PROCEDURES, ROLES, AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN THE
PLANNING AND DESIGN STAGES OF CONSTRUCTION
This report will cover the basics of the construction process, particularly, the planning and design phases. The process of building construction is complex, expensive and involves multiple stages requiring expert inputs from a variety of specialists. This essay will examine the different roles and contributions of each of these parties during the planning and design stages of construction. It will also cover the many technical, social, environmental, legal and financial constraints that influence planning and design choices and shape the final outcome.
PART 1: PRE-PLANNING PHASE
Prior to commencement of planning, the project owner will have to ensure that the site chosen for construction is free of disputes and is permitted to be used for the intended purpose. For instance, it is not permissible for large-scale industrial facilities to be constructed in the midst of a residential sector and certainly not in a designated heritage district or biodiversity area. Such a facility will need to be located closer to interstate highways for transport of large volumes of goods and may also need to be located close to a designated water source. Similarly, skyscrapers are not generally permitted within a fixed radius of airports or air bases. Hence, the site will be chosen bearing in mind these and similar factors.
The proposed construction must have a clearly stated use, whether residential or commercial, private or public, etc and this must be in accordance with the city’s master plan, land use policy and zoning scheme.
PART 2: PLANNING PHASE
Plans are drawn up by experts such as architects, urban planners or landscape architects. Planning is the crucial stage at which important variables such as schedules, budget and work tasks are determined in a concrete sense. It begins with a basic proposal for the intended use of the site and then delves into the minutiae. Proposals for construction must include a step-by-step plan for implementation, beginning with site clearance and all the way through to the handing-over. It must include estimates of the quantities of various resources including materials, time, equipment, specialist expertise, as well as human labour that will be required in order to realise the project.(Greed, 1993)
An architect studies the space allocated for the intended construction and closely examines the needs of the client. With these in mind, he or she comes up with a site plan which is a technical drawing that includes a graphical representation of various important aspects of the project including the actual building, access, parking spaces, green spaces, amenities, sanitation and even landscaping. This is an iterative process and the design may undergo several changes after consultation with the clients and engineers.
When this concept has taken shape on paper, it will be presented to the concerned authorities for approval. The docket must include all relevant papers including ownership agreements, surveys, architectural drawings, site plans and maps. The authorities, including but not limited to the City Council, Planning Commission, Public Works Department and Historic Landmark Commission, will stringently examine this file to ensure that it satisfies various criteria recognised by the legislation, norms and policies in place at the time. Often, there is a lengthy process of review and negotiation, overseen by a designated Planning Official. This may involve several meetings, additional surveys and site visits. The finer points of the process and the sequence of steps differ in different parts of the world.(Morris, 1997)
Part of this process involves placing proposed plans before the public in an open forum for a discussion. This promotes transparency and allows opportunities for ethical concerns or potential legal disputes to be aired and brought to the notice of the authorities and project owners.(Evan-Cowley and Hollander, 2010) Sometimes environmental activists, heritage conservationists or resident welfare associations may have reasons to oppose the submitted plan. These concerns, if they are judged as relevant, will be taken on board. The findings of the authorities may indicate recommendations for modifications and appeals will be made and heard before the proposal is finally approved or rejected.
Once the proposal has been given the green signal, the next important step is to apply for the necessary demolition and construction permits. A variety of such permits are required for separate tasks such as electrical installations, plumbing and sewage, etc. Applications are submitted and approved in a sequential manner. Nowadays, the process of application has become simplified and convenient with the introduction of online portals for submission.
These are the main stages of planning:
- Understanding the needs of the client and the proposed use of the site.
- Conducting site visits.
- Preliminary design proposals.
- Final design and site plan.
- To identify the timeframe and budgetary constraints.
- To develop a schedule and systematic sequence for tasks involved in the design and construction phases and to ensure that these fit within the timeframe and budget.
- Organising surveys to be conducted by approved and licensed inspectors and surveyors.
