Regarding renovations, very often clients call me for the sole building practice, in front of which every enterprising do-it-yourself stops hiself … because he realize the huge amount of work, and ask me to follow the entire process.
To be fair: not everyone knows, by direct or indirect experience, which are the phases of a project and what the architect actually does. Many recognize the great inspiration, the attention to the beauty and the details, but most of them get stuck in continuing the list of services. So, let’s see what the steps of a renovation are and what I actually do during the works, from start to finish.

Collecting informations + verifications

Once the assignment has been received, and I carried out the first inspection, the first step begins: I recovery and organize all the information relating to the building to be restored. Deed, land registry, old municipal practices, any construction drawings, etc. Not only as a starting point for the future project, but above all to carry out a complete formal and technical check, so as to be able to proceed in absolute tranquility and exclude situations to be regularized. I no longer even count the cases in which a customer believes that he is “all right”, just because he has deed the month before, or “the house has always been like this”, because no one has done any work for 20 years: some discrepancies or abuse to be regularized (sometimes even painlessly, to find out more I remind you this article). Ignoring any problems or proceeding with a new practice without regularizing the existing one, involves in effect a criminal offense, to which the owner himself is responsible.

The inspection allows you to check any anomalies at first sight. The back room had a door, now bricked up: has it been regularized?

Site measurements

The survey operation consists in measuring the spaces (including heights, protrusions, technical elements, etc.) and returning them graphically through a scale drawing. I also take photographs, in order to calmly re-analyze everything later, including details, materials and systems, and use them as archive photos for the works.
Also in this case, it happened to me that the client asked me to skip the entire phase, perhaps because it had a personal drawing, or another one made by a previous architect, or a constructor of the period and so on.

A serious professional instead carries out his own measurements, both because s/he might notice details that others have missed, and because the plants of others may not be updated, or report some errors (and unfortunately it is frequent). The survey, in addition to being important for the project and for the construction site, is one of the documents required in the practices and to be signed by hand.
It is important to be precise, methodical and not to improvise with two rough lengths (just to verify everything is ok).

BVM – detail of the site measurements of the ground floor

Preliminary project

The data and information collection this time concerns the architectural project. Customers expose their priorities, desires and tastes, but also their functional and economic needs.
Based on this discussion, I work out layouts or planimetric configurations that make full use of the existing space, enhance the intrinsic qualities of the building and respond to the real needs of the end customer.
No magic wands and instant shock solutions: paper, pen, reasoning and calm. A computer for the final stage. These solutions are then evaluated in consultation with customers, who will communicate their ideas on the matter and the preferred proposal: the chosen solution will therefore represent the design strategy with which to proceed.
An architect has the experience and sensitivity to suggest the best solutions from a spatial point of view, and it is important that the customer has clear ideas before continuing, without forgetting to communicate all his doubts and needs. In fact, I believe that groping towards the goal can lead to technical errors, not very harmonious results, waste of time and money. A personal project is like a made-to-measure suit, and for it to be successful you need method and clarity.

a preliminary project for the home in Valtournenche: spatial configuration totally different from the one chosen, demonstrating that in the preliminary hypotheses different valid alternatives are examined, in order to then choose the right one for oneself.

Definitive project (and documents for estimates)

So, as briefly summarized, the preliminary design represents the strategy, the structure of the project. In the definitive phase I begin to define the materials, the technical solutions, the details, the colors, the quantities.

If there are collaborations with other figures (structural engineer for example), I look for a comparison to define together how to intervene. I prepare the metric calculation and consequently the specifications, a comparison drawing (demolitions-constructions), plant schemes to be discussed with customers, flooring/finishing layouts and first detailed drawings useful for understanding the project.
In accordance with the spirit of the project, I select a range of suitable products to offer to customers (taps, bathroom fixtures, coatings, doors, windows, etc.) and prepare the related supply lists.

All this nice package is useful not only to further define the project, but to ask companies for a quote (and no, inviting them for coffee in the apartment, asking them to guess the final import is not quite the same thing). Only in this way is it possible to truly know what the actual cost of the restructuring will be, with very little margin for error.
Once the quotes are received, some evaluations are made with the customers: with which company to proceed? Is the budget respected or is it necessary to review the project? In the latter case, the base of the preliminary project is very useful in not losing the objective. In fact, in most cases it is sufficient to work on the technical items or review small parts of the project, without upsetting the desired and approved solution.

choice of materials and colors – palette for home in Valtournenche

Choosing the building company and building permits

If the budget needs to be revised, I update the project accordingly with the changes mentioned above.

