The Architectural Briefing Process: a critical component to ensuring Project efficiencies

Architectural works on a typical project, from initial sketch to finally breaking ground, can take many years and be a personnel merry-go-round.

The briefing process is a critical component to ensuring project efficiency, and we believe it is vital that all stakeholders be present and on the same page through the ongoing robust discussions.

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Our job as designers is to add value where ever possible throughout a project, so it’s an interesting exercise to understand at what stage of the process a client feels comfortable investing in it and how as designers we believe the briefing stage is the most imperative for value adding.

Like every professional field, Architects have niches in their skill set where they feel comfortable and self-assured. Some may purely want to design and create, whilst others may be more detail focused and want to know that every last bolt, screw or rivet is in place and accounted for. A good architectural firm requires both, and to expect a single person to cover all bases is unrealistic. It should always be a team approach.

How innovation has changed the way we design

With the advent of 3D imagery and BIM technologies, it is now far easier to present a cohesive design philosophy to a client or developer than ever before. However these technologies and skills require substantial investment and training from any architectural firm. Previously, it was common for a stakeholder to view 2D plans, attend design meetings, sign off schematic design, but still not really comprehend the project aesthetics or outcomes. “That’s not what I expected” is hopefully a catch cry of the past due to modern visual technology and a client’s better understanding of the building.

With this is mind, there seems to be far more investment from all parties at the front end of a project to communicate ideas and concepts. Spinning an architectural model on a large screen is powerful tool at any presentation and gives all stakeholders a clear project insight. Like many creative professionals, Architects often reluctantly trade their conceptual ideas for an opportunity to ‘buy into’ the project proper. So is the pitching of an idea utilising honed skills and valuable Intellectual Property the correct entry price?

In musical terms it’s similar to a band paying many thousands of dollars for instruments, spending countless years writing, rehearsing and refining their craft, only to be patronised by being offered a gig that pays nothing, but comes with the vague promise of future work.

Common Project Challenges

Abortive documentation works through an up and running project are the pits! Architects dislike preparing them, authorities don’t like re-interpreting them, and Developers certainly don’t like paying for them. They tend to confuse timeframes and muddy the waters for all involved.

I have not seen a contract yet that deals with abortive works in a functional or fair way, someone always feels cheated, and there are no winners. Minor changes should be readily accepted as part of the design process and a practical team approach to achieve the greater good. Flipping an entire site, changing a major architectural feature, or introducing or removing a star recruit in the form of an anchor building is surely not perceived as minor works? And yet until we break dirt they are only lines on a drawing, but who pays for the ink?

Of course, there are certain projects where quick preparation and premature lodging of documentation minus vital information or stakeholder input is crucial to the success or securing of a development. This is normally geared around specific application tactics adopted by the team and can be completely warranted. Transparency ensures the entire team is aware of these tactics, and acknowledges that pivotal future information will need to be discovered to progress the project. Scope and investment needs to be very clearly defined in this situation.

Solution: Briefing the entire team

Changes to designs, investor circumstances and future leasing will always have an effect on any project and should be accepted as par for the course. So in accepting this fact, what is the solution to creating a better, more streamlined process?

Considered opinion suggests that more time spent with the stakeholders in the briefing, design and planning stages of a project could be advantageous to the entire team.

A project needs to be looked at holistically so that lodging a DA with substandard or unresolved information purely to achieve an internal target is not the industry norm. All this achieves is greater challenges further down the line resulting in the dreaded abortive works and finger pointing occurring. All this when the project should ideally be fully documented and construction humming on site.

There are many times when my colleagues and I have looked back at a project and rued the fact that we weren’t allowed to sit with the head honcho for half a day with a roll of yellow trace. So many project challenges could have been avoided through direct consultation with this key decision maker.

A great result can be achieved for all parties when the goal posts are clear from the outset. By investing more time at initial design, this focus should be achievable. So the challenge from an architectural perspective can be summarized by the following.

• Making sure all parties understand the design philosophy and have comfort with it
• Ensuring the development representative who will have the final say (the boss) is entrenched in the process.
• Ensuring that sign off from all parties occurs before any works or further design works are undertaken
• Understanding the timeframes and investment required at the start of a project to ensure this is achievable

This may look like a ‘cap in hand’ exercise to squeeze more money out of a project by the architect. On the contrary. If we are smarter about how we break down and redistribute investment and scope for all stages of a project then no additional investment should be required. In fact, if a process was installed and followed then a project could essentially be delivered quicker, with less expense and minimal abortive works.

As architects, we are primed to further unleash our training and technologies to enhance the design experience and briefing process at the start of a project, to achieve fantastic results for the whole project. We embrace it and celebrate the fact that our teams are able to provide this. We also want be transparent on the up-front investment and the overall project advantages for our clients.

Sounds like the perfect conversation to have over a coffee with some yellow trace and a calculator.

View Andrews profile here or email him to discuss your next project.

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Andrew Kirkland 

Associate Director – Business Development Manager