Architectural programming is part of the pre-development phase of a building project. It is the research and decision-making process that brings together your list of building wants and needs, ultimately identifying the scope of work to be designed.
The amount of space needed and the relationships required among the spaces are two primary factors in determining building size and configuration. Programming also incorporates additional factors such as site analysis, aesthetic considerations, quality of building, circulation, exterior envelope, outdoor space needs, codes, budgeting demands, scheduling limitations, and other factors unique to your situation.
Through discussions and an iterative process, the organization provides the designer (and/or builder) with initial information about goals, current space usage, and needs. The design professional will then assist in establishing optimal size and organizing relationships between different space functions relative to the type of service provided.
For specific building types with unique functions, such as theaters, museums, laboratories, senior facilities, or health care, additional consultants with special expertise in programming for that specific type of facility are often engaged.
Research shows a direct relationship between the level of pre-development planning and project success. Additionally, the most cost-effective time to make changes is during pre-development.
Since stakeholders are involved in defining the scope of work prior to design, architectural programming helps to:
Engagement involves establishing a building committee composed of the major decision makers (from the organization’s board and staff) and representatives from the stakeholder groups affected by the building design. For example, a library building committee may include the library director, librarian, and representatives from the board, maintenance staff, and/or library users. This is separate from a capital campaign fundraising cabinet.
Their tasks are to establish goals and objectives, gather pertinent information, and identify strategies.
Through earlier pre-development tasks, the committee has broadly defined the goal of the project, ensured it is consistent with strategic planning, engaged board support, identified scope of service and the target population, and documented the need for the project, including how it fits within the community and community plans.
The goals can be further developed by answering questions in the following categories:
Importantly, to answer these questions well, the ultimate goal is to focus on how the facility will increase or improve mission because it is NOT about the building itself.
At this point, you will likely be working with a design professional to develop the list of building wants and needs (aka building program). It will be important to explore how your current building is used in order to clarify what elements support delivery of program mission and what elements are barriers. You can improve your understanding by completing the Worksheet: Gathering Detailed Information on Usage. This will include information about who uses the facility, when and how, and start to identify any special program space usage needs such as conference rooms, kitchens, or classrooms. A thorough exploration will provide critical understanding of the interrelationships between your program function and the eventual form and layout of the building.
Strategies that may be used to gather information include:
Working with your design professional, details about your space needs will be entered into a graph and look something like this:
Your process will continue until you have refined the space program with your design consultant to a point that includes all the necessary rooms and appropriate relationships between the rooms. See the considerations below:
Exploration of space and volume needs can include details such as whether the spaces interact well, are safe, have adequate public and private spaces, are physically comfortable, are adequately accessible, connect to outside views, have adequate storage, etc.
For an organization to function most efficiently, some spaces require proximity and others can be farther apart. For example, the bookkeeper may need to be in an office adjacent to the executive director. For confidentiality, a counseling office typically needs to be separated from the general waiting area. For security, the office administrator needs to have clear view of the waiting room and entry vestibule.
If additional or specific types of spaces are desired for your program, a design professional can help you determine minimum space requirements. They will utilize knowledge of building sciences, space standards, and reference city building codes to ensure both function and safety.
A building will include both assignable and non-assignable spaces. Assignable spaces include functionally identified rooms like offices, kitchens, or reception areas. The sum of these areas of identified usage equals the net assignable area of a facility.
Unassigned spaces consist of the circulation spaces between rooms, mechanical rooms and shafts, electrical rooms, stairways, structure and wall thicknesses, restrooms, storage, and other spaces not directly housing the primary activity of the building. The net space, plus unassigned areas equal the gross building area.
Net to gross ratio is often referred to as the efficiency of a building. The goal is to maximize your usable space, those areas in the building where your mission and program services are provided.
Efficiency of a building design depends on the type of occupancy, the percentage of interior walls versus open spaces, and efficiency of design. Some building types have typical efficiency rations. For example, a hotel has many small rooms with large corridors, lobbies, and mechanical spaces. It has a lower efficiency ratio than a museum, where the majority of space is devoted to open display areas. Your design professional will help establish the best efficiency for your program needs and building type.
At this point, the committee should re-visit whether or not the proposed building size and program will meet the organization’s goals and objectives through the following lenses: