The “best design” is a personal preference. There is no one right answer, and it depends on many variables, the major one being the client him/her self. In order to get to that ideal design- which will include the ideal layout, the ideal 3D massing of the house, ideal style and image of the house etc, there is a process of changes and adjustment to preliminary drawings. I think of this process as “getting to know” the client. What are his/hers preferences, life style, habits etc. Some clients love to cook and view the kitchen as the center point of the house, for others the kitchen is a utility area, and can be minimized. Some clients like their kids bedrooms to be as far away from their master bedroom, for privacy and quiet. Other clients want more control and proximity, and prefer to group the bedrooms together away from the more public living spaces of the house.
Getting to this ideal design usually requires a few iterations. Our process begins by providing three different schematic design alternatives, usually in floor plans for the layouts, and in 3D for the exterior of the house. We try to make each design substantially different from the others, to provide a range of ideas to the client and start getting their feedback on what works for them and what does not.
We've had clients who immediately loved one of these three preliminary designs, chose to continue with one of them, and continued with it all through construction. We've also had clients who needed a lot more possibilities, and combination of ideas from different design alternatives until they reached their ideal layout.
Some clients have asked to eliminate the design alternatives phase from the project, and do just one design. This can only work if the client is comfortable enough reading floor plans and can sketch a rough idea for their layout as a starting point. Then, we can use that as a guide for placing the functions, and general sizes of spaces, and adjust these as needed to conform with code, zoning, and other limitations that the client may not be aware of.
Why do we need the schematic design alternatives:
1. There is no “one size fits all” in the design. What may be an optimal layout for one client, may not work for another. The architect usually doesn't know his client personally, and will not know upfront what will work best for this client. He can offer a few different designs, and based on these work with the client to find his optimal design.
2. While you may think you know exactly what the design you want is, you may not be aware of code, zoning and other limitations that may affect what you want (for example, placement of bathroom may rely on location of main drain and ability to reach it, bedrooms have code requirements for window and sizes...)
3. An architect will be able to come up with many ideas for solutions that you may have not thought about. After all, that's our job.
4. Even when the client provides a rough sketch as a guide for the design, it usually needs a lot of work to make it fit the space and flow correctly. It saves some of the decisions on adjacencies between different spaces, and proportions, but is not going to eliminate all the schematic work.
5. The architect's job is to make changes and alternatives. This is the process. This is how you create design and decide what works best. You need to see variations and make selections. To get to each good design alternative out of the preliminary three we provide, there were other designs that got eliminated before they reached the client. Taking the design alternatives work off the scope of the project, doesn't really shrink the work the architect needs to do to get to the “best design”, it only shrinks the deliverable material the client actually sees.
The schematic design phase takes some time. A few "back and forth" of drawing communications until we adjust and tweak the design to the personal preference of the client. Once this is done, we have one proposed design to work with, apply for permit, and detail into construction drawings. These stages also involve many personal choices and decisions the owners need to make, but don't require design alternatives.
Here are some examples of schematic design alternatives for different projects:
Some 3D model alternatives for a Belmont single family home addition project (none of these are the final project that went into construction):
Some schematic floor plan alternatives for a Newton gut renovation and second floor addition (none of these are the final project that goes into construction), arranged from smallest addition and minimal changes to first floor (Alt1) to largest addition (Alt5):
Some 3D model alternatives for an Arlington single family new construction home. (The left column is the front of the house, the right column is the back. The first row is closest to the final design that was chosen for the project. Construction has already been completed):