Nine Things Architect’s Should Look Out For When Visiting a New Building

As an architect, you are often tasked with visiting new buildings before a tenant improvement project begins. Visiting the building is an important step towards scoping out any potential issues and help find ways to mitigate them down the line. If you don’t know what to look for, here’s a list of nine things that architects should be aware of when first visiting a building:

  1. Potential structural challenges
  2. ADA issues or challenges
  3. Number of existing exits and locations
  4. Is the building currently sprinklered
  5. Is there gas service
  6. Evaluate the electrical service available
  7. Will the ceiling heights impact your design ideas
  8. Daylighting considerations
  9. Existing mechanical equipment conditions

-Potential structural issues:

Is the building in good shape structurally speaking? Is it a solid structure free of pest infestation or water damage, and will it support your design needs (i.e., can you fit all of your equipment on the roof)?

How will your design respond to a building that has potential structural or ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues? Is the top floor of an old building structurally sound enough to support the additional load from new tenants, such as increased office equipment and furnishings? Are there structural columns that impede an area from having a large open space?

-Potential accessibility issues:

Does the building have a ramp or stairway that’s too steep? Are there changes in height between floors, such as thresholds on interior doors; and are they wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and other assistive devices? Is there sufficient space for wheelchair maneuvering within accessible areas? Are the restrooms accessible? Will an elevator be required for your new tenants?

What are some potential problems you would anticipate in the building? How could they be mitigated or eliminated before you begin your design?

-Potential electrical issues:

Are there overhead wires that may interfere with work areas, light fixtures, or other equipment; and can these be removed easily enough to avoid interference when complete? Is the service to the space adequate for your needs? Where is the electrical panel located, and is it accessible?

-Potential plumbing issues:

Is there sufficient water pressure for your needs? Have you performed a flow test to evaluate you have sufficient pressure for any fire suppression system needs? If a gas water heater is desired, is gas available to the site?

-Potential mechanical issues:

Are there any ventilation or exhaust requirements for the building? What type of HVAC system is being installed, and does it meet your needs (i.e., can you maintain air quality)? Can you access the roof to install the necessary equipment? What structural modifications are needed to support the new rooftop equipment?

-Potential security issues:

Can you keep your equipment and confidential information secure? What are the planned hours of operation, or is there 24/seven access needed for tenant improvements? How will deliveries be managed — such as key card entry only after hours, or can a delivery person enter with something to leave behind like an unlocked door)?

-Potential daylighting issues:

Do you need to install a skylight or wall of windows? Does the building meet appropriate light standards for an office, warehouse, or other space with natural light requirements (i.e., can occupants see all areas)?

-Planning and design:

What was your project timeline? Was there enough time allocated in the budget to cover the modifications you need to make? What is the overall construction budget and how can you ensure you are staying within that budget?

There are so many questions and challenges that arise at the start of a project. You don’t have to have answers to each one of them, but when you enter the space you should be aware of the problems that might creep up on you. Will you be ready for them?

I’m an Architect. My favorite thing to do is create stories through architectural design. Founder of Whitewash Studio architecture firm in Atlanta, GA.

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