What Is An Architecture Brief?

You are going to be given some form of an architectural project or design brief for all of your design projects. You might even receive a brief for any other project that includes a level of design in your construction, communication and possibly even history and theory classes.

But what is a project brief, why is it so important, and what exactly should you do with it?

An architectural brief is a document prepared for a design project developed by a person or team in consultation with the client.

An architectural brief has two parts:

  • Project Brief | Scope of Services – The requirements to deliver the project, including the process and activities required by the entire project team to deliver the final, physical outcome.
  • Design Brief | Scope of Works – The parameters of the physical project and final outcome of a design or building project. The design brief normally sits within the overall project brief.

A project or design brief can be as simple as a one-page document, to a document hundreds of pages long, depending on the complexity of the project.

A project or design brief can be created in two ways.

  • Pre-prepared – The design brief is completed by the client or another consultant to define the detailed needs of the project. This is then given to an architect or designer as part of a tender process to respond to with a fee proposal for completing the project.
  • Back-brief – The client provides a small amount of information to the architect or designer who will then develop the brief in much greater detail. They are usually paid for this work until the overall project and design brief is agreed and the designer’s scope of services can then be determined.

At university, you may be given a very detailed architecture brief or asked to develop parts of it in more detail yourself.

Let’s look at each of the project and design briefs in more detail.

Project Brief | Scope Of Services

The project brief includes the extent of work and activities expected to complete by the designers and consultants as the process to complete the project. This will be different in practice compared to university, but it is good to see a parallel between the two. Your university projects are acting as mini-projects and do reflect reality to an extent.

  • Client or Sponsor – Who will pay for the project and make final decisions.
  • Schedule – This is the overall time allowed and major stages or phases for completing the project and the work or services.
    • In practice, this will usually be determined by the client or negotiated with the lead architect or designer. The size and complexity of the project will determine the time required for design, documentation and construction.
    • At university, this will usually be a fixed amount of time within the semester. It is important to note the overall time allocated for each project.
  • Milestones – These are the key targets or goals that occur during the project process. Milestones create something to aim for at regular intervals and keep the project on track so that it does not go overtime.
    • In practice, this will include key deadlines such as town planning submission, tender process, engagement of a contractor, construction and completion of the project. This could also include regularly scheduled meetings with clients, consultants or contractors at various stages of the project.
    • At university, this is more likely to be weekly and submissions and interim for feedback and reviews, and final presentations. At university, it is a good idea to treat your tutor or teacher as a client. Consider what their expectations are in terms of you, as a professional designer or architect, completing work each week for them to review. How would a client react if you did no work between their meetings?
  • Project Cost – This includes the amount of money available for the overall project, including the construction cost as well as consultant and design fees, and other costs such as reports, Town Planning fees or utilities (eg. water, gas electricity) fees.
    • In practice, the overall project cost will be determined by the client or project manager. The design and consultant fees will usually be a percentage of this. The final consultant fees will be based on the size of the project and the estimated hours required to complete the work.
    • At university, you will most likely not have a project budget. You also won’t be paid for your work. But you will usually be given an indication of the expected hours required to complete the project. This is similar to how you would manage a real project. It is a good idea to break this up over the number of weeks for completion, so you know how many hours and the extent of work is expected to be completed each week. And, be prepared that the work may take longer than suggested.
  • Deliverables – This includes the packages you will prepare complete and deliver, including the number of drawings, models, and other specific, documents and records of your work, process and progress.
    • In practice, this may include all the document packages for concept and presentations, Town Planning, Tender or Construction, as well as meeting minutes or interim reports.
    • At university, this will include the final submission and maybe an interim submission, as well as weekly work to be presented for feedback and review, and analyses and process work.

Design Brief | Scope of Works

The scope of works is the parameters of the physical project and final building outcome. This includes:

  • Location, Site and Existing Conditions – Where the project will be located, the physical site boundaries and any existing information about the conditions and structures on the site.
  • Typology – The type of building or structure that is to be designed and constructed, such as a school, house, hospital, shop or office building. There may be agreed precedents or examples of similar buildings, aesthetics, or best practices for this type of building that will be used as a reference.
  • Users – Who will be using the final project or outcome.
  • Building/ Structure Scope – This is a description of the difference between the existing conditions and the final building. It includes the estimated overall size of the final structure and any associated works. This will define if the project is a new build, a refurbishment or renovation or if there is any demolition work on the site that needs to occur before construction. It will describe the estimated overall area, number of above-ground and basement levels and give a high-level summary of the overall project.
  • Architectural Programme – A detailed breakdown of the spaces within the project, based on client requirements, user activities and needs, and functional spaces required for the building to operate.
  • Materials – There may be particular materials or technologies that need to be considered for the building typology or location.
  • Givens/ Assumptions/ Opportunities/ Constraints – This includes everything that is known about the project as well as the unknown and things that need to be considered and questioned further.
  • Aspirations, Goals and Visions – The more intangible desires for the project. This includes what the client or end-users will want to experience and obtain from the final project.

…To learn more, review the article titled “Top 9 Architecture Design Factors For ALL Architecture Projects”…

How To Read A Project Brief

Your project or design brief is the best guide for developing your project. At university, the rubric or assessment criteria and the brief will together tell you what you are being assessed on and how much emphasis is given to different aspects of the project process, design, development, presentation and skill.

The brief and rubric are not documents to be skimmed over and never looked at again. These are instead, documents to be printed out, analysed, re-read and referred to regularly.

In both practice and at university, it is your job as a designer to make sure every part of the project brief is addressed and the requirement adequately met.

The best way to use a brief is to print it out. Alternatively, you can use a digital copy, but a hard copy is better to mark up.

Take a highlighter or a red pen and start to work through the document, highlighting each thing that is expected or required to be completed. You could use one colour for the scope of works or the design requirements and another colour for the scope of service, or the actual work and process that is expected of you.

In particular, you are looking for numbers, quantities, dimensions and amounts as well as particular phrases that describe a specific outcome or physical requirements. Identify the unknown, ask questions and refer to this document regularly to make sure your design is adhering to the requirements.

Your architecture project and design brief become a benchmark for measuring the success of your project. Learn how to use it well.

Liz at ArchiMash

PS…If you have any questions or thoughts about project or design briefs, or design in general, let me know in the comments or at archimash.com/askliz.


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