Design, engineering, project management:

OK, so you need plans for your house – but what plans? In reality, the architectural process – from design to construction – involves three phases, and in each phase a different skill set is required. Some are done by architects, others by draftsmen or engineers… but what is what and who does what?

Phase 1: the design

The first phase, which we call “design“, is the “creative” one… Like in fashion, some designers just have that little extra touch of genius that makes their homes look and feel so much better than the rest. It takes both genius (inspiration) ánd hard work (transpiration), as hundreds and hundreds of iterations may be necessary until a design is really “perfect”.

“architecture is like fashion: it’s a matter of proportions”

Coco Chanel

Of course: the more practice one has, the more specialized one is, the faster one can find great solutions. Most architects may be doing a luxury villa today, but were designing a restaurant or office yesterday and a hospital tomorrow.

That’s one of the advantages of working with Modern Villas: our designers are exceptionally experienced and specialized; we “breathe” modern villas in the day and “dream” modern villas at night, and that is reflected both in the quality of work ánd the ease and speed at which things come together.

Most of our clients are pretty busy business people; and while they like to keep their finger on the pulse, they appreciate the ease and efficiency with which they can get their dream home designed.

The end result of the “design” phase:

an architectural “design”, which traditionally is shown by most architects with floor plans, elevations and sections.

But… these are often hard to understand; so at Modern Villas we use cutting edge technology that allows us to show the design – from the very first draft! – – with photo-realistic 3D images, video walk throughs and even VR.

The end result of the design phase with Modern Villas: not just plans, but full 3D images and videos!

Contact us if you want to see a true interactive VR presentation of one of our houses!

Phase 2: the engineering

The second phase, which we like to call “engineering“, is a more technical one, where a whole team of specialists is needed to make sure that the house’s structure, its mechanical, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, lighting, automation systems etc. etc. are designed and built to high standards – and efficiently – i.e. offering good value for money.

There is more than one way to build one same house; and great engineers can make the house better ánd cheaper.

The details are not the details. They make the design

Charles Eames

The engineering phase is very hard for clients to grasp, as it is extremely technical. Too often one just “trusts” the architect that made the creative design also to be a good engineer.

It’s common sense, however, that the creative, visionary starchitect is not the meticulous, calculating engineer you need for the engineering phase. We cannot stress enough how important the engineers are!

One can compare it to the car industry: while some designers are capable of designing the most beautiful sports cars, it takes a whole army of engineers to make sure that that great looking super car actually can hold the road! Weight distribution, stiffness, brake capacity, noise levels, consumption, torque, CO2 and hundreds of other factors from multiple disciplines have to be optimized.

Fortunately, the best engineers are not always the most famous (or expensive) ones.

While we are making the design plans, we will start researching which is the most efficient engineering team for you, in your location.

Often, the best local builders also have – or know – the best engineers in town. Because in real life, most “creative” architects do not detail in sufficient detail (or realistically) how things can be built.

Therefore, most professional builders have excellent engineers and architects that sort all these things out before they start building, making their own construction or “shop” plans.

If the plans are not precise enough, problems will only show up on the build site – when the foreman discovers that the concrete pillar from the structural plan conflicts with the electricity line from the electrical plan; and that the beautifully aligned spots from the lighting plan can’t go where they’re designed because there’s an airco channel right on top of them. This is THE single most frequent cause for delays, budget overruns, and shoddy results!

In short: we will interface with the local engineers; and together with you, and we will make a shortlist of builders that are the right “fit” for your needs.

Alternatively, we’ll find local quality architects or engineers and we will interface with them to get the best results possible. We know how to select the right partners and sort the chaff from the wheat – almost certainly, we’ll be able to deliver better results than if you go it alone.

Remember_ this is a true engineering job, not a “creative” one – and you don’t need to pay for a starchitect here. Yet you need really good engineers (not just some trainee architects or draftsmen) to make sure that your house will be built a) well and b) cost efficiently.

By the way, the engineering phase takes into account local and legal requirements – as well as the availability and economics of different construction methods.

