The Past, Present and Future of Prototypical Architecture

From a 40,000 foot view, the architecture field’s patchwork of highly-specified niches is chock-full of overlapping areas of expertise. As a national architecture firm, SGA Design Group has specialized knowledge and extensive experience with retail design, health & wellness design, multi-site rollout, sustainable design (including LEED®), and more. The success of many of the projects in our firm’s portfolio can be traced back to our expertise in one important area: prototypical architecture.

“I spent the first part of my career doing very unique design and architecture. I thought that prototype architecture meant testing a new design,” said SGA Design Group Principal Mitch Garrett. “Having now spent 19 years at SGA, that terminology has a completely different meaning.”

So what does prototypical architecture mean now? Today, the practice involves the building of multiple projects according to the architectural parameters established in a prototype design. And as you might imagine, its evolution has coincided with the growth of multi-site rollouts.

Let’s take a closer look at the past, present and future of prototypical architecture.

If it’s time to update your building prototype, we’re here to help.

Prototypical Architecture in the Past

“Context is everything when talking about the origins of prototype architecture,” said Chris Goble, Chief Executive Officer and President of SGA Design Group. When big-name retailers began to introduce high-volume brick-and-mortar rollouts, our retail architects were there to meet the need.

“My introduction to prototypical architecture was in June of 1986 working on a 42,000 square foot flagship Walmart store,” said Goble. “This was in the age of BruningCAD, pen plotters, no internet, no email and cover sheets that were produced on vellum paper with a