How Long will Design Take?

I wish I could give you a straight answer here. This question depends on many factors like intricacies and size of the project, architect’s time, and your time. But before we break those down, I want to start with a sign you may have seen hanging on the wall in a variety of businesses from an auto repair shop to a graphic design firm, but this sign would also be right at home in any architecture firm.

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There is a great deal of truth to this, which basically means you get what you pay for. I’m sure you will have no trouble recalling more than a few experiences where you’ve gotten exactly what you’ve paid. Inevitably, great design takes time, and you want to have realistic expectations about how long design and construction can take.

The first factor in schedule starts with your time, most architects want to work very closely with the client. This means meeting together to discuss who you are and what you are aiming to accomplish. We typically have more meetings at the beginning of the process. Meetings can be tricky though, as they involve not only our schedule but yours. So things that can vary time greatly are how available you are to meet with us. Not to mention, we need some decisions from you in those meetings. Often time clients struggle to make decisions or keep to the decisions they make, this of course will slow down the process of creating your design.

Complexity may be the largest factor in determining how long a design will take. Compare a  large 300,000 SF commercial warehouse that might cost $30,000,000 with a completely custom 3,000 SF residential home that might cost $750,000. The home might take a 6 months to a year for design, and the warehouse could take only 2-3 months. This has everything to do with the complexity of the project. The warehouse has repetitive construction and details, whereas as most everything in the custom home is….well custom. In this case, the custom will take more meetings and time on the part of the designers as well as the homeowner. Not to mention, we often bring in more consultants the more complex project. The more consultants, the more players on the team, and the more time it will take to coordinate all the schedules.

Another major factor is the size of your building or home.  But how long we spend on your project could depend on the magnitude of the design along with how unique you want your home or building. The more unique and larger the project, the more time obviously it will take us to design.

Now you would think renovation versus new construction would make a huge difference as well. However, though renovations are typically smaller projects, they are also more intricate as we are trying to work with preexisting conditions. It may take a bit more cleverness on our part to see all the parts to come together so this honestly kind of evens out. Then, if we are looking to historically preserve your building or home, it will take even more time to do the research, taxes, and work with historical society to ensure design is executed correctly.

Ok, I know what you are thinking next… you still want a timeline of some sort. When should you start calling an architect. For some frame of reference, lets say, for a smaller project that is relatively simple, give 3-6 weeks for design time before you can begin construction. For a very large project, say a new home/building or full renovation, it could take months of design even a year depending on the factors mentioned.  You also don’t know how booked an architect is, so you may have to wait a few months until they are available to start on your project as well. Most architects have a number of previous commitments and work already in progress, and we call this our backlog.

Lastly, mind the gap. Not just at the London underground but the gap that exists between design and construction. Even if we get a contractor on board as we design (which isn’t always the case), construction typically doesn’t start the week that Construction Documents are completed.  Once documents are done, your contractor still has to apply for a building permit using the completed drawings, have their subs' scopes of work and prices finalized, and set up his master schedule. This can take weeks as well depending on the contractor and the location of the building.

A way around some of this is one process that although has some risks, has proven a viable option for certain types of projects and clients needing to move faster. Mainly suited for projects were time is money, you can choose a process called fast-track. This involves starting construction before the design is completely done. Generally, the building footprint is decided (meaning where the walls go), so earthwork and foundations can be ordered, or potentially the structural frame can be decided. While the framework is being built, the architect can finish the design.

Either way, taking the time to create a design plan for your project is insurmountably helpful. Start early - don’t wait until you need the project right away, that will cost you more time and money, and sacrifice your results. If you want to go on vacation, you are far more likely to go (and have a better time) if you plan it beforehand. So though you may be ready to see a shovel in the ground now, take the time and call some architects first.  A good architect will be able to deliver you a rough timeline on when they hope to finish design and how many meetings we expect along the way. That way you can know how long your project will take right off the bat. We will help create the design you always wanted to do, but never would know how to accomplish.

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