How to Hire an Architect in British Columbia – Part One: What do you need to build?

Typically your working relationship with an Architect will begin with a process of identifying the required services to successfully complete the project. Here all available and missing information should be identified, and only once the overall picture is understood will it be possible to fully determine the required scope of professional services, and in turn, to determine the terms of your professional services agreement.

In my “How to Hire an Architect in British Columbia” series we will focus on the information that needs to be gathered in order to define the scope of professional services. In this first part, we will look at the Functional Program (also known as the ‘Brief’) which is the research and decision making process that identifies what exactly needs to be designed, as well as the inter-relationships between these elements.

While sophisticated institutional Clients have their programatic information available before they seek architectural services, most Clients need their Architect’s help in order to define the Functional Program. In such situations the Client and the Architect will need to enter into a short term agreement that covers what is known as the Pre-design Phase. Given that the extent of work involved is nearly impossible to quantify upfront, such agreements are usually based on per diem (daily) or hourly compensation.

Clients who commit to a complete functional programming exercise know that this is a very good investment toward virtually eliminating large cost overruns due to the inefficiency of redesign in later stages of the project while also assuring that the final building fully meets their needs.

Steps in the Programming Process

Step One – Organizing: It is very important that the end users are involved in the is process. On large projects the Client and the Architect will list and invite stakeholders in order to assure that all relevant input is included. Clear lines of communication are also established and points of authority are made clear to everyone.

Step Two – Project Typology Research: This step is necessary only if the team is working on a project type with which they do not have previous experience. It involves the study of precedents and literature to establish comparable norms for consideration by the team.

Step Three – Establishment of Goals and Objectives: Here the team works to agree upon and establish broad goals which will serve to guide for the detail programming process. They look at factors such as Organizational or Owner Goals, Form and Image Goals, Function Goals, Economic Goals, Sustainability Goals, Return On Investment Goals, Time and Schedule Goals , and Management or Circumstantial Goals.

Step Four – Gathering of Relevant Information: Based on the previously defined Goals, the team outlines categories of information to be researched in detail. These often include Facility Activities and Schedules, Necessary Equipment to Facilitate the Required Activities, Future Phasing Possibilities, the Space Area or Volume criteria, other design criteria such as Daylight and Acoustic Requirements, Licensing or Policy standards, Energy Usage Criteria, Code and other Regulatory Criteria, Site Analysis, as well as a study of the clients existing facility.

Step Five – Strategy Identification: A common method of outlining a functional program strategy is the depiction of the program by means of a relationship bubble diagram. These diagrams show relative areas and proximities of all program components. Access restrictions and Connections can also be identified through bubble or matrix diagrams.

Step Six – Quantifying the Requirements: In this step the previously identified program areas are further evaluated to determine true gross building size. This involves adding percentage values for ‘Tare’ components such as  circulation, walls, service spaces, etc. At this stage the team will refer to previous projects or precedents to determine the correct level of tare increase. Also,  the scope and quality of work is compared against the available project budget as well as the schedule. The owner needs to prioritize two of these factors at the expense of the third.  For example opting to pursue quality/scope and schedule at the expense of cost, or cost and schedule at the expense of quality/scope.

Step Seven – Program Summary: In this final step the team compiles a complete Functional Program Report which outlines all of the findings from the previous steps. This document serves as a solid starting basis for the project and assures that all efforts during design and construction focus the true and proven requirements.


Coming up:

Part Two: How to Find and Interview potential Architects



ExAC Reference to the Canadian Handbook of Architectural Practice

WBDC Architectural Programming

Kwantlen First Nation Schwanee-st Cultural Community Centre Functional Program

Kwantlen First Nation
Schwanee-st Cultural Community Centre Functional Program, prepared with ABBARCH Architecture


Kwantlen First Nation Schwanee-st Cultural Community Centre Relationship Matrix Diagram

Kwantlen First Nation
Schwanee-st Cultural Community Centre Relationship Matrix Diagram, prepared with ABBARCH Architecture


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