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Abstract: Programming


Once a university decides to build or remodel facility space, facility programming (a process to identify and document potential facility space needs) is the most important pre design aspect. Higher education literature is almost devoid of facility programming materials, so references are not university specific.

Facility Programming

Context. Facility programming has three characteristics: it is an information processing activity; campus culture or organizational setting is the general context for programming and for setting boundaries; and facility programming is not just an inventory but rather a process to guide and anticipate future steps.

Campuses Should  Use  Programming  as  an Important Predesign Activity. Programming occurs early in building development (predesign) as key issues (e.g., budget, scope, building quality) are identified.

Programming Is Inexpensive. Programming is the time in the building process when changes are least expensive to make and issues should be resolved.

Predesign Efforts. Facility programming is an integrated part of a larger group of predesign efforts (e.g., site location, space inventory, marketing, long-range planning). Such programming also can generate the need for specialized studies (e.g., cost estimates, parking and traffic studies, site-specific master plans).

Setting Priorities. Programming is a framework for setting priorities and comparing user wants to needs.

Objectives of Facility Programming

Making Choices and Decisions. The programming process provides information to support systematic decisions about tailoring unique project space needs to overall university facility needs.

Importance of Programming. Facility programming underlies campus resource allocations, analysis of conflicting needs, and need prioritization. As a step-by- step process, programming promotes agreement about major project parameters before design alternatives are defined.

Form Givers. Early in the development of a project facility program, certain known needs or spaces act as form (shape) givers for the building project (e.g., large or unique spaces, repetitive space, linkages to other projects). Form givers also are identified by size, scale, special needs, or required location. A facility program provides guidance to users and the design architect by organizing ideas, wants, and assumptions; evaluating needs and requirements; and communicating results and agreements.

Content of a Facility Program

Recipe for a Building. The facility program distills and presents relevant information about project area requirements (by name, function, size, environmental and comfort level, number of occupants or users).

Narrative Background. The facility program provides a baseline measure and post-occupancy results for similar buildings.

Document Conclusions. The facility program documents conclusions about campus space needs, maps future conditions, outlines directions and proposed actions (e.g., phasing), and describes expected results.

Facility Programs.   These programs describe and analyze user organizations and their needs, code requirements, estimated construction and project budgets, and completion schedules. The detailed design program lists precise requirements for the design of each room or space, including room area (in square feet), finishes, furnishings, and dimensions. The facility program identifies specific building systems (e.g., environmental conditions, lighting, security, and their controls; LEED certification factors).

Major Facility Program Issues

Issues of Budget, Scope, and Quality. The main issue affecting campus programming is understanding and balancing the relationship among budget (total amount available for the project), scope (quantity or summary of proposed project areas, in gross square feet), and quality (estimated cost to construct the building, measured in dollars per square foot and based on building materials, finishes, and means of construction). If two of these are fixed, the third is determined automatically.

Functional Requirements. The facility program must describe activities and define occupancy (by code and by user) and other related campus functional needs (e.g., parking; links to walkways, roads, bridges; single or multiple access points; life-cycle factors; sustainable design).

Unique Space Needs. Such needs can entail flexibility, growth and change, environmental requirements, image, and other trends.

Technical Standards. The facility program must identify proposed building systems, code requirements for selected occupancy, and personal safety and building security needs.

Policy Standards.   Facilities policy standards can address design or area standards (e.g., maximum square footage for offices), utilization requirements (e.g., hours of occupancy, utilization rate), materials finishes and room furnishings, and campus building guidelines.

Access. Accommodations for people with disabilities include circulation systems, entrances and exits, number of floors, and enclosed and open spaces. ADA compliance also includes nonphysical access (e.g., assistive listening devices).

Sustainability. The continuing emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability means that additional analyses might be undertaken during programming.

Programming Work Plan

Systematic Process. Programming is a systematic process where everyone who can influence the process is contacted, with written evidence of decisions, agreements, and consensus reached.

