Balancing Constraints and Design // Amber Summers


Written by Amber Summers

"Balancing Constraints and Design"

Architecture at its core is a balancing act between the creativity of design and the constraints that can confine ideas. The design process includes a continuous cycle of research, design solutions, and new obstacles that must be tackled. In school all our projects exist in a fantasy world, where the design is the only focusing point. Student projects are put in a world where the realities of construction and client constraints do not exist. The Design+Make studio is a student’s first opportunity to see into the functional side of the profession of architecture. Architecture can be used as a problem-solving tool. A new project comes with a new set of challenges that the design team must overcome.There are design issues that must be solved, as well as constraints that must be addressed. The major implications put on a project are the schedule, scope and budget, these can be non negotiable constraints that must be incorporated and appreciated. Designers must be fully cognizant of the fact that scope, time and cost are fully inter-related to each other. An adjustment to one element impacts the others. Close attention to schedule, scope and budget are vital to the success of a project.

Scope – This is comprised of the functional elements that, when completed, make up the end deliverable for the project. The scope itself is generally identified up front to give the project the best chance of success. Although scope can potentially change during the project life-cycle and be an evolving topic throughout the entire process. The common success measure for the scope aspect of a project is its inherent quality upon delivery. Most of the time, if scope is a fixed constraint, one of the other constraints has to have some flexibility. There cannot be a large scope of work on a highly restricted budget and within a tightly confined schedule. Scope is dependent on the budget and schedule heavily. The time and cost of a project tell the design team what is a reasonable design outcome. The parameters given by cost and time drive the amount of work that can be completed. The reality of scope has had a significant impact on the current Design+Make studio project. The intention from the beginning of this project was to provide the structure for an artist residency program in Volland. The initial assumption was that we would provide accommodation as well as a studio work space for artists. This however has evolved and the focus has shifted to solely the accommodation element. The given timeline and cost of this studio did not permit the design and fabrication of two structures, which led to a smaller refined scope of work. The decision to focus on housing first is completely out of necessity for a beginning residency program. There must be a place to live before a workspace is beneficial. By properly sizing the scope the project was able to evolve and become more clear in its intentions. With the more concentrated initial scope being identified, the team has been able to identify more specific detailed scope of work within the house that will be redesigned.

Schedule – This refers to the actual time required to produce a product, which in this case, would be the end result of the house. Naturally, the amount of time required to produce the deliverable will be directly related to the amount of requirements that are part of the end result (scope) along with the amount of resources allocated to the project (cost). This usually comes in the form of an enforced deadline that must be met. If there is a strict end date to a project this will impact the design aspirations greatly. Every project comes with a set of milestones, these must be maintained and met for the project to keep evolving. If the schedule is altered and extended it might be able to allow for a larger scope of work to be completed but it will additionally mean an increase in cost of the overall project. The primary design element that is impacting the studio’s schedule is a lack of skill acquisition within the team. Functioning with an inexperienced team comes with challenges, a large one being that tasks tend to take more time to accomplish. It is extremely difficult to estimate the length of a project when dealing with a construction team that has a huge learning curve to each task. Additionally, given the fact that the studio is entirely made up of graduate students there is a large milestone of graduation that impacts schedule. The goal was to have a fixed end date to this project being in mid-May. This date has become slightly more flexible with the studio commitment to completely this project to its highest level of quality.

Budget – This is the estimation of the amount of money that will be required to complete the project. Cost itself encompasses various things, such as: resources, labor rates for contractors, risk estimates, bills of materials and much more. All aspects of the project that have a monetary component are made part of the overall cost structure. Budget is always going to be one of the key project constraints, without question. Budget, limits the project team’s ability to obtain resources and might potentially limit the scope of the project. Money is a topic that nobody wants to discuss but it is also a main driving force of many design projects. Considering money is a vital aspect to a successful project and the artist accommodation project is not an exception. Money is always a complicated thing to navigate but has the potential to control a design outcome. For the artist residency project money has been a large topic of discussion. There is little possibility for this program to generate a profit, which means the cost of construction will likely not be repaid in the future. The residency project has a fixed budget as one of its driving constraints. As aspiring architects, the studio has a great desire to use innovative materials and construction methods. The main desire of the team is to use glass brick in the design. This material however comes with more question than answers and causes the entire project to go largely over budget. The studio is currently in the process of accepting the reality of cost and creating alternative design solutions to achieve a similar goal within our given constraints.

Proper balancing of the triple constraint allows for great architecture to exist. The goal for any project is to achieve a high quality of design within the given parameters. Quality is a completely fixed objective that must be understood by all contributors. If the schedule, cost, and scope align correctly a project will be on its way to a successful completion of the client’s and design team’s vision. The major take-away from the three major constraints is that they form an inter-related triangle. One side cannot be altered without making adjustments to the other two sides. If the scope of work is altered there must be an understanding that this will impact the schedule and cost of the overall project. How much or how little is dictated by the nature and complexity of the scope change. The same goes for time and cost. If the schedule appears to be tight and the team determines that the scoped requirements cannot be accomplished within the allotted time the triangle must shift again. Any successful project originates from a strong sense of problem-solving throughout the entire project. Projects are constantly being affected by outside influences and issues, these constraints can be an asset to the project and should never be viewed as a hindrance. The Design+Make studio is the students’ first glimpse into the reality of the design profession. It is the first opportunity in school for students to work with every element of a design project and invent the proper solution. These three major constraints can majorly hinder a project, or it can allow the design team to conquer the obstacles of reality. Every development made has an aspect of schedule, budget, and scope driving the conclusion, it is up to the architects to drive the constraints in the proper direction.

Conceptual render utilizing glass brick as exterior walls in place of the porch. 

Abstract:  Proper balancing of the triple constraint allows for great architecture to exist. The goal for any project is to achieve a high quality of design within the given parameters. In order for design excellence to occur the scope, budget and schedule must maintain a balance.


Audience: Graduating students and emerging professionals are typically thrown into their design professions with very little knowledge into the realities of architecture. By mastering the triple constraint the best designs can emerge with satisfied clients that will return for more insight and work.