Design Process

One Firm

One Design

We believe that client involvement lies at the heart of every successful project.  Fifteen years ago, we saw a need for a different way to show our design intent.  Traditional architectural drawings simply did not visualize intent well enough, leading to that uncomfortable moment of surprise during construction when a client would exclaim “Oh, THAT’S what you meant.” We have built a design process around communication and understanding, where we can go beyond just reviewing progress, and have meaningful conversations about how spaces are experienced and used. This communication involves clients in the process and produces better designs.

Virtual Design

16 Years of Virtual Design Experience

Before the emergence of BIM (Building Information Modeling) software, we saw an opportunity to create an immersive design process by embedding a more visual, graphic component to our approach, what we call Virtual Design.  We adopted BIM methodologies and software to create an interconnected virtual 3D project model that allows us to view any aspect of the design in virtual 3D space at any time.  Together with our clients, we can make decisions and adjustments directly in 3D and ultimately produce traditional design documents that are seamlessly linked to the model.

The improved production workflow attributable to BIM is now becoming widely recognized throughout the industry, but for us it wasn’t just about production efficiency, it was about providing better client service.  We wanted to be more flexible and interactive so that we could spend more time refining our design and responding to client input, and less time redrawing and explaining.  


Principal-Led Team on Every Project

Since we started working in BIM, we’ve seen just how positive the process can be.  We have visualization built into every step because we use 3D models right from the start.  We’ve organized each project team to collaborate on a single model using teamwork software, and organized it around a large central flat screen for constant reference.  We can invite the client to the office to participate in meetings, or bring the model to the client, or we can bring in the client over the Internet, if that’s more convenient.

Clients understand and respond to what they see.  Accurate 3D models also allow us to show spaces in motion, conveying a better sense of the scale and volume of spaces.  We can export BIMx walk-throughs in real time, providing quick-rendered views and the freedom to walk through every space.  Recently we’ve even been able to bring our models with us on iPads out to the construction site to review progress and answer questions; an accurate model reduces uncertainties and paperwork, saving time and money.  

Sustainable Design

Embeded in Our Design Process

LWDA creates physical environments that are conducive to health, comfort, and well-being, and place a minimal burden on natural resources and ecosystems.  In our practice, sustainability is not an “added value” to otherwise conventional projects, but rather a thought process embedded in every step of project design.  From site design to envelope analysis to daylighting studies to material selection, our projects embrace a holistic approach to systems and materials.  We offer our clients a proactive, research-based, budget-conscious approach aimed at delivering cost-effective, maintenance-friendly, healthy buildings.  

We consider short term performance metrics such as daylight harvesting, total energy consumption and water use, as well as the long term impacts of potential future expansion and infrastructure replacement.  Sustainability is really just another term for good, common sense design, employing materials and systems that minimize waste, maximize performance and deliver the best value over the life of the project. 


LWDA is fully conversant with LEED requirements, and over half of our professional staff is LEED accredited.

Integrated Design

One Team and Continuous Communication

LWDA is committed to a fully integrated process of design and project delivery.  We believe that the success of a project is predicated upon continuous multidisciplinary collaboration involving all project stakeholders – client, design team, contractor, community members, regulatory bodies, and end users.


An integrated design process involves a “whole building” design approach.  It considers a building (or campus) as a living organism supported by interdependent systems and focuses on the optimal relationship of these systems, rather than simply an accumulation of components.  

For example, selection and design of an HVAC system is affected by building site placement and orientation, selection of building envelope materials, amount and type of fenestration, finishes, and interior planning, but the system will then have an iterative effect on those elements, which will be modified to accommodate it.  Integrated design “rapid-cycles” these iterations to ensure that interdependent systems are coordinated and right-sized.


A successful implementation of this process requires early buy-in of all team members to active collaboration and continuous communication throughout all phases of the project. 

Operational and Lean Planning

Shared Data and Coordinated Approach

Proper planning for acute and ambulatory care has the potential to save a client time and money in both capital and ongoing operational costs, before investing in design and construction.  A schematic plan to reorganize a departmental space is only as good as the underlying operational efficiency embedded in the processing of patient care.  A plan may seem efficient in the abstract, but if it requires a nurse to walk extra distance to procure supplies, wash hands, check patient status, chart, confer with colleagues and deliver paper work, the proposed solution will ultimately founder.  Complex diagnostic departments that rely on carefully orchestrated support services-- Emergency, Surgery, and Imaging—pose added layers of complexity.


Lean planning has been embraced in the last ten years by the healthcare industry to better coordinate complex systems of operation.  Lean planning, or lean process, is based on manufacturing strategies developed by Toyota in the 1960s to minimize waste and speed production on the assembly line, and features a number of useful tools to help document and optimize throughput.  Its application to healthcare operational planning is useful, but incomplete, as healthcare delivery is not always a linear process: diagnostic uncertainty may add to the number of possible “optimal” approaches; unexpected outcomes require more redundancy within a department than a manufacturing process; and patients with chronic conditions may suffer setbacks and need to be “reprocessed” periodically.  We prefer to fold lean planning into the larger rubric of Operational Planning, an empirical approach to process and flow that we have been practicing for years.

Operational Planning forms the foundation of all our architectural design, and constitutes the first step of Departmental Programming.  We start with a careful analysis of existing operations and outline the steps required to deliver care: physical movement of the patient, process checks by staff, interaction with information systems, testing feedback, delivery of supplies and medications, evaluation, and patient discharge or transfer (we work with several specialty consultants who utilize advanced software to model throughput and identify potential bottlenecks).  “Spaghetti diagrams” and other tools are employed to track staff and patient movement to pinpoint potential waste and inefficiencies.  Throughput is benchmarked against comparable institutions, and discrepancies identified.  Several solutions are developed and reviewed, incorporating new technology and “best practice” models of care.  These can then be vetted based on existing constraints and available resources; for example, if the preferred solution requires a new information system or pneumatic tube system that the administration is not prepared to implement, a next-best option is studied. 


The selected process becomes the basis of Departmental Programming and is used to establish adjacencies, room sizes, and infrastructure support.  Program volumes and projections are translated into room quantities, setting the stage for Schematic Design.