Together with the customers, the contractor company will be hired and asked to update the estimate on the new basis.
The second bureaucratic process begins. First, I check that the company has every document and legal requirement in order. If second professional figures are foreseen (Safety, Structural Engineer, etc.) I collect the data and any documents to be attached to future building practice and start its preparation. Within the practice, I will have to make explicit the respect in the project of all the regulations in force – building, urban planning and sanitation – through drawings, reports and forms to fill out. All this always in full protection of the customer, as s/he will be co-signer and will personally respond to what is declared together with the designer.

construction site posters for the renovation of a loft in Milan. The technical and managerial component of an architect is often the least romanticized part, but the most demanding and heavy for this job, because it is full of responsibility.

Construction drawings and supervision

We are almost ready to go. I prepare a contract with the updated project drawings attached, which the client and company will sign. Further documents will follow, such as work schedule, cost and workforce overview, etc. useful to summarize the technical picture to the customer. Well. Construction is about to begin, so the project should be finished, right? Wrong.
At this point it should be clear, the project is constantly evolving during ALL its phases. A technical drawing is associated with each process and each different company, for a correct communication to the craftsman of what must be done and how, down to the detail: demolition drawings, layout drawings for constructions, drawings for each plant involved (and therefore water, electricity, heating, etc.), details for marbles, cladding, flooring, carpentry and so on.
I prepare the drawings and start the construction site, then I carry out inspections in several days but especially at the beginning of each new process: both to leave the relevant drawing on site, and to personally explain the project and have feedback from those who will carry it out (the comparison with the experts is always important, as well as precious!). To be sure of the final results, I have email exchanges, calls and meetings also with the other suppliers involved: glassmakers, building suppliers, window frames and so on.

Plumbing pipe laying: the company carries out the tracing and laying on the basis of the drawing of the architect. It is one of the most important and delicate steps because it requires design precision (private apartment, Milan Central)

During the course of the work, it is very common to have to update the same drawings, and sometimes make small changes to the project: they are unpredictable updates at the beginning of the construction site, such as systems / width / artifacts that cannot be perceived without demolitions, piping passages to be managed differently and so on. The important thing is to keep in mind the character of the project, the objectives of the customers, the context … and use the right intuition and aesthetic sense to better manage the node that arises.
As my modus operandi, every choice, modification, update or simple continuation of the construction site is notified to customers, who are always directly involved in all phases. Photographs, drawings, reports and the updating of all previous technical documents (such as estimations, calculations, economic frameworks, etc.) are daily tools that allow you to monitor the progress of the construction site, to understand when it is possible to allow a new down payment to companies and to control times and budgets.

End of works

The end of the works brings with it the final update of all the layouts (As Built) and the closure of the related building practices (and therefore notifications, City permits, variations etc.). I carry out inspections aimed at analyzing in detail the latest finishes,and see if touch-ups are needed. The systems are also tested, and it is checked whether everything works at full capacity without problems. If there are extras, or separations from the final estimate, we meet with customers and companies to manage the bills and – fortunately quite rare if we proceed as required – I serve as technical support to the customer in the event of disputes.
Last but not least, I collect all the technical documentation, the documents and practices mentioned above, certificates, etc., and deliver a nice file of the intervention to the client.

End of work for Briscola: verifications to the electrical plant

Is it possible to skip stages?

As a grand finale (I thank those who have patiently reached this point), another evergreen among the questions I have received most often.
“In the end it’s a small project … preliminary and definitive can be done together, right?”.

More no than yes.

  • it will always be necessary to go through the preliminary project, to establish with the client if the main idea is liked and okay. Translated: I challenge anyone to settle for the first closed-box project
  • it will always be necessary to establish the final project, correcting it following the receipt of estimates. Translated: I challenge anyone to accept any quote without saying a word and ask for changes to the project
  • during construction it will always be necessary to define very technical, detailed and unexpected aspects with new drawings. Translated: I challenge anyone to accept that the instructions on site are given verbally, and not to make any claims if the executors have misunderstood / forgotten the instructions.
  • at the end of the work it is important to check that the work has been carried out in a workmanlike manner and that no further interventions are necessary. Translated: I challenge anyone to remain at the mercy of the final disputes.

The phases are necessarily those, as for any recipe it is first necessary to wash the vegetables, cut them and only then cook them. If anything, it is possible to avoid additional ingredients, in this case design drawings that are only used by the customer for the understanding of the project. However, it is a path that I do not recommend if possible, because, as an architect I have perfectly clear the final effect and the aesthetic result of a project, but the same cannot be said for a non-expert.

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