Guest Column - July 2009
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Design Corner:
Responsive Planning, Responsive Projects

By Janet Jordan


t's fair to say that no matter what your political persuasion or your opinion of how to fix the economy, business is not going to be "as usual" for a while. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly referred to as the "Stimulus Package," presents both opportunities and challenges for public entities seeking to tap into the billions of dollars afforded in the bill.

Among those challenges is having a clear understanding of some of the lingo being used by elected officials and administrators at national, state and local levels of government. With regard to the architecture industry, discussion recently commenced with a city engineer and several design professionals, including a landscape architect and planner, and the question arose as to just what the term "shovel-ready" means.

Under the Purposes and Principles section of the Act concerning the use of the funds, it is stated that they must achieve purposes specified including commencing expenditures and activities as quickly as possible consistent with prudent management. While there is significant difference between a transportation bike path, a wetlands reclamation project and a community wellness center, there is a similar systematic planning process that is essential to each and a prudent and efficient timeframe in which to achieve any given project.

The lively discussion among my colleagues didn't resolve the question of what "shovel-ready" means, but we did agree that a well-articulated and executed planning and design process is critical when acting as the stewards of public dollars. Typically, the planning, design and construction process consists of six distinct phases: programming, schematic design, design development, preparation of construction documents, bidding, and construction administration. These six steps are progressive, each building on decisions made and accepted, no matter what construction delivery method is used—whether traditional design, bid and build, construction manager, or design-build.


This phase defines the project by establishing what the project needs are, determining the functional spaces and setting or reconciling the budget. This is often a highly interactive process with broad public participation that seeks to balance needs, wants, desires and the bottom-line budget. A document is developed that lists each space, the size of the space in square feet, the adjacencies of those spaces and the preliminary cost of the spaces based on historical data. The cost based on a square-foot premise in today's volatile commodities market can be the topic of much debate and conversation.

When a given project site is less than pristine, for instance a brownfield that requires remediation or a phased renovation/expansion project, a conceptual planning exercise may be helpful. By testing the site parameters and challenges, the most cost-efficient site and space configurations or most beneficial phasing sequence strategies may be better determined.

Schematic Design

This step determines how the project will work and what it will look like. A series of space relationships and configurations are tested and critiqued considering site opportunities and limitations. Again, this phase is usually interactive, involving multiple stakeholders. At the conclusion of this phase, site plans, including utilities access and local zoning regulation compliance, floor plans, elevations and phasing plans will have evolved to clearly illustrate the project. The budget will be continually reviewed and adjustments made in both dollars and square feet.