NEEDS VS. WANTS: A Bird’s Eye View of How Architectural Programming Works

Finally, you can figure out how this building will work! Work is the operative word here, because when it comes to your building, every space needs to be able to function at full capacity. In order to make this happen, you’ll need to spend some time defining the problem before you jump into the possibilities. Again, remember to think about how the overall vision factors into these decisions.


 Would you like to be able to predict with some degree of certainty how large your building needs to be to accommodate your current membership/current and future employees/etc. and allow some room for growth? This information is critical to determining your budget, beginning fundraising, and getting into your new building. You don’t want to overshoot the size of the building because your budget is likely a somewhat fixed product of what you can raise and what you can borrow. But what’s the point of building something new if you are going to outgrow it before you move in?

Accurately predicting your building’s size is extremely important, because the single biggest driver of your cost is square footage.

We are always surprised at how quickly (and somewhat arbitrarily) many groups arrive at a blog-11-01square footage target for their building. Many times people make this decision in reverse – for example, they strategize, “At x dollars a square foot, we can afford a 5,000 square foot building.” But what if 5,000 square feet doesn’t touch the needs? A wise approach is to determine very early on if your needs are in the same range as your budget capabilities. If it turns out that the needs are not aligned with the budget in a realistic way, it is surely better to know upfront so that other strategies can come into play: phasing, leasing, temporarily locating certain initiatives offsite, and so on.

In a nutshell, programming is figuring out how many square feet you need to meet your needs. If money is no object, programming is a cinch. But if money is a concern – and it always is – programming is complicated because you will need to maximize use of every space. Even if you are not considering truly multipurpose spaces, your rooms will still be used for different uses when practical. Typically, when you first list out needs and figure square footage, the number is astronomical. But through careful analysis, we can determine a number that will truly work on all accounts.

In order to answer the question of how much square footage you need to build, an architect has to know the specifics of your buildings activities. For example: How many people office in your building? What are your ministries? Do you focus heavily on world missions? How many children did you have over the course of the last couple of years, and how are you serving those children? Are you serving food to a thousand people every week? These things are second nature to you, but completely unknown to your architect, until you share your information.

blog-11-02Here is how programming works: first, we make an all – encompassing list of needs and uses. Then, your architect will assign square footages to those uses. Once this list of basic square footages is created, we compare this list to the church’s calendar to generally confirm which items should be tag-teaming and sharing spaces. The best practice for programming is to create the list of needs yourself, and then let the architect add his or her thoughts to the list in addition to assigning the square footage estimates. At that point, the team should meet together to brainstorm what areas could and should easily share spaces. This is a meeting where the architect should mostly listen and take notes.

One of the best actions a leadership team can take in this phase is to be crystal clear with design team about what is really important, what is semi – important, and what is less important. (In other words, identify items as a need versus a want.) That is extremely difficult, but that’s one of the reasons why it is so important to have a strong, positive leadership team in place to help you. These people will need to keep the vision front and center as they decide where to invest the most square footage in the design of the building. Armed with the knowledge of what the building needs and wants, and your wish list items, you can start to investigate each area individually. And that’s very exciting!

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at




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