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Last edited 22 Sep 2020
This article provides a brief introduction to a very complex subject, more information about which can be found in other articles on Designing Buildings Wiki. To help develop this article, click 'Edit this article'
Building design is the process of taking a client's requirements for a new building or changes to an existing building and translating them into an agreed design that a contractor is then able to construct.
- Expressed in great detail (for example, a retail client requiring another outlet following the same brand as previous stores).
- Described very loosely and then developed in more detail during the design process. An inexperienced client may benefit from input by independent client advisers to prepare a strategic brief, and this may then be developed with the help of a consultant team.
- Expressed in terms of overall functional requirements for the proposed development, that is,what it will enable the client to do, rather than the accommodation it is required to provide. The government recommends that publicly-funded projects adopt this approach.
As the standard of regulations has increased, building components have become more complex, and the technical requirements of clients have become more demanding, so the design process has become more challenging. As a consequence, other than the very smallest projects, building design will generally involve a number of different designers and other consultants.
However, other consultants, such as a cost consultant are likely to be required and depending on the nature of the project, specialists such as landscape designer, access consultant, interior designer, acoustic consultant and so on may also be necessary.
It is becoming more common for a consultant to be appointed on a project, then in turn to appoint other consultants who will undertake some or all of the work for which he/she has been hired. The client's consultants may be referred to as 'prime consultants' whilst the consultants that the latter appoint are generally referred to as 'sub-consultants'.
The lead designer will often be the architect, however this is not necessarily the case and appointment documents for other consultants will generally offer provision for them the be nominated lead designer. For example, on a very highly serviced building, or part of a building, the services engineer might be an appropriate lead designer. The building surveyor might be appointed as lead designer on a refurbishment or renovation project where their training and expertise in building materials applied to the existing fabric makes them uniquely qualified for the role.
It might also be appropriate to appoint a design co-ordinator (for the co-ordination and integration of designs prepared by specialist contractors), and a computer aided design (CAD) and/or building information modelling (BIM) co-ordinator and BIM information manager. Contractors may appoint their own design managers to co-ordinate their own design and that of sub-contractors.
On a traditional project, it is common for the client to appoint an architect first for the earliest stages of development of the project and then to appoint other consultants as it becomes necessary.
However, on design and build projects, the client may appoint a contractor to design the building and then to construct it. The contractor may be appointed from the outset, or the client may first appoint consultants to develop an outline design and then appoint the contractor to take on and develop the design (either using the existing designers, or their own).
Other procurement routes offer variations to this basic pattern, with the government favouring the appointment of a single integrated supply team from the outset to design, construct, and sometimes finance and operate the building.
The design process is an iterative one, passing through a number of stages, during which the client's requirements are clarified, options assessed, designs developed, designs reviewed, progress approved, a decision taken to move to the next stage. Certain aspects of the project are 'frozen' at each stage and change control procedures introduced.
Typically, the stages of design are described as:
- Concept design (outline design or scheme design).
- Detailed design.
- Technical design.
- Production information.
The stages which precede concept design typically involve developing the brief, assessing options and carrying out feasibility studies. Whilst these stages might include the preparation of diagrams for the purpose of assessment, they do not involve design as such.
Design reviews should be co-ordinated by the lead designer. Design reviews might include consideration of (amongst other things) design quality, value management, design risk assessment and project risk assessment. See Design review for more information.
Developing a design rarely involves considering the needs of just one individual. Clients can be very large organisations with very diverse and sometimes contradictory requirements, and a range of third parties may also have to be consulted.
Stakeholder groups might include:
- Members of the client organisation (such as user panels, champions and department heads).
- Other user groups (such as customers, residents, occupants, and visitors).
- Neighbours and community groups.
- Funders and shareholders.
- The local authority.
- Other statutory authorities and non-statutory consultees.
- Special interest groups.
- The emergency services.
- Statutory utilities.
- Heritage organisations.
Perhaps the most significant of these stakeholder groups is the local planning authority, as without planning approval, the building cannot be built and so costs incurred in developing the project will have been wasted.
Typically, clients wish to secure planning permission as soon as possible in order to minimise abortive design costs. However, being granted planning permission may become more likely as the design develops and more details can be provided to the planning authority.
Planning applications can be detailed or outline:
- Outline planning applications can be used to find out whether a proposed development is likely to be approved by the planning authority before substantial costs are incurred developing a detailed design. Outline planning applications allow the submission of outline proposals, the details of which may be agreed as 'reserved matters' applications at a later stage.
- Detailed planning applications submit all the details of the proposed development at the same time.
Generally on larger, new-build projects, a 'full plans' application will be made, meaning that full details of the proposed building works are submitted for approval before the works are carried out. On small projects, or when changes are made to an existing building, approval may be sought by giving a 'building notice'. In this case, a building inspector will approve the works as they are carried out by a process of inspection.
- Level 0: Unmanaged CAD (Computer Aided Design).
- Level 1: Managed CAD in 2D or 3D.
- Level 2: Managed 3D environment with data attached, but created in separate discipline models.
- Level 3: Single, online, project model with construction sequencing, cost and lifecycle management information.
In the UK the Government Construction Strategy published in May 2011, states that the '...Government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016'. This represents a minimum requirement for Level 2 BIM on centrally-procured public projects.
BIM allows buildings to be designed collaboratively and tested virtually, before they are built and operated for real. This should reduce the problems that are encountered in construction and occupation. It should also give the entire project team access to better, more comprehensive and more co-ordinated information, reducing significantly the need for RFIs (requests for information) and the duplication of information. BIM also automates low value activities (such as producing or revising production information) allowing expensive staff to focus on higher value activities.
Sustainability in building developments is a vast and complex subject that must be considered from the very earliest stages as the potential environmental impacts are very significant. The built environment accounts for:
- 45% of total UK carbon emissions (27% from domestic buildings and 18% from non-domestic).
- 73% of domestic emissions arise from space heating and the provision of hot water.
- 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings.
- 13% of products delivered to construction sites are sent directly to landfill without being used.
Aspects of design that can impact on sustainability might include; energy use and energy source, embodied energy, use of harmful materials, material sources, ecology and landscape, flexibility and durability, waste management, water management, disposal, travel and transport and pollution.
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM Regulations) are intended to ensure that health and safety issues are properly considered during a project's development so that the risk of harm to those who have to build, use and maintain structures is reduced. The regulations apply from concept design onward and impose duties on and impose specific duties on designers.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Aesthetics and architecture.
- Briefing documents.
- Building regulations.
- Building related illness.
- Building technology.
- Concept architectural design.
- Concept design.
- Consultant team.
- Design coordination.
- Design management.
- Design principles.
- Design quality.
- Design review.
- Detailed design.
- Form follows function.
- Planning permission.
- Principles of enclosure.
- Procurement route.
- Production information.
- Technical design.
- Visual impact.
- What is design?
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