Design to cost

Neil Walker
A development with outline planning consent may be perceived as viable. But is it an affordable design?

Developers are often keen to move swiftly on a new scheme, securing outline planning at the earliest opportunity. While a fast-track approach is understandable, the costs can be insufficiently explored.

Too often, designers develop their dream project, describing it as ‘iconic’, without considering its financial viability— and once the planners have seen the merits of the original design, it’s generally too late to reverse the design intent.

At the very least, this can result in abortive design and the need to repeat the drawings. Outline planning consent is difficult to amend retrospectively and may necessitate tough value engineering decisions on how to make good the cost deficit—possibly reducing the quality of the product, and probably with an additional consultancy bill for the changes. As a worst-case scenario, it can result in the scheme proving unviable and having to be abandoned.

Defining what can be achieved cost-effectively, prior to commencement of detailed design and planning application, is the way forward. Early cost advice for the specific building type, and the location, will ensure viability and will produce vital budgetary information for details such as the facade treatment and the internal fit-out.

At Faithful+Gould, our team works closely with developers to produce an accurate cost model from the outset. We begin by preparing a ‘should cost’ model, using our comprehensive benchmark data to consider the best-in class-metrics for the development type. We look at elements such as net to gross areas, wall to floor ratios, room sizes and configurations and likely facade typologies, in conjunction with the initial massing and the market value of the development in this location.

This initial model then allows the design to be developed with an awareness of the noted metrics. The design can progress but is consistently tested, from a commercial perspective, against existing benchmarks and is challenged by the potential supply chain.

This level of commercial scrutiny allows the developer to make informed decisions about the development at each stage, and also to flex the costs of particular areas of design importance without affecting the viability of the overall project.

In this way, our developer clients can make realistic decisions on the scheme’s design, mix and specification, in the light of the anticipated investment returns from the completed and operational stock. Parameters can be set for the architect, avoiding the design of an unaffordable scheme.

Our team goes on to manage the costs through each of the RIBA design stages, checking the design at each stage to ensure that the budget is still on track. Where changes are requested, we ensure our client is fully aware of the cost implications.



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