The Feasibility Study what you need to know...

The Feasibility Study

Where someone gets in touch with me to look at possible changes to a house, the first stage (after the “test drive” that is) is the feasibility study.

What this first stage in the design process is intended to do is provide answers to some key questions. Depending on the situation, finding out what these answers are can involve some work, more work, or a lot of work. And it can involve just the client and myself, or us both plus other professionals, or builders or more. There have been times where people have shown me around a house (in one case someone just did a vague scribble on a piece of paper) and then sat back and said “amaze me!” Sorry folks, but if the answers were that easy to come by then I’d be going door to door with a  wheelbarrow full of your money. It takes much more perspiration than inspiration. And anyway, I don’t sell answers, I sell help. Service. Ideas. Advice. (And maybe just a bit of Style...) The “answer” is always a joint effort between the designer and the client because I’m designing to meet your needs, not my own. In fact, if in some hypothetical reality I could give the “right” answer at a glance, then you wouldn’t believe me anyway…





The four questions to be answered (in vague chronological order) in a feasibility study are:

  • what could I do?
  • what can I do?
  • what should I do?
  • what will I do?

“What could I do?”

This is the brainstorming, information-gathering, idea-generating first phase. It includes figuring out what you need, why you would do anything in the first place etc.

“What can I do?”

This is where reality is plugged into the possible options.

“What should I do?”

This is where recommendations are made and discussed.

“What will I do?”

This is where priorities are set and decisions are made.

I could go into more detail on each question but for the moment it’s probably easier to keep it simple.

The reason to ask and answer these questions is so that the solution is properly matched to the problem. And so that the problem itself is fully and properly stated. If you don’t have this then you could have one or more of the following:

  • a design solution you can’t afford
  • a design solution that you won’t get planning for or otherwise can’t implement
  • a design solution that isn’t actually solving the problem
  • a design solution that causes new problems

This is a sure road to frustration and disappointment, especially if you have fallen in love with your unrealistic solution.

But the beauty of creative thinking is that it doesn’t see realistic constraints as negatives, just as the rules of the game (which means you have to know them in order to play. Remember this when I’m asking you how much you have to spend). Constraints on budget, time, space, materials, requirements etc. play a key part in any creative success. Just count the number of words on Google’s homepage and ask if these limit its design quality.

And a further point to stress is that the aim here is not to get to the first solution, it is to get to the best solution. (Years of pain in architecture school are required to be able to step away from an idea that you like but that isn’t working. I worked with an architect from Berlin at one point and she told me her teachers put it like this: “we have to be able to drop our darlings”). This applies equally to clients as well as designers if we are to get to that best solution.

In many cases there are elements of this feasibility process that run throughout the project. Planning, for example, can take months to get the final word on. And many clients will work out what’s feasible by trial and error. That “error” could be a planning refusal, a builder’s price way out of line with expectation, and so on. But my aim is always to answer the four key questions above as early as possible. You could call this “no-surprise design”.

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Footnote:

In part this was learned in my previous life as a “big” architect, working on large projects for property developers and corporate clients, where there were commercial decisions riding on what we were designing. You could always tell the good from the cowboy by the seriousness with which they approached the early stages – the good guys wanted valuable information and bases covered, accepted that this would take time and were willing to pay for it. The cowboys acted like they couldn’t lose money and didn’t have time to be thinking about what was feasible or not (too busy at various racecourses I suppose), while simultaneously wanting everything to be too big, too cheap and done yesterday.

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About Small Spaces

small spaces is a one-man architectural practice dedicated to helping people find the best way to add space to their home, or to make the most of what they’ve got. You can find out more here.