The design/build process is a journey. It can be one of life’s great adventures and yield multiple rewards. We invite you to raise your expectations of what conceiving, designing, and building a beautiful high performance building can be.
Buildings and landscapes are complex systems of interrelated parts that must work seamlessly together to assure great aesthetics, function, and performance. A South Mountain building works: it’s beautiful, durable, healthy, comfortable, and it costs less to operate and maintain.
- South Mountain is one of the few companies that fully integrates architecture, building, engineering, and renewable energy
- We center our entire process on one simple goal: to create projects that are positive and uplifting experiences for all participants
- We use clear communication processes to help you conceive of your project and manage it. We are, first and foremost, your guides
We help you enjoy the journey.
At the core of our Design/Build process are the principles of accountability and transparency.
Accountability means carefully documenting how design decisions affect the overarching project goals. Transparency means inviting all stakeholders to see and understand these implications throughout the process.
South Mountain’s ability to balance art, craft, and science results from the security and simplicity of single entity responsibility. The full integration of architecture, building, interiors, engineering, and renewable energy resides in one office, dedicated to pulling toward one bottom line: yours. It’s fundamentally different from anything you will find elsewhere.
The process begins with a meeting or meetings between you, John Abrams, (our CEO) and often Ryan Bushey, our most experienced Architect and Co-Manager of design. We introduce you to SMC – to our values, our projects, our methods, our people. We will look at your property, or a property you are considering, and brainstorm about possibilities with you. We may take you to see some SMC projects.
If there seems to be a good match, and you decide to work with SMC, both parties sign a design agreement to begin the project in earnest.
While one of our five architects shepherds each project through design and construction, an SMC project is entirely a team effort, with many individuals playing important roles during the design and construction.
The start of the design process – the information gathering stage – begins with discussions, a questionnaire, an in-depth study of the site, and some visits to SMC projects. We listen, we digest, we learn. Once we understand your goals, we produce a site analysis, a program, the budget, and a set of design guidelines for your review. When we have agreed about the content of these, they become our project beacons. As the process develops, we use them to test whether we are steering the project correctly. Only when these documents are created and embraced by both parties do we move into schematic design and begin to produce actual design solutions.
The best design tool is the act of experiencing a building
We also try to spend time with you examining past projects. These are our “design laboratories.” There is no better design tool than the act of experiencing a building with a client. We are fortunate that much of our work is in a small geographical area. We’ve built and kept strong relationships with our clients and made a point of cultivating access. Most are very accommodating because they remember the important role house tours played in shaping their homes.
The design/build relationship is about mutual trust. We build that trust with honesty and forthrightness, and by keeping promises. With clearly defined roles we can learn to work well together. We tell you when we feel you’re doing a good job, or not, and expect the same of you. When we screw up, we tell you we screwed up. This level of comfort and honesty, this abandonment of ego and preconceptions, allows space and time for the best solutions to emerge.
These relationships become a trail of events, and they become the history of our company. When people look back on this trail, we hope they see events which inspire trust and respect. This makes our job easier. Only by conducting each relationship as the most precious of gifts will we create the web of associations that will cause our practice to prosper and thrive.
We are your guides. Our job is to lead you through the thickets of design and construction. Whether you are one person, a couple, a family, a town, a committee, a tribe, or a nonprofit board, our design/build method makes room for deep collaboration among many participants and embraces surprise and unplanned course changes.
Here’s how the money part works.
We deal with money forthrightly and early on. It is an essential design constraint, and we must be able to discuss it as frankly and knowledgeably as siting, space, aesthetics, energy use, and performance.
Our design agreement is un-conventional, because we (and you) are agreeing to a design/build relationship. The agreement must address two central aspects – design and construction – in one document.
All design and planning is on an hourly basis. Design, engineering, planning, and permitting generally requires 12-15% of construction costs.
The terms of construction are provided within the design agreement, which states, “It is the present intention of the parties to enter into a construction contract, but neither party is obligated by this agreement to do so.” This says that we are both committed to building as well as design, but it’s so early in the process that neither party can make an ironclad arrangement.
Unlike most traditional architecture firms, we can competently advise clients about costs as we design, not afterward, because we have a broad set of construction skills and experience in-house.
When design is complete, we do a detailed construction estimate to establish a ceiling price which becomes the basis for a second contract, the construction contract.
Our goal is to produce places that, at once:
- Serve you, the client – as well as the neighborhood, the island, and the planet – in an exemplary way
- Inspire and enliven those who experience them
- Contribute to ecological regeneration, health, resilience, and a renewable energy future
- Develop new knowledge, skills, and virtuosity that allow us to continuously serve you better
We try to attract work that fits our mission and suits us well. We seek a constant mix of new construction, renovation, and development projects – all can be valuable and satisfying. We are as comfortable in the middle of town on an in-fill site as at the end of a long dirt road.
We evaluate each potential project carefully, in the same way that our potential clients evaluate us – to determine whether there’s a match. If it’s a custom home or a renovation, we need to be certain that the scale, the spirit, and the environmental aspirations match ours. If it’s a development project, our concerns include community benefits and the creation of affordable housing.
Many of our smaller projects are additions, renovations, and alterations to buildings we have built in the past. We don’t let go of our projects and clients (we learn from them and they keep us humble!).
“Early in the process Ryan gave us a rendering, which caused us to say, “Eureka”. We framed the rendering, which still hangs in a place of honor in our house because to us it meant that our design team understood and would be able to give us exactly what we wanted.
Over time we learned that South Mountain was a consistent under-promiser and over-deliverer.
Thus it came to pass that a month ahead of schedule and on budget our dream house was turned over to us and we moved in.
You helped us realize a dream we didn’t even know we had. Thanks to your wonderful team for everything.
In addition to thanks, love from us.”