Whether the house is built with a structure of load bearing bricks, steel frame, wood frame, reinforced concrete – or more high performance technologies likes MgO-SIP panels or CLT – the choice will affect these more technical “construction” plans.

The end result of the engineering phase:

the “construction plans“: dozens and dozens of detailed and specialized plans, nearly impossible to read for a layperson – together with a detailed “book” of specifications that may be a hundred pages long.

In a nutshell: the design phase determines what to build, the engineering phase determines how to build it.

Alternatively, we’ll find local quality architects or engineers and we will interface with them to get the best results possible. We know how to select the right partners and sort the chaff from the wheat – almost certainly, we’ll be able to deliver better results than if you go it alone.

Phase 3: the project management

The third phase happens during construction: when architects or engineers make sure everything is built according to plans and specifications; and help the builders resolving any issues that arise during construction.

Wait a minute: which issues?

In the old days, when architects were drawing plans in 2D, and structural, plumbing, electricity and HVAC plans (and more) needed to be looked at side by side, issues DID arise during construction and architects did not to solve problems on a regular basis.

Yet this is 2019! Using the latest BIM (“building information modelling”) software (like we do), every single element on the plan (a wall, toilet, window, or light switch) is actually in a 3D database that can be shared in the cloud by all parties involved (from the creative architect, over structural engineers, electricians, HVAC engineers, down to builders).

One single database contains every single piece of equipment that goes into the construction, complete with it’s supplier, cost, weight, composition etc.!

This way, everything, down to the last detail, can be visualized in 3D long before construction starts. Conflicts can be solved in advance, so the materials can be calculated and ordered with absolute precision – and the budget can be calculated with near absolute precision. (Weather, soil conditions, and the human factor still have a little bit of influence.)

In other words: we are firm believers that, if the engineering phase is done properly, construction will run smoothly!

As such, the “project management” mainly serves to make sure that the building is executed exactly as planned – without any deviations – and to fulfill legal requirements; as in most countries, building guarantees and insurances are dependent on the supervision by a qualified architect or engineer.

Phase 1: Design Plans: what to build

Design plans are the first, creative part of the process, where the architects design a house that looks good, feels good, and can be built efficiently.

“Looking good” means that all shapes and proportions, materials and colours are combined in a beautiful way. Some designers have that extra touch of genius and become highly acclaimed (and expensive) “starchitects”. Others may be less known but equally talented, or have just mastered a specific style through many years of experience.

Yet… a great many architects will struggle to get everything just right and may spend (and bill!) hundreds or thousands of hours. Or – more often: given time and budget restraints, they tend to stop lóng before perfection is achieved. That is a pity, ánd it often leads to the need of modifications later in the process – god forbid, even during construction – which are the most common source for budget overruns, delays and sleepless nights.

“Feeling good” means that all room sizes, proportions and sight lines are balanced so harmoniously that the spaces give you that special, zen – flow-happy – relaxing feeling that makes some houses “great” rather than “good”.

It also means that comfort is optimized: the layout “flows” well from room to room, windows are placed smartly to create natural cross ventilation – or just to prevent colder drafts in other climates – and to maximalize natural light without overheating or creating visual glare. Doors open the right way, corridors are inviting, noise or humidity from bathrooms or kitchens does not bother other areas, etc. etc. There are literally hundreds of “constraints” that must all be optimized to function well.

We won’t go into the debate here whether “form follows function” or not… suffice it to say, that both form ánd function must be perfect; and that’s not easy to pull off.

Every one of our designs benefits from hundreds or thousands of hours spent by very talented and specialised people to perfect our designs – and the learnings of having been built many, many similar villas before.

It’s almost impossible for a “traditional” architect, who does a house today, but a restaurant, office or hospital tomorrow, to start from scratch and achieve the same level of design quality as we do.

Often asked: can we buy plans of one of your designs?

We often get asked to just “sell” existing plans by people that love our designs and would like to build them without paying for an architect. We’re sympathetic to this, but believe that in 99% of the cases this is not a real solution. There are plenty of sites on the internet selling home “plans” this way – but most clients end up discovering they’ll need to pay for an architect anyway. For this reason, we do not routinely “sell” plans of our existing designs.

