Recently our European business unit delivered architectural master planning services from its London, UK design studio for what might appear to be two vastly different projects.
The first of these projects was Marymount International School, London, a “boutique” middle and secondary private school for girls with 250 pupils, which has operated on the same seven-acre site for six decades. The second project was a 40-acre township on a greenfield site in Noida, India consisting of more than six million square feet of commercial, residential and retail space which is served by structured parking for 6,000 cars.
At first glance, these projects have nothing in common, being in different continents with completely different occupancy types, and having end users from a drastically different demographic. However, from a planning perspective, what made these two projects so similar was the approach used to deliver our services. Too often the industry views design as a noun; a thing, which is the combination of drawings, renderings and models that form the final deliverables.
I have found it more valuable to demonstrate that design is a verb; a journey that will realize the project vision through a structured process that breaks down a complicated planning challenge into simpler steps that induce collaborative authorship and stakeholder ownership from the start. At a high level, the methodology used for these two projects is as follows:
1. Define the Design Problem
We often describe this starting point of the work as architectural programming or brief development, and it is the most important part of the design journey. I always advise our clients that if the design problem can be defined with precision, a design solution can be delivered with excellence. I usually go one step further and will guarantee success if the project is executed within the boundaries of a well-considered and coordinated brief. Even in situations where the brief has been carefully developed and fine-tuned over the years, as is the case with numerous public sector projects that I have worked on, the design process needs to begin with validating the brief in order to renew the vision amongst the design and client team members.
This approach is somewhat contrary to some industry expectations which anticipates drawing as the first design activity, but enduring value is best assured first by clearly defining the design problem.
2. Explore Optimal Solutions
This is where the real fun starts. Unlike math where 1+1 will always equal two, the design process can generate several different but correct solutions.
On the Marymount project, as many as five options were prepared for each of the 9 new-build or renovation components. For Noida, we generated six vastly different land-use and massing distribution approaches. To offer this level of choice is probably the most powerful aspect of our project methodology. However, it needs to be managed carefully to avoid having our clients choose unrelated pieces of several options that are contrary in their approach to solving the design problem.
- Document the Selected Options
The outputs of this stage were the most exciting part of the two projects described in my introduction. Due to end user requirements each facility needed to be used for multiple purposes. For the Marymount masterplan, a video was used to illustrate the transformation possible across the campus through a collection of minor and major interventions. The video has become one of the primary fundraising tools and as a communication medium to explain the improvements to the stakeholders, neighboring property owners and the local planning authorities.
For the Noida project, high resolution still images were generated for presentation to the syndicate of financiers, and to announce the development to the public on signboards, national print media and within sales documents to the prospective end users. In both cases, the robustness of the design process along with the quality of the final master plan was a suitable foundation for advancing design activities on these projects.
This methodology was not invented for the Marymount or Noida projects. It is, in fact, described in significantly more detail under the ‘Project Lifecycle and Master planning Process’ chapters within our Ingenium Quality Management System (IQMS).
Most satisfying of all is the fact that both clients were extremely satisfied with the journey that we experienced with them, and not just with presentation materials produced at the end.
Subsequently, Marymount retained NORR as the architect who will perform building design and delivery services for all of the master plan components. We have a similar proposal under consideration for the building design works for phase 1 of the roll-out of the Noida masterplan. I hope that the relationship that has evolved from this methodology will ultimately result in the successful delivery of great buildings to satisfied clients and users.