A True Story Behind the Pavilion Project from One of the Architects

Hi, my name is Mike Davies, I’m an Architect by training, but not the Architect who designed the Pavilions. That was down to Mike Hope of Roderick James Architects in Totnes, Devon. I drafted the design brief that all Architects need, to help them in their task of designing a building. The brief is a document that tries to explain in detail the client’s requirements. It lists the range of room sizes for rooms of differing function, from rooms in staff accommodation, to student rooms that would have single, dual and occasionally triple occupancy. Bathrooms, shower rooms and storage areas also have to have area allocations. It is also important to try to explain how you see the building functioning in terms of circulation, security and practicality.

The Pavilions Project

At the end of the process, I pretty much knew how much space would be taken up by all the various types of rooms…what I didn’t know, was the area to allocate for circulation and wall thicknesses. It is important to know these things, because I had also been asked to give an estimated cost, to the trustees of the school, and the simplest way to do this is to calculate the total floor area of the proposed building, measuring around the outside of it, not inside the external walls. From the resultant area one can apply a cost per square metre based on the level of finishes and type of construction envisaged. In the case of the Pavilions, I used a figure of £1,500 per square metre.

Anyway, getting back to the thing I didn’t know, the area to allow for wall thicknesses and circulation, I took a stab at it and thought 20% ought to about do it. When I multiplied the new total floor area by the cost per square metre, miracle of miracles…it came out to exactly match the budget. I was very pleased….but somewhere in a dark, forgotten recess of my mind, lurked that old adage “Pride comes before a fall….” Later that night, I woke in the early hours with the thought “What if I’m wrong?” What if the circulation plus wall thicknesses turns out to be greater than my “guesstimate”…then I’ll be in trouble. But how do I resolve this? The only answer….design the building and measure it! That way I could be sure.

Hah…the design came quite quickly, no masterpiece to be sure, but adequate for the task at hand. Shock horror at the result…no way…I measured and re-measured, calculated and re-calculated…the answer came out at almost 70%. I could not believe it. In my wildest imaginings I would not have come up with such a large figure. Now I had a very real problem…I had gone to bed earlier that night confident that I was a genius. In a matter of only a few hours I saw myself quickly packing my bags and scurrying back to my home in New Zealand, tail between my legs. I was well and truly over budget.

In such circumstances, there is only one practical step you can take to get back within budget…reduce your aspirations. More meetings followed and we eventually came to the present solution, much trimmed from the original concept, with an overall floor area of a little over 1000square metres. Later on, when we were interviewing some Architectural firms to undertake the design work, I was quite relieved to hear their response to my question, lightly slipped into the conversation…”Just as a matter of interest, how much of the total area do you think is taken up by circulation and wall thicknesses?” They all fidgeted in their seats, twitched, looked first at the ceiling then at their shoes…their pain almost palpable, and then each confidently replied…………. “20% I guess”.

Mike Davies, Architect from New Zealand

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