Organized Activity. At  some  campuses  (e.g., University of California, University of Texas), a highly organized programming activity offers guidance on how, when, and with whom to do almost anything.

Wish Lists. The user or school might start with wish lists, site visits to similar projects, and web searches.

Programming Consultants. Consultants or design professionals are often specialists in specific building types. A rule of thumb is that programming should be about 1 percent of project costs and should save even more by efficiently meeting building user needs, identifying all needed space, eliminating unneeded or duplicative space, and supporting an earlier start of the design process.

Programming Process

Steps  in  Programming.   Programming  often  has  11 steps that overlap to some degree, can be performed simultaneously to allow interaction and feedback, and create defined products.  (1)  Establishing  a  user (building) committee requires  choosing  members charged with preparing a project program and initial occupation-driven  space  need  projections.   (2) Reviewing campus documents (or listing assumptions) focuses on academic and use plans, user  traits, enrollment and growth,  proposed  project  description and budget, and operational policies, standards, and strategic plans.  (3) Determining project functional needs depends on project justification, functions, activities, and internal environments and is based on interviews and estimates of functional requirements and facility needs by construction phases. (4) Illustrating relationships among activities (e.g., safety, security, maintenance, delivery, communication links) and other campus requirements (e.g., site improvements, utilities, communications, system capacity and location) requires analyzing relationships among facilities (e.g., use diagrams for major spaces), shared space options, facility and access point locations, adjacent space diagrams and utility requirements (see Figure 4.2). (5) Determining growth patterns as exactly as possible based on university enrollment (by campus) for the past 3 years and the next 10 years, phase-specific facility components (fixed and variable size), and refined construction phases. (6) Translating functional needs into planning guidelines sometimes is a formal process and includes defined and flexible spaces, building and environmental sustainability performance criteria, and LEED. (7) Identifying occupying units, functions, and support facilities enables target space assignments to each activity based on interviews, workshops, documents, and programmer knowledge. (8) Determining general and specific space requirements for each develops a precise building facility program based on a specific methodology (see Figure 4.3). (9) Diagramming building components (e.g., height, width, bulk) produces simple or elaborate diagrams. (10) Preparing specific room data sheets for each individual and distinct space requires coordination with users and campus facilities personnel and communicates draft baseline information (e.g., architectural criteria, system controls, furniture criteria, minimum ceiling heights, special conditions and needs) for review. (11) Assisting the user committee in preparing project documentation (e.g., final report, with executive summary, technical details, specification outline, cost model, signoff approval sheet).

Adjacency Diagram

Figure 4.2. Adjacency Diagram, Small College Administration Building, First Floor
Source: Ira Fink and Associates, Inc.

Scheduling. Programming often includes proposed project scheduling (e.g., construction document preparation, building construction, commissioning, occupancy) that generally outlines remaining process steps and milestone dates and is supervised by a project manager who updates the building committee.

Key Programming Skills

Useful programmer skills include (1) communication (listening to users and informing decision makers), (2) human relations and empathy to identify user needs, (3) avoidance of user wishful hearing, and (4) attention to detail, including document review and stakeholder concurrence.

Figure 4.3. Sample Facility Program Space Name and Area Listing OFFICE MEETING AND CONFERENCE

APPA UNIVERSITY – Estimate of Square Footage Requirements




Program Area/Space Name


IFA Room Type Code

No of Stations per Space  

No of Space


Total No. of Stations


ASF/Stati on or Unit


Space Size (ASF)

toptal Assign, squre Footage  



Office, Meeting and Conference
Faculty Offices 312 1 20 20 120 120 2,400
Adjunct Shared Offices 313 3 3 9 120 360 1,080
Conference Rooms 350 40 2 80 20 800 1,600
Meeting Rooms 680 20 4 80 20 400 1,600
Graduate Associate Pods 314 5 10 50 50 250 2,500
Sub-Total, Office, Meeting and Conference 39 239 9,180

Source: Ira Fink and Associates, Inc.


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