Programming+ : An Enhancement to Traditional Architectural Programming

Recently, Fremer Architects submitted a proposal to the County of Los Angeles for strategic master planning for the Department of Public Social Services. It was unique project in that the user had performed a facilities consolidation report based on Business Process Re-engineering, which the winning architect would use as a basis for a master space program.  Interestingly, the Department of Social Services was facing an upcoming increase in demand of client interaction due to impending major health insurance laws, yet the result was a decrease in footprint of the department. We began thinking, why can’t architects be involved in Business Process Re-Engineering?

Business Process Re-engineering is a concept that was first defined in the early 1990’s. Two Boston-area management consultants, Michael Hammer and James Champy advised businesses on how to cut costs and improve quality in a time of impending technological advances. The idea has seven main principles: (1) Organize around outcomes, not tasks, (2) Identify all processes and prioritize them in order of urgency, (3) Integrate information processing work into the real work that produces information, (4) Treat geographically dispersed resources as if they were centralized, (5) Link parallel activities in the workflow instead of just integrating their results, (6) Put the decision point where the work is performed, and (7) Capture information once and at the source. (Rouse, “Business Process Reengineering (BPR) definition”) To us, Business Process Re-engineering sounds like a good supplement to the traditional programming services offered by architects.

Programming is the process of defining the architectural problem, which must be completed before the design process commences. Most architects are familiar with the programming process to the point that some consider it their specialty. One firm, Caudill, Rowlett, and Scott, pioneered a scientific process for programming, that was the topic of the book “Problem Seeking” written by their employee William Peña. The five steps are: (1) Establish Goals, (2) Collect and Analyze Facts, (3) Uncover and Test Concepts, (4) Determine Needs, and (5) State the Problem. The “Establish Goals” phase exists to find an over-arching goal to set the tone of the project. In other words, the idea is to find a theme for analyzing the data, as there are many options that can become of it. An analogy would be “the sum is greater than the parts.” By collecting and analyzing facts, the architect learns about the character of an existing facility. Once facts are collected, concepts should be stated. They are not definitive architectural plans, as they are usually diagrams or non-graphic concepts. The final step before stating the problem is to determine needs. The type of needs that are determined are the practicalities of the project, including construction cost and time.

One downside to programming is it has the tendency to base an architectural problem on results from the past. Today, entities and organizations change so quickly, that the processes used even ten years ago are drastically different than the processes used today. 

What if architects study their clients’ organizational procedures, and discover alternatives to the current processes of a client? If these alternatives alter their finances, the result would be a drastically different program for the building. One example of this is the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, who initiated a company-wide program called SMART Working, which resulted in a 38 percentage reduction in building square footage. (“How Can SMART Working Help a Company Save Money?”) At one of their locations, they moved to a new building 25 percent of the size of the original, by employing a “hoteling” concept in the new building. The concept of “hoteling” eliminates any permanent work space for any employee, and replaces it with temporary stations that employees can work and/or meet at in a variety of settings, ranging from very public tables to more private conference rooms. (“Cost Efficient, Open-space Office Designs: Ditching Desks - and Privacy”)

As architects, we can be part of the conversation with owners in “re-engineering” their business due to our ability to think analytically, critically, and spatially. It doesn’t mean we have to take over the process, just be part of it. In that method, the architect in the room can provide direct feedback to business processes being debated and discussed, rather than waiting to translate business processes into diagrams and eventually building plans. Coincidentally, this act of involving the architect in this brainstorming phase of the project can be considered “re-engineering” itself as an example of the principal “linking parallel activities.“


Works Cited

“Cost Efficient, Open-space Office Designs: Ditching Desks — and Privacy.” Knowledge@Wharton. The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 19 June, 2013. Web. 12 January, 2016    <>

“How Can SMART Working Help a Company Save Money?” GlaxoSmithKline Research Triangle Park Consolidation and Workplace Guidelines. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Rouse, Margaret. “Business Process Reengineering (BPR) Definition.” SearchCIO. 1 June 2014. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. <>.