During the   predesign phase  (also called the   planning phase  ), the project is defined in terms of its function, purpose, scope, size, and economics. This is the most crucial of the five phases, and is almost always managed by the owner and the owner’s team. The success or failure of the project may depend on how well this phase is defined, detailed, and managed. Obviously, the clearer the project’s definition, the easier it is to proceed to the subsequent phases.

Some of the important predesign tasks are:

•    Building program definition
•    Economic feasibility assessment,  including the project’s overall budget and financing
•    Site assessment and selection,  including verifying the site’s appropriateness and determining its designated land use
•    Governmental constraints assessment,   for example, building code and zoning constraints and other legal aspects of the project
•    Sustainability rating —whether the owner would like the project to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification at some level
•    Design team selection


This includes defining the activities, functions, and spaces required in the building, along with their approximate sizes and their relationships with each other. For a house or another small project, the programis usually simple and can be developed by the owner without external assistance. For a large project, however,where the owner may be an institution (such as a corporation, school board, hospital, religious organization, or governmental entity), developing the program may be a complex exercise. This may be due to the size and complexity of the project or the need to involve several individuals—a corporation’s board  of directors, for example—in decision making. These constituencies may have different views of the project, making it difficult to create a consensus.

Program development may also be complicated by situations in which the owner has a fuzzy idea of the project and is unable to define it clearly. By contrast, experienced owners tend to have a clear understanding of the project and generally provide a detailed, unambiguous program to the architect.

It is not unusual for the owner to involve the architect and a few other consultants of the design team in preparing the program. In this instance, the design team may be hired during the predesign phase. When the economic considerations of the project are paramount, the owner may also consult a construction cost analyst.

Whatever the situation, preparing the program is the first step in the project delivery process. It should be spelled out in writing and in sufficient detail to guide the design, reduce the liability risk for the architect, and avoid its misinterpretation. If a revision is made during the progress of the project, the owner’s written approval is necessary.

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