A Scalable Approach to Renovation

An integrated, informed process provides a framework for clients to develop options that bring out a project’s full potential.

Renovation projects rarely come with a defined scope. Often there is no budget or detailed plan. There’s an idea of what needs to be done, but not much else beyond some initial concepts. In the traditional approach, designers simply take the idea, develop plans and fulfill the obligations of the contract.

Opportunities are often missed in this standard process. A more detailed, holistic exploration of the project can uncover new ideas, different options and create a better evaluation of the issues that will need to be addressed. Far too often, the process misses the true potential of a facility or badly underestimates the unseen structural and environmental issues. Owners spend too much—or too little—for a design that doesn’t always meet their goals.

We’ve developed a scalable approach to renovating or repositioning projects that provides a framework to explore different options. As an integrated firm, we take an all-inclusive view of the existing infrastructure, using our multidisciplinary team to evaluate the life cycles of the building and site systems to provide a thorough response to help our clients make informed decisions. Early in the process, this integrated approach provides important data and research on potential concerns, such as environmental effects, historical significance, codes and entitlement overlays.

On a wide variety of projects, we’ve been able to develop unexpected uses, find efficiencies and maximize the value of an aging or underutilized property. The scalable approach allows us to present a full vison for the project and build a more complete scope than our clients might have originally envisioned.

Hempel Insight 1

As the process progresses, LPA develops a list of strategies that can be classified into one of three categories:

These are simple, low-dollar steps that can have immediate impact. It can be anything from furniture and wayfinding to exterior planting. The changes are simple and targeted to demonstrate a quick change.

These changes have a bigger dollar value, but they start to move the needle in a bigger way. Spaces are redeveloped and the programming may change. The elements create something new but maintain the “bones” of the structure.

These are the elements that will be transformative, strategies that have the potential to redefine the project. Maybe that’s adding a new atrium to an existing industrial building or adding square footage or outdoor space for another program. These might be big-ticket items, but they also have the potential for big payoffs.

Once we’ve determined the viable options, we analyze different strategies with the client. Typically, we like to bring in a contractor to provide an itemized cost for each strategy. Working with a preferred contractor partner, we can create a more reliable model of the scope, costs and quality of the options. In many cases, the involvement of the general contractor in the pre-construction stage brings a real-time understanding of current market pricing and a more realistic understanding of complete project costs. In some of our most successful projects, this general contractor has stayed on the project through the end of construction, becoming an integral project team member. When competitive pricing is a concern, the general contractor has the opportunity to triple-bid their subs to create the desired level of involvement from the trades.

At the end of this stage, we have all strategies on the table with a line-item cost for each strategy. We work with the client to evaluate the different options—including discussions about leaseability, marketability and budget—to help determine what will give the owner the best return on investment. What can (and should) be done to this building or property that would make it stand out among its competitive set? Ideas and solutions are prioritized, and the final project scope is co-authored to maximize value.

Hempel Insight 2

The scalable approach allows clients to pick and choose their best options. They may say they want to do all of the options in the small bucket and two options in the medium, which make sense and align with the big idea behind the project. Or maybe they decide that the small and medium changes won’t achieve the goals and that they need to redefine the project in the marketplace with large-bucket moves.

Our integrated team plays a key role in this process. A traditional architecture or interiors firm would simply address the client’s scope of the project and submit a proposed fee. LPA’s scalable approach considers all the elements and presents informed answers to key questions. Is there a need for a seismic upgrade? Is there a need to upgrade the building systems? A long list of issues can arise during our initial investigation that wouldn’t be uncovered until later if a client is working with only the architect.

There’s a different type of investigation that happens when we have everybody at the table. All topics are up for discussion. Are there opportunities within the site’s zoning overlay or entitlement? Do new alternatives to building systems exist? We often engage our research arm, LPAred, to help learn more about the community and the performance of comparable projects.

We’ve seen this approach pay dividends time and time again. Based on previous experience, a client may have settled on a plan without exploring other options. Perhaps a developer wants to turn an old industrial building into office space but hasn’t considered the environmental issues. One LPA education client wanted to turn a vacant big-box retail space into a learning annex but hadn’t considered all of the structural and mechanical requirements.

The scalable approach allows clients to pick and choose options that are realistic and effective within the constraints of their budgets and goals. Once the strategies are chosen from the overall list, that becomes the scope of the project. Fees are set, the team is in place, and clear goals are established. Based on the established information, the contractor can build a reliable schedule and construction sequencing to complete the project.

For clients, this approach offers a much better understanding, early in the process, of a project’s requirements and potential. They have the opportunity to explore ideas and consider options they may not have imagined, creating a building that works on all levels.

Keith Hempel specializes in designing commercial projects focused on sustainability, energy efficiency and human health and well-being. In his two-decade career with LPA, he has contributed to numerous award-winning projects, championing integrated and collaborative design practices to improve a project’s response to the environment and the client’s goals.