Option 1: a custom design

Of course, this is our favourite as it allows us to express our creativity ánd it offers you a house that is completely fine-tuned to you. It is completely fine-tuned to match your land (orientation, size, shape, slope, views, solar and wind exposure)… and your personal preferences (size, budget, style, number and sizes of all rooms and spaces).

The pro’s of customized design plans:

  • We believe the added value of having a totally personalized design adds much more value to the home ánd to your quality of life than it costs.
  • Being much more specialized than most architects – designing modern villas is all we do – and using cutting edge technologies, we are faster and (hence) cheaper than most other architects
  • Dare we say… after all practice creates mastery… that we are also better than most?
  • We are organised to be very efficient, working cross-borders using a routine basis, and require much less of your time – online presentations, video walkthroughs just makes everything clearer and simpler – and so much faster

Option 2: adaptingdesign plans

If one of our existing designs suits you – and your land, so well that only limited modifications are required, we may be able to just offer you a simple adaptation of one of our existing plans.

In this case, we adapt one our existing designs to your needs (overall size, number of rooms etc.), preferences (materials, colours, façade styles), plot (size, proportions, orientation of sun and view) while maintaining the same overall impression and layout. You can compare this to having the tailor customise a dress or suit based on an existing pattern: you can change the size, the fabric and a detail or two – but the actual design and proportions remain the same. This works as long as the number and size of spaces is very similar to the original plans so we don’t need to adapt tóó much.

As we are extremely experienced and super-focused on modern villas – and often have already derived multiple versions based on the same design, this is a cost and time efficient way to get a design that is as beautiful as the original – plus one that is guarantueed to also work well on your plot.

On top of that, our cutting edge visualisation methods – you get fully immersive 3D videos and even VR visits right from the start – allow you to “see” and “feel” the house before it’s even built; a far cry from having to “imagine” the end result by looking at floor plans, elevations and cross sections.

Phase 2: from design to construction plans

While design plans define “what” has to be built, construction plans define “how” it has to be built. This depends on a lot of factors: goverment requirements and building codes; soil conditions and earthquake/hurricane risks; building methods (there are dozens of construction methods – classics like structural brickwork, reinforced concrete structures, wood framing, steel framing, but also newer technologies like SIP panels or CLT panels… and all come with different wall sizes, structural elements, and limitations. Electricity, airco, under floor heating, lighting, isolation… everything interacts differently based on the building method; so detailed construction plans should take into account all that.

Engineers vs designers

In contrast to the “design” plans (which require mostly talent for design and ergonomics) this is a true “engineering” job. Compare this to cars: talented car designers like Pininfarina or Giugaro can “design” gorgeous cars… but after they’re finished, it takes an army of engineers to make sure those designs can also perform in real life! It takes months if not years of efforts to make sure the car’s acceleration, braking, steering, safety, consumption etc. etc. are as perfect as the design.

In construction, having perfectly thought out, detailed construction plans goes way beyoond any legal requirements. If all details are planned and optimized in advance, construction will be fast, efficient, and end up on time and on budget. If not done properly, dozens of small surprises will show up during construction – causing delays and budget overruns, not to mention poor results and nightmares.

A job for specialists

Making quality construction plans requires a co-ordinated input of multiple specialised engineers (structural, electrical, mechanial, HVAC to name just a few). It’s important they are co-ordinated – if not, you’ll find out that the lighting engineer’s perfect lighting plans can not be executed because the airco channels run right above the ceiling spots; or that the plumbing will have to make a detour to avoid a structural element blocking its path.

The construction plans will also differ based on local conditions, like regulatory requirements, the availability and economics of different building methods, etc. And of course, soil conditions, climate, budget, energy requirements, earthquake or hurricane risk all impact the choice of building systems.

Depending on the situation, the same house may be built with load bearing brick walls, a reinforced concrete structure, steel framing, wood framing or even more performant systems like SIP panels or CLT achieving if need be, passive house standards.

Modern Villas, originally created to cater for demanding northern European clients, is at the forefront of building technology and will help you find the best local building partners.

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