To begin with, our roles as creatives in the design field, whether you’re a designer or architect, are not a monolith. Not only are we architects, but also engineers. We shouldn’t forget that the word “Architecture” is derived from the Latin term “Architectus”, which itself comes from an old Greek term that’s made of two words: “Arke”, meaning “Art” (and “Origin”), and “Techton”, meaning “Engineer”.
This demonstrates that there is, and always has been, a strict association between being an architect and engineer – so although we’re architects, we must possess an engineering sensibility during each phase of a project, from concept and design development to the construction stage when we need to understand the needs of the designer, the client, and the contractor.
Value Engineering and Costs
Value engineering applies to costs as well; when we’re leading a luxury retail project as Local Architect and Project Management, our client always involves in the negotiation process to get better rates from the contractor, thereby effectively reducing the price. Obviously, this is without compromising on the quality of the design itself.
A real-life example of this pertains to brass finishing – since applying a real brass finishing is expensive, brands ask for an alternate solution that matches the real thing. In the implementation, this could be either powder coating metal with pigment particles or through a chemical process called electroplating, in which a durable metal is covered with a thin layer of a precious metal.
We can apply the same methodology to a project we took up in 2007. We were working on an new and innovative concept for the renovation of the Rome boutique of one of our primary Brand and the original concept proposed by their designers cost a lot. We had countless sessions with the contractor to reduce the price without changing the design, which is amazing progress.
In conclusion, we’re architects and engineers at the same time; not civil engineers who rigorously calculate dimensions of a building’s structure, but engineers who need to research material, technology, and design solutions, without hacking away at the beauty of the project itself.
The Duality of Value Engineering in Design
The same reasoning is applicable from a designer’s point of view. We start with a concept, in which we are conscious of the costs, but this isn’t the main priority at this stage; we want to be flexible and don’t think that a mere number should put a limit on creativity. Then, when we move onto further stages, such as Schematic Design and Design Development, value engineering becomes crucial – this is the project’s most challenging aspect.
Value Engineering in Product Design
Value Engineering is also crucial in product design. For instance, as art directors for the Italian lighting brand “Buzzi&Buzzi”, we’ve designed several luminaires and lighting fixtures. Initially, the prices of certain fixtures are kept high because even though materials and production are expensive, the product needs to be available in the market soon. Later on, to reduce the cost and time of production, value engineering is necessary, along with support from an electrical engineer.
Misconceptions About Value Engineering
It’s common for potential clients and the general public to have a negative view of value engineering. It’s considered as confessing to a low budget, or even worse, mistakes in the design concept. This is a misconception and you’ll find that every designer, architect, and engineer disagrees with this view.
On the contrary, value engineering can help save a project that could otherwise be scrapped due to an inflexible time limit or budget.
Is Value Engineering Necessary in Each Project?
A lot of clients ask us whether it’s possible to avoid value engineering in a project. It definitely is, because nowadays expert engineers and architects navigate and have better control of the project costs since the beginning.
All that they need to do is make sure that the designer’s creativity aligns with the agreed-upon budget. However, this might have implications on the timing of the initial design phase, in which it’s often crucial to get things done as fast as possible.
The perfect balance lies in a process that involves the “pre-comprehension” of costs. It requires that the designer be highly knowledgeable about the costing matter and this often comes with experience.
Repurposing and Reusing Materials
Take the example of the practice that involves reusing material. In Asciano, a small town that’s surrounded by the Tuscany green hills, we thoroughly renovated an old farmhouse. We converted it into a 3-bedroom villa but we couldn’t reuse the old stones from its previous structure due to an anti-seismic regulation we needed to comply with.
Hence, we repurposed them as stones used to pave a part of the garden. Similarly, a drinking trough previously used for pigs was converted into a fountain, while the iron trays used to make garden planters were repurposed from equipment used in the cane sugar production process.
It goes to show that in every scenario, the conditions and circumstances of the project will vary. Therefore, it’s our duty as architects to develop the project in a way that the process complies with new regulations.