My Classmate Vince Was The Exception; The Design Process Is The Rule

Updated on August 28, 2023

John ReddickBy John Reddick AIA

We all knew a similar classmate in High School.  In my class it was Vince.  Vince and I attended the same junior-year first-period English Composition Class.  When the class was assigned yet another five paragraph essay Vince would blow off the topic brainstorming session. He would also skip the research, the outline, and the rough drafts.

Vince would pen the first draft – which was also his final product on the bus ride to school the morning the assignment was due.  A few days later, after the teacher had evaluated the work, Vince received a better mark than most of the class even though we had spent many evenings working diligently through the process.

Vince was representative of the truly gifted among us – the exception not the rule.  To the less gifted – our only option is to respect the process. Then work smart, and work hard, to make a positive difference in the world.  An effective process combined with time, diligence, and perseverance is the key to success.

As a healthcare architect my experience has shown that the design process, much like the process to create a five paragraph essay, requires time, diligence, and perseverance. Shortcuts often result in added time, money or an inferior product. Here is a brief description of the design process used for most healthcare construction projects.

The Master Plan

First and foremost the hospital leadership must establish the direction – Where does the institution want to be in five years?  A well-considered Master Plan can have a synergistic effect on the overall campus, hold design costs in-check, and provide built-in operational efficiencies.   The hospital leadership should establish an effective Master Plan and then work diligently not to take shortcuts during implementation.

Once the Master Plan is established, and if renovation or building is part of the solution, the owner must assemble a design team (see Healthcare News, Issue 11 / 2012, p. 21) and choose a delivery method (see Healthcare News, Issue 2 / 2013, p. 20). The architect typically is assigned the lead role. The owner’s project manager facilitates the process.

Schematic Phase

An effective programming effort establishes an architectural layout that is sized correctly and flows efficiently. The initial Schematic Plan is the first visual image of the user’s ideas.  It is not too early to consult the engineers and other stakeholders (i.e. security, and equipment vendors).  This phase sets the location, budget and schedule for the entire project.  This is the time to think big and measure the user’s wish list. Changes are expected. At the conclusion of the Schematic Phase the deliverables include a Schematic Floor Plan, a Preliminary Schedule, and Budget.  Only after owner sign-off should the process move forward.

Design Development Phase

With location, budget, and schedule established; the design team begins to add detail and depth to the Schematic Plan.  Aesthetics and materials are considered, building sections are created that coordinate disciplines (electrical, mechanical, and plumbing).  Potential show stoppers are identified and addressed.  Equipment selections are made.  An outline specification is completed.  The Preliminary Budget and Schedule are fine-tuned.  Design Development Documents continue to use a language understood by the users and provide the client with a visual expectation of the completed project.

Construction Document Phase

In theory all the user meetings have been completed and key decisions made before entering the Construction Document Phase.  In this phase the drafters assume the lead role as they define the quantity and location of the construction (with drawings) and the quality (with specifications).  The information is translated into the contractor’s language.  During this phase the design team will resist changes to previous decisions.  Additional fees may result if changes cause rework or more time than was initially budgeted. The deliverables include a set of Construction Documents that clearly define the design intent. The documents are used to bid the construction and to review with the regulatory agencies.


By addendum the design team may be asked to clarify items or issue missing information.  Qualified bidders review the Bidding Documents and submit a cost to complete the work.  A Scoping Meeting with the apparent low bidder is critical to ensure the scope of work is understood.  At the conclusion of the bidding phase the successful bidder signs a contract with the owner to complete the construction.

Construction Administration

During the Construction Administration Phase the design team may be contracted to oversee the construction by visiting the site and attending weekly or bi-weekly Construction Meetings to ensure the work adheres to the drawings and specifications.  Review of shop drawings, material samples, and manufacturer information may also be a part of the construction administration services.   Changes resulting from unforeseen conditions, errors and omissions, or change in scope are processed. In the end -inspections are completed, occupancy permits issued, ribbons cut, and the users take ownership of their new space.

My senior year I tried to imitate my gifted classmate Vince.  I wrote an essay, not on the bus the morning the piece was due, but the evening before.  I tried to squeeze the process into a few hours.  Needless to say I did not sleep well that evening and the essay was nothing short of disaster.  And so it goes with the design process.  An effective process combined with time, diligence, and perseverance is the key to success.  Anything less, like my classmate Vince, is the exception not the rule.

John Reddick is a Registered Architect and Associate at Stantec Architecture and Engineering LLC.

John works in the Stantec Butler, Pennsylvania Office and can be reached at [email protected].

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