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The Control Budget Has on Design // Kaitlyn Portner


Abstract: Is architecture school really preparing us for how design happens in the real world? During our schooling we have never had to design a project within an assigned budget, which has allowed our designs to be over the top and almost unreachable in reality. The process of designing within a budget is completely different from what we are used to, but it is also the process that we will all have to go through once we are completed with school.


Audience: Educators, professionals, students in design.

"The Control Budget Has on Design"


During my first four years at Kansas State University, all of the studio projects that were assigned did not have a budget. This made it possible for students to use their creativity and imagination to the fullest, resulting in beautiful masterpieces that are nothing like what we see built today. These designs had massive footprints, walls composed completely of glass, and structural feats that left even professors questioning how it would stand. These design accomplishments also left the designs with a pretty price tag that not many people would be willing to pay. There were many times that students were told their ideas were extremely expensive or to just take a step back and think about how much the design would cost, but there was never a set number that we had to meet for the cost of our projects. Although this allowed students to design freely with few limitations, it did not prepare us for how designing happens in a real setting when there is always a budget involved.


The Design+Make studio was the first opportunity to confront the reality of the budget’s impact on design. Because this project would actually be built, there was a set budget that the design had to satisfy. I never would have thought that a simple number would change the process of design as much as it did during this year’s project. When designing for this project first began, we knew cost was an important factor but we didn't allow that to lead our design. It was always a thought that we kept in the back of our heads and with many of the ideas that came along we made sure to keep them tangible and within the reach of our budget. I didn't realize while it was happening, but because of the limitation set by the budget, many of our ideas were very clean and simple. They were nothing like anything we had designed in past years and it was a refreshing change. As the project moved forward, the cost of things became more and more important to the design. We had to start accounting for supplies needed and figure out how that would impact our overall budget.

These are two models showing development of the design. Trough multiple iterations, we moved closer to the set budget that we had to stay within.

Things like overall square footage, window openings, and the size of bedrooms were the first to be minimized to keep the design within our set budget. There were many times during designing that we had to pull back on our ideas and find a more affordable way to make them happen. After we had a final design chosen that we knew would roughly satisfy our given budget, it was time to figure out the finer grained details that would make or break the budget in the end. These details included the type of materials used throughout the project and the way details would come together including the front windows, HVAC equipment placement, the front porch, and all of the kitchen cabinets. There were many times that we had a certain material picked out or a plan for the way a specific detail would work, only to be sent back to the drawing boards because there was no way it would ever work for the budget we were given.


I knew that the cost of a project was important but this last year has shown me just how much it can change and lead your design in a certain way. For this year’s project, if there would not have been a set budget, our final design could have been something completely different and similar to the projects we have all designed in the past. Without a budget this project could have had beautiful hardwood or tiled floors in place of polished concrete floors, large floorplans with ample space for circulation instead of precisely planned floorplans with just enough space for prescribed activities, and large window openings throughout to allow for plenty of natural lighting instead of select openings with carefully planned views to the exterior of the building. Designing this project has been a completely different experience than what I have had on all of my past projects because of the constraint of a budget. At the beginning it was difficult and almost frustrating trying to keep our ideas within the given budget, but looking back, this is what designing projects will be from now on. In the real world there will always be a real client with a real budget and our design will need to stay within that budget. This project has been an awesome experience to prepare us for this next step in the future that we would not have gotten had we not signed up for the Design+Make studio.

Projects similar to this should be a required part of our curriculum. They do not need to be projects that get built, but all students should have to design a project within a given budget. Compared to the way that we have been designing since we started school, designing with a set budget is a different process and not something that can just be ignored. I feel that by taking the Design+Make studio and getting the chance to experience what it is like to design when there is a constraint of a budget, I have prepared myself more than some of my peers who have not gotten the chance to design this way. Designing within a set budget is not just a onetime experience that is good for everyone to go through, but it is an experience that we will be going through for the rest of our professional careers and won't ever be able to escape. After graduation, we will never get to design a project again that does not have a set budget that causes restrictions on the way that you can design. We will not be able to design the almost impossible masterpieces that we have in prior years, because the client will never be able to afford them. This is why I feel it is important for all students in the design profession to get the experience to design a project with a set budget. Not only is it a new experience with new things to learn and obstacles to overcome, but it is an essential tool that we should all have to move forward in this field. 

Written by Kaitlyn Portner

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