The Master Plan is a great architectural tool. It’s great for design and also offers substantial value for a customer in the right situation. A Master Plan is used in residential architecture typically for larger projects that involve two or more potential construction phases done over a number of years.

3 dimensional master plan

3 dimensional master plan

In large architecture firms, the Master Plan might be used for the purpose of developing a broad, long-range overview of, for example, a campus of buildings to be developed over a number of years.  A client may have need or financing for only a portion of the project in the near term, but needs a broader scope, longer term project outline.  For much larger projects, this is called urban planning.  For our firm, which specializes in residential additions and remodeling projects, the principle is the same, but on a smaller scale.

Small master plan

Small master plan

If a prospective client comes to us with a number of planned household changes that they intend to phase over a number of years, we will often propose a Master Plan Study.  The Master Plan helps the client visualize the finished product and it informs both us and the client regarding the phasing of the work. Also, looking at the whole ensures each component of the design functions with the others.  It also minimizes the amount of earlier work that will need to be undone in later phases.  Often, we’ll determine during the study that upgrades to the structure or mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems that will be necessary for a later phase of work make more sense to complete earlier in construction.   These upgrades typically are structural and MEP’s.  For example, think about what would be done differently if we had already planned your addition of a second and third level to that one story addition you’re having us add now.  The Master Plan also helps us put a much tighter budget range on the project.

From the client’s perspective, there are other advantages.  It’s a great way to ease into the homeowner/architect relationship since the Master Plan costs a lot less than a full design process—like speed dating with AutoCAD.  We structure the Master Plan costs at around 20-30% of our full design process cost.  For a reasonable investment, you get the value of a set of preliminary drawings for each phase, estimated construction costs to take to the bank, and a sense of what’s possible.  During this period, you can begin to develop a working relationship with and trust in us, and vice versa.

We find we have the best success when we set expectations early and often. This is a great mantra and even better when it’s put into writing.  As part of our Master Plan proposals, we always outline what our processes and costs will be for the full design. A downside to the abbreviated design process is that Master Plan Studies are likely to extend the total number of weeks a project spends in the design process.

Sometimes the best design solutions are obvious, but exceptional design and space planning usually takes a little time. In the right situation, this is an option we highly recommend you consider.