non-constraint’s inefficiency puts it in danger of becoming the system constraint.”
[…and…]
“All systems […] are constrained in some way. That constraint represents a leverage point in each system, a point at which a measured amount of effort will produce a disproportionate benefit to the system. But a system constraint exists with non-constraints in a Pareto Principle-type relationship: there are far fewer leverage points (probably only one) than non-constraints. Capitalizing on this knowledge requires the application of a structured, repetitive continuous improvement process.”
—- Dettmer, William H., Systems and Constraints: The Concept of Leverage

In the end, you, as an architect, need to take a hard look at your design process to find your weakest points. Then, focus efforts on incremental improvements at that point. By alleviating that constraint your overall system will work better with minimal effort.

So, what does this mean for your architectural process? If at the programming stage you are not factoring for your client’s or future occupants needs well, then the rest of your design will suffer. Hence, your design’s overall quality will be less because you had the most leverage to lift your building’s quality in the beginning.

Similarly, if your project budgeting, bidding and negotiation process has the weakest link, then your building (no matter how great the quality was at the beginning) will make your building construction into reality much less successful.

In the end, you must alleviate the constraints and bottlenecks within your design process. Doing this will turn your constraints into leveraging points.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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