Tuesday, 8 October 2013

ink and REVERIE (No. 2 in a series) - They said there would be no math!

As the title for this blog series suggests, this project is a classic struggle.  Not in the "good versus evil" sense but, very much in the vein of "dream versus reality".

On one hand, we have the dreamer...  To the ever-optimistic and wonderfully creative client; there is nothing that is not within the realm possibility.  Fact or fantasy, it is of little consequence...  If Christine can dream it, she can breathe life into it, and make it real.  Need evidence?  Christine's Viewpoint

On the other hand, we have the pragmatist...  Me.  The "architect" of Christine's vision.  Born to be a dreamer, trained to be a creative in a dark and cold reality.  Like most designers, I have found that dreams, which enable creation, come with a cost...  Sacrifice.

As dreams move toward reality, the client and designer cannot avoid the sharp, knife-edge cuts of budget and regulations.  The the point of a pen becomes a rapier of reverie.

Experience teaches the designer to anticipate the blood-letting.  Inexperience allows the client to dwell in fantasy.  Consequently and sequentially, the brutal pruning of the branches that reach towards the sun, cuts are made to a project in the darkness of clients budgets, enforced Zoning By-Laws and Building Codes.

This, is the struggle.

As with all projects, I begin with having a topographical and boundary survey prepared of the client's property.  From this, I can delve into the murky depths of Municipal Zoning By-Laws and prepare the all-important "Zoning Review and Analysis":

Subsequently, I meet with a Municipal Zoning Officer to review my interpretations and implications of the applicable By-Laws.  Usually, there will be some conjecture and advice offered to "improve" the "restrictions".  Always, there is some discussion as to the Municipality's Committee of Adjustment and it's openness to (minor) variances.  Christine's situation is no different.  Right-off the bat, I knew the prospect of applying for a variance, would be a very real option.  Truthfully, variances are more the norm than not.  However, should we feel that we have to proceed on this route, this will be the first-time I've had to "quarterback the plays" for a client in this position.  If necessary, I'll be covering the process, in an upcoming post.

Back to the process:

I take great care in reviewing the Zoning Review and Analysis with a client.  As I guide the the discussion through the data and it's meaning, we discuss every facet of the restrictions and implications. This, combined with the survey, define the boundaries within I have to design the dwelling. I see an invisible box, defined by set-backs and building height restrictions.  Right away, my mind begins to envision the volume, preparing to sculpt the mass.  The tools by which the shape will be revealed, are the client's wishes (as well as "needs") and the Zoning By-Laws.

Occasionally, and Christine a prime example, the client has a pre-determined vision of the finished product.  The dream of a particular style, rendered in reverie, realised in photographs, is the mandate which I must endeavour to reproduce.  



However, I "see" the project from the inside, out.  I focus on the interior spaces, places to nurture and sustain, and the flow between them. Circulation and structure are also at the forefront of my mind.  While the client is dreaming of "wisteria draped over a trellis",  I am cognisant of things like "how are we going to heat and cool this place...  i.e.:  where is the duct work going to go, and how will it effect the spaces?".   The struggle continues.

During an initial design consultation, we review photos and discuss styles and interests...  Family life, lifestyle and other considerations, are reviewed are evaluated by me to assist with me "getting to know" my client.  Often, a client will have a list of "wants and needs" that may not accurately reflect the actual requirements of the client and / or family.  Typically, I will sketch as we talk, to help me understand the layout and spaces they want / need.

Typical Bubble Diagram

This consultation forms the basis for "the programme":  The parameters of the project, needs to be met and styles to be presented.  Usually, "the programme" is a formal document, prepared by the Architect to assist designers and drafts persons to create the vision, in absence of the Architect.  Since I am all of the above (in my practice) "the programme" can informally exist in my mind become realised through my sketches and notes, rather than a black and white document or memo.

Eventually, I gain enough knowledge of my client and of the external factors, to prepare a "Preliminary Design" scheme (or two).  Usually created in the style of a "black-line" layout, the "Preliminary Design" is presented to the client for review and comment.

Typically, these are reviewed at the next design consultation meeting, and represent "ideal" and "realistic" scenarios, respectively.  The "ideal" illustrates my interpretation of the client's "dream".  The "realistic" illustrates the dream, within boundaries.

Preliminary Design Layout 01

As you can see in the above, PD-01 presents generous spaces, and lovely flow.  However, it is beyond what can be accommodated on the lot, within the setbacks.  If this is the path the client chooses, we'll have no option but to present to the Committee of Adjustment, and deal with the ramifications.  This, is not a "slam-dunk" process, and is not without cost or risk.  Also, the square footage must be considered with respect to Gross Floor Area (GFA) and the client's budget.  These, too, are exceeded.

Preliminary Design Layout 02

In PD-02, the layout has been "refined" to fall within the restrictions of Zoning, GFA and budget.  Make no mistake, there have been compromises to the layout.  This design can be built, with little consideration or regard to any objections from the Municipality, neighbouring properties or the banker.  But, can the client live with it?

At this stage, I leave it to the client to mull-over, and discuss with family.  I fully anticipate the design to be revised, and some combination of the two will be resolved into the balance we all seek...

The next phase of the process, is Design Development.  I plan on describing this phase in the next episode.  The struggle continues...


  1. And the battle between reality and fantasy continues:)) Thank you for being such an amazing navigator of what we can accomplish!!!

    1. Thanks for being the dreamer that allows me such freedom, and provides such creative inspiration! I believe we'll accomplish our goals, and your family will dwell in a home they all love.

  2. Love hearing both sides of this. how fun!!!

    1. It's as fun to be a part of, as it is to be an observer! Glad you enjoy it, and thank you for the kind comment!

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