- To ensure that the proposed project complies with the various ordinances, policies and quality standards approved by the city and development authorities. The project owner will be expected to submit the project description, site plan, estimate of occupancy, cutting down of trees, disability access and access to civic amenities, etc. It must also disclose details of any demolition, modification, structural changes or renovations to be made to existing structures, if any.
- Identifying constraints such as legal concerns, access, building restrictions, safety procedures, etc.
- Conducting meetings with concerned officials to review, discuss and negotiate the plans.
- Finalising the plan with recommended modifications if any. The final blueprint is created.
- Obtaining approval for the application.
- Obtaining the necessary construction permits.
- Identifying engineers and advisers or consultants who will weigh in on the final design.
- Assigning project managers.
- Estimating the quantities of specific materials.
- Identifying contractors, subcontractors and suppliers who will be responsible for executing the construction and supplying material. This is done through a bidding process where a tender is floated and a number of firms make competitive bids for the job.
- Setting up a system for smooth and regular cash flow to ensure that tasks proceed on time.
PART 2: DESIGN PHASE
Planning only accounts for the macro issues and creates a structural skeleton of sorts. The aim of the design phase is to further refine the plan and to attend to the micro issues. The design phase transforms this skeleton into a complete and comprehensive whole. The skeleton itself does not bespeak any specific use and does not reflect the character or purpose of the building. These qualities only come to light when further layers of material and detail are added.
For instance, the site plan for a condominium block may not contain minutely articulated specifications of, say, exact room sizes, layouts, landscaping, water features, glazing, wall finishes or dimensions of floor tiles. These details are factored in at a slightly later stage. This process is known as the ‘detailed design’ phase of the construction. During the planning stage, these minor details are left rather amorphous and open to change as the project proceeds. These factors are not entirely open-ended, however the possibility of multiple iterations is acknowledged.
Hence, the aim of the design phase is to conceptualise the minute detailing that will transform the bare skeleton into a functional building ready for use and occupation. Design itself may be split into two or more stage as the detailing is refined further and further. Here are some areas that must be attended to and fleshed out during this stage of construction:
- Exterior materials and finishes
- Interior materials and finishes
- Colour schemes
- Interior layouts
- Fixtures and fittings
- Staircases and lifts
- Mechanical, electrical and plumbing arrangements
- Walkways and pavements
These require detailed discussions between interior designers, architects, engineers, subcontractors and clients in order to ensure that all such design specifications are in full accordance with the intended usage of the spaces. These decisions will have to take into account, the daily traffic, expected occupancy, interconnectedness of spaces, orientation of the site, acoustics, fire safety regulations and ease of maintenance, among others.
These particulars may undergo several changes. The designers and architects may provide a variety of concepts for the consideration of the clients. This can be done using special softwares to produce creative visualisations that add textures, colours and forms into a hypothetical image of the space as it will eventually look. Multiple such ‘looks’ can be created in this way. Sometimes 3D models may also be created using rapid prototyping machines.(Gibson et al, 2002) Those concepts that are shortlisted can actually be realised in the form of full-scale mock-ups. A mock-up is like a prototype. It is an experimental arrangement that is created to show how the space will look in reality.(Allen and Iano, 2011)
If you have ever visited a model flat or a model kitchen in a store, this is what a mock-up looks like. The room may have been fitted out with full attention to detail such as wall-finishes, glazing, window sashes, door frames, furniture, soft furnishings, ceiling treatments, floor finishes, countertops, cabinets, water fixtures, light fittings, electrical fixtures and colour schemes. In this way, one can fully visualise how these variables alter the quality, character and functionality of the space. Based on the mock-ups, a final choice can be made.
