Of the many things they do not teach young architectural and interior design students is how to design to a budget, or why this is important. We know the reasons for this, in design school, there is far too much material to cover. Teaching design research, concept design skills, and idea presentation skills are more interesting and fun subjects for everyone to focus on. As I recall, the few limits that were encouraged in design school, were basic code compliance, sometimes structural integrity, addressing the design prompt, respecting nature (the site) and really, really pushing all the boundaries. It is great fun to design in this environment!
In our 28-year-young practice of architecture and interior design the majority of our clients are hardnosed business people in corporate, healthcare, real estate and historical adaptive reuse market sectors. The designs that they are contracting for will be used to construct real estate. Real assets that will not only “house” their business but also serve as:
A new or renovated facility will usually require a large capital outlay and or a mortgage. These large sums are budgeted for sometimes months or years ahead of the start of the design effort. This outflow of money must be properly offset by an (increased) revenue stream. In fact, one of the ways we think about space is revenue producing and non-revenue producing (support spaces) and the optimum ratio between them. For the design to be good, they must be in balance just like the income – expense balance that generates the profit of the business (in order to pay for expansions or new facilities!) Whenever there is an imbalance, profits tend to decrease and this is unsustainable for any business.
When design projects exceed their budgets, it means one of several things must happen. The design gets revised and right sized, the owner must come up with more money either out of pocket (owners don’t like this) or increasing the loan amount and thereby increasing the monthly mortgage payment (nobody likes this either!) Either scenario is an unexpected and unpleasant event in the life of the project and or business. Just think about the last time you had unexpected expenses and how that made you feel. That’s how owners feel, usually much worse due to the larger numbers.
What are some of the ways we as designers, can work proactively from the start of the project to avoid unpleasant budget overruns or high bids?
The idea is to provide information on all the costs of the project to help minimize surprises as the project develops and a tool to help stay on budget.
You can’t measure what you don’t keep track of, so we always start designing with a current, vetted budget. We all know it is more fun to design without limits but this can make for some very uncomfortable conversations at bid time. Our clients hire us to be the experts in our field, and they do expect that we know costs and how to design to a budget. At Cornerstone, we believe that good design has the power to change and uplift people, businesses and communities. We believe that delivering that design within the client’s budget is our responsibility. We also consider the budget’s limiting effect as a stimulus to our creative process, not a hinderance. Designing to the client’s budget actually helps our team deliver good design!