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Helpful Terms to Know Before Working with an Architect

May 2nd, 2022 | 3 min. read

Helpful Terms to Know Before Working with an Architect

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Every profession has its jargon, and architecture is no exception. From French words like “charrette” to obscure terms like “assemblage,” architects might as well speak a language of their own.

When working with clients, architects should do their best to avoid jargon. But some architectural terms cannot be avoided. Before starting the design process, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with a few of them.  

This article will discuss some of the most useful terms to know before starting the architectural process. After reading, you’ll feel more confident communicating with an architect and prepared to start the design process. 

7 Helpful Design Terms 

1. Program 

An architectural program is a document that outlines all the components of a building and the spatial requirements. For example, a program for a commercial office may break down the square footage of desk space, conference rooms, collaborative zones, and break rooms. 

Some clients have a program before meeting with an architect. Others go through a programming study to determine their needs. 

2. Precedent 

A precedent is anything that inspires or guides the design. Architects study past and present examples of design to generate ideas and solve problems. 

When you start working with an architect, they will likely show you precedents to better understand your needs, goals, likes, and dislikes. Precedents are not necessarily specific to your building type or industry. A space in a church, for example, can capture the feeling you may be looking for and inspire the design of an office building. 

3. Benchmarking 

Benchmarking falls under the broad umbrella of “precedent research.” The process involves researching similar projects to the one you are planning and comparing costs, performance data, and design solutions. 

Early in the design process, you will likely go on several benchmarking tours to see similar facilities, discuss your opinions, and talk with occupants. This opportunity helps you imagine new ways of approaching the problems with your current space. 

4. Massing 

Massing refers to the general shape and size of a building. You will likely hear this word in the early phases of the design process when your architect is testing different spatial configurations. Your architect may even create massing models to help you visualize how the building will fit onto the site. 

5. Solar Orientation 

Solar orientation refers to the building’s position along the sun’s path. Along with the building’s massing, solar orientation is a crucial factor to consider in the early stages of design. 

A building’s orientation has a large impact on energy consumption and utility costs. The goal is to keep the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

6. End Users/Occupants 

“End-users” or “occupants” are the people who use the completed space daily. For example, end-users for a school may include teachers, administration, and students. 

End-users often differ from stakeholders (those with a financial stake in the project). Although most design meetings involve stakeholders, your architect should also meet with end-users. Understanding the occupants’ needs and wants leads to the most successful projects. 

7. Phases of Design 

The design process involves several stages, each with a name. The most important phases are Pre-Design, Schematic Design, Design Development, Contract Documents, and Contract Administration. 

Each phase has its goals and deliverables—helping the project move forward. To learn more about each, read about the seven steps of the architectural process

Learn More About the Architectural Process 

Like all professionals, architects use internal jargon. If you haven’t worked with an architect before, some terms and phrases may be confusing. By brushing up on a few key terms, however, you will be better prepared to start the design process.  

As mentioned, architects should try their best to avoid jargon when communicating with clients. If your architect ever says something you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to speak up and ask questions. An architect should help you understand the design and guide you through the process.

Learn other ways your architect will communicate with you by reading about visualization tools used in the design process.