When coming up with these various concepts, the interior designer will often work with a certain ‘mood’ or ‘theme’ in mind. For instance, colour is an important parameter that has not only aesthetic value but functional properties as well. Certain colours are seen as ‘cool’ and others as ‘warm’. These can be combined in different proportions or distributions to enhance or disguise certain features of the space as the case may be. Cool colours, for instance, as known to provide an illusion of expanding a space whereas warm colours can make a room feel more enclosed and restricted. Similarly, the use of reflective surfaces within a room can create an illusion of spaciousness whereas excessive wooden cabinetry or fixtures would be more appropriate in an already expansive space that will not feel cluttered and claustrophobic by the addition of furniture.
As for the exteriors, corporate offices are often clad entirely in glazing, as appears to be the norm. This gives an impression of modernity and efficiency.(Addis, 2007) It also allows generous quantities of daylight into the building. Of course, the choice of materials must also conform with prescribed standards. For instance, nowadays, there are clear regulations that dictate how solar panels or water harvesting should be incorporated into buildings of various types.(Buchanan et al, 1994)
Sometimes, the fleshing out of these finer points brings to light issues and concerns that may not have emerged during the planning process. In fact, it may so happen that the structural plan itself may have to be modified in order to accommodate these changes. For this reason, the planning and design phases cannot be maintained as separate and mutually exclusive stages of work. They must necessarily overlap so that any problems or modifications can be identified in time to execute them without undue delay or inconvenience.
Inevitably, this will also lead to changes in the budget. In fact, it is only at this stage that the final cost-estimate can be made. Some features may need to be custom made, such as oddly-shaped cladding for buildings of unusual form. These can escalate the cost of the building. The choice of materials is also crucial. In order to remain within budget constraints, the designer and architect will need to strike a balance between functionality, aesthetics and cost. The market offers several options for tiles, paints, furniture and mouldings in a variety of price ranges to accommodate budgets both large and small.
At various stages of the construction process, inputs are required from a variety of professionals such as architects, urban planners, structural engineers, building contractors, subcontractors, interior designers and manual labourers. Their work must be coordinated closely in order to turn a two dimensional blueprint into a fully-fledged and outfitted building ready to be used or lived in. However, in order to achieve this, the work has to be broken down into multiple stages that are sometimes executed in tandem.
The planning and design phases attend to distinct and well-defined needs and call for different forms of expertise. However, they should both be treated as interlinked and should be conceptualised in an integrated manner so that there is unity at both the macro and micro levels. There should be dialogue and close coordination between the client, architect, landscape architect, interior designer and engineers to ensure that the final product realises the original vision.
Inspection is conducted by authorised parties at multiple stages of the construction process to ensure that standards are being maintained. This applies especially to safety regulations for construction workers and foremen. Noise and pollution levels from the construction must also remain within prescribed limits.(Hinze and Raboud, 1988) Transport of materials to and from the site must be carried out at specific hours of the day so as not to disturb the normal flow of traffic or obstruct it.
The sheer scale and complexity of such an undertaking means that there are often unforeseen delays or incidents that can impede the progress of work. A meticulous planner or architect with sufficient experience can often foresee some of these and make provisions or contingency plans accordingly. As we have seen, construction plans are not always set in stone. They undergo several modifications on paper even before the foundation is laid. Subsequently, large and small modifications continue to be made as challenges crop up or clients change their minds on what they are looking for. Hence, some amount of flexibility must necessarily be built in to the design so that changes can be accommodated without completely disturbing the schedule.
Addis, W., 2007. Building: 3000 years of design engineering and construction. Phaidon Press.
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Evans-Cowley, J. and Hollander, J., 2010. The new generation of public participation: Internet-based participation tools. Planning Practice & Research, 25(3), pp.397-408.
Gibson, I., Kvan, T. and Wai Ming, L., 2002. Rapid prototyping for architectural models. Rapid prototyping journal, 8(2), pp.91-95.
Greed, C., 1993. Introducing town planning (Vol. 1). Longman Publishing Group.
Hinze, J. and Raboud, P., 1988. Safety on large building construction projects. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 114(2), pp.286-293.
Morris, E.S., 1997. British town planning and urban design: Principles and policies. Harlow: Longman.