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A time and place

When should a property manager get involved in architectural design?

By Wendy Sun, AIA, LEED AP, ASC, NCARB
Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall
Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall

What is the relationship between architects and property managers? How and when should a CPM become involved in the architectural design phase of a new construction project? As a member of the American Institute of Architects and an architect for TSK Architects, my experiences can offer a perspective on how architectural design and property management intersect.

To understand where real estate management and architectural design meet, there are five stages of the architectural design and construction process to keep in mind:

  • Pre-design. Determining the scope through research and evaluating potential problems. No actual designs are developed at this stage.
  • Schematic design. The beginning of a building’s design. Through continual back and forth with the client, floor plans, site plans, general sketches, and formal drawings are produced to outline the fundamentals.
  • Design development. With the basics in mind, material costs are evaluated. There are consultations with electrical, plumbing, and mechanical engineers, and the client selects a final design to use for their project.
  • Construction documentations. The drawings are used to create a set of precise documents that contractors use to build the site.
  • Construction administration. This phase covers the “Notice to Proceed” through final building occupation, and architects supervise the actual construction.

When should property managers join the project?

Looking at these stages, it becomes clear that property managers should be involved in new projects early during the pre-design phase; they are the ones who will manage the day-to-day operations in the completed building. Therefore, it would be in the interest of both property managers and architects to collaborate on projects, meshing design and pragmatism. Architects and property managers are united by their goal of satisfying clients.

With these stages and what they entail in mind, I asked TSK President and CEO Windom Kimsey, FAIA, and TSK Vice President Jason Andoscia, AIA, for elaboration on some of the ways a property manager can become more involved in the architectural design process.

Wendy Sun: What types of issues can a property manager assist with or provide a valuable perspective on during the design phase?

TSK: Property managers have the capacity to bring significant value to the design process. They understand the end users’ goals with regard to tenant attraction and retention, life-cycle costs, potential preventive measures associated with maintenance, and replacements and repairs. They also bring a unique and informed perspective with respect to the overall day-to-day operations of the building. All of this can be positively or negatively impacted by the design process, and input from the property manager can help ensure the design team is better informed, resulting in smarter design decisions.

WS: What has been your experience working with property managers? Have you needed to modify a design because of comments from a manager?

TSK: Some of our clients are more open to considering the opinions of different parties than other clients. Take CXTX Auto City Phase 2 as an example. This project was full of challenges. The first one we faced was related to the type of programs that should be included in this project. The client described their vision of the project as one-stop for everything: shopping, entertainment, hotel, resort, exhibition, offices, car repairs, accessories, theme park, and even apartments. Fortunately, the client was not only a visionary, but also very practical. The property management team was invited into the design process to help influence the design decisions about what program would be best for this large-scale development. With the help of the property management team, the design team was able to settle on three different conceptual schemes that were viable, focused, and in line with the client’s vision.

The property management team also provided additional comments, such as indicating that the rear side of the rentable units are more difficult to lease and have less commercial value because of inconvenient access. They were able to quantify how this would impact profitability, which resulted in TSK adjusting the design and finding creative solutions to better address those concerns, such as utilizing double- and even triple-sided storefronts that worked with the topography of the site. The property management team provided subsequent design feedback that resulted in incorporating additional daylight into interior spaces, including entertainment stores, adding an automotive-themed cafe on the rooftop to welcome family visitors, and identifying the courtyard as a prime space of the project. Our LDI (local design institute) partner acting as the architect of record, YIC Design Institute, executed the design intent very well. All of the units were leased out before the completion of the project.

WS: Property managers are usually only able to offer comment or guidance after a project is already built. In your opinion, should we seek their input at an earlier stage?

TSK: Traditionally, there has been little to no overlap between architectural design and property management. The architectural design team is typically involved in the early stages of building development, while the property management team may not be engaged until the building is fully constructed.

In my opinion, property managers should be involved in the design phase as early as possible.

In the initial pre-design or programming phase, the design team seeks out the challenges that have to be addressed, the needs versus wants of the project, and the overall vision for the project. The property manager can provide significant input here during pre-design as well as the subsequent phases of design and construction, helping ensure a successful project that is easier to lease, maintain, and operate.

Designs come to life

To visualize what these processes look like in the real world, here are some of our most recent projects that drew on property manager input:

CXTX Auto City/ Photo courtesy of YIC Design Institute, Yilong Zhao

CXTX Auto City: planning with property managers

This is a mixed-use 4.5-million-square-foot complex with an automobile theme, boasting an enviable location close to Kunming Airport in Yunnan, China, a major province in the southwest. We knew the project needed to entice a wide variety of visitors and potential shoppers. Property managers were brought in early during the proposal phase to help cull the overflowing list of potential designs and features in order to settle on a more manageable size.

B-Tech Towers/ Photo courtesy of TSK, Tianpei Zeng

B-Tech Towers: considering anchor tenants

B-Tech Towers, designed by TSK and Huayi Design, is a 3.2-million-square-foot mixed-use property with two titular towers, the larger of the two reaching 820 feet in height. Situated in Shenzhen, the fourth most populous city in China, this project was centered on its anchor tenants from the very start. Thinking about the finished property’s maintenance requirements, and how tenant selection would affect that, played a major role in its design.

Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall: incorporating sustainable technology

Modeling the principles of sustainable design, this project showcases TSK’s specialty: environmentally friendly and sustainable design—something that IREM property managers share a strong interest in. This project resulted from international collaboration, and its design captures the elegance and glamour of Las Vegas. Touting efficient lights, automatic dimming controls, digital submeters to monitor energy usage, and energy tracking tools and phone apps, the amenities of this project actually help protect the environment as well as the property’s bottom line.

The takeaway

Through these three case studies, you can see examples of when and how a property manager’s involvement can shape the course of new property development. Collaborating with architects in the early design phases offers vast possibilities in creating the properties of the future. 

Journal of Property Management

Wendy Sun, AIA, LEED AP, ASC, NCARB, is a licensed architect currently working for TSK Architects in Las Vegas. She holds master of architecture degrees from the University of Oklahoma and Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Sun is a member of the American Institute of Architects as well as the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and she holds additional certifications in green building construction.

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