Blazing in gold, and quenching in purple,
Leaping like leopards in the sky,
Then at the feet of the old horizon
Laying her spotted face to die;
Stooping as low as the oriel window,
Touching the roof, and tinting the barn,
Kissing her bonnet to the meadow-
And the Juggler of Day is gone!
I recently acquired a 2,500 page, five inch thick, 1975 unabridged Webster’s Dictionary. But the massive heft and bulk belie its paucity of architectural information.
This dictionary has five entries for kern, but no definitions for the critical structural idea that spanned 1,000 years of architecture and responsible for every stone church in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The kern is the concept that enabled Dark Ages cathedrals to reach new heights, despite only stone masonry with no ability to resist tensile forces. James Ambrose, in my 1988 structural textbook, Building Structures, defines a kern as “a zone around the centroid of the section within which an eccentric force will not cause tension on the section.”
Simply put, a kern is the center third of a foundation. When stacking stone, its foundation will resist rotating, lifting a side off of the ground, or cracking in tension as long as the weight and forces of the structure above are within this center third.
As soon as forces become eccentric beyond that zone, tension happens. The foundation will want to twist in the ground and additional measures must be taken to avoid a failure. This is easily mitigated with steel today, but before the Industrial Age, builders had to design with the kern to ensure stability.
As explained by Scott Adams, design has to be resolved before the final cost of a project can be established. Yet I’m often asked how much a project will cost even before a napkin sketch.
But defining the project isn’t difficult and doesn’t take long. For a small project, it might just take an hour. And even if more information is needed, what is outstanding can be mapped out the first meeting.
The goal is the project definition. We can also define its constituent terms:
PROGRAM = Space Names + Space Sizes
The program is simply a list of all the spaces needed. These might adjust as details emerge, but an initial program is key to start design.
SCALE = Program × Efficiency Factor
It’s difficult to figure out non-spaces: thicknesses of walls, chases, corridors, stairs, mechanical rooms, electrical closets, utility rooms, storage, and other incidental uses. Some factoring of these inefficiencies is required to better predict the final area of a building.
QUALITY = Non-quantitative project parameters
High quality design, envelope, energy efficiency, finishes, furnishings, fixtures, and equipment will have a more dramatic effect on budget than its size. For example, low grade builder homes can cost just $75/SF and take just a month to build while an exquisite jewel might cost more than $600/SF and take two years. Quality is the most significant factor in a building’s cost and needs to be decided at the beginning of a project.
SCOPE = Scale × Quality
Although defined early, adjustments between these two factors is a component of the design process. This blog attests that Better Than Bigger and we often find that great design may supplant the need for overly large spaces.
SCHEDULE = Time to complete the project
Can a contractor take two years to finish a small project? Must he complete the work before the home owners return from a three week vacation in Europe? Does a school renovation need to be worked on after hours? Are there elaborate security and cleanliness requirements for a hospital renovation? Does a large house and garden renovation need to be used for a lawn wedding? Will a home owner build in his spare time? All of these answers may dictate stringent schedule parameters. Depending on the responses, any of these may impact the design and labor costs of a project significantly.
BUDGET = Funds allotted to the project
Unfortunately, the design, construction, and real estate industries wildly swag irresponsible $/SF numbers around like water balloons. But an accurate project budget considers quality, schedule, and numerous factors beyond simple labor and materials. To be complete, a budget should also include contractor’s overhead and profit, general conditions,* building permits, printing, furnishings, many items usually outside of the contract purchased by the owner like appliances and mailboxes, surveying, architectural and engineering services, municipal charges, utility costs, cleaning, and even move costs.
PROJECT DEFINITION = Scope × Schedule × Budget
The final project definition is the goal to begin design. However…
DESIGN = Resolution of the project definition
We want design to discover opportunities. Exploration is the purpose of planning. (Otherwise, we would always charge on to a job site hammering a bunch of lumber together hoping for the best. Ever see that happen?) Drawing and modeling is much cheaper than making construction mistakes, but the bigger benefit is that design finds opportunity.
So we begin with the project definition and make iterative design passes to progressively refine the terms and results. This may be more linear or more explorative depending on the project and the client. But these basic definitions must always equate at any point in the process.
Space Names + Space Sizes = Program
Program × Efficiency Factor = Scale
Scale × Quality = Scope
Scope × Budget × Schedule = Project Definition
Project Definition × Resolution = Design
If you are starting a project, try defining each of these terms. And feel free to contact me to discuss and maybe sit down together and start sketching solutions.
* General Conditions: Numerous contract conditions that stipulate the execution of the construction contract. These are very broad and depend on many project particular specifics. Examples include insurance, length of time to complete, product submittals for selection and approval, payments, review of the work, trash and dumpsters, protection and cleanup, bathroom facilities, access to the site, parking, drawing conventions and conflict resolution, and potentially many others, even to inappropriate or illegal behavior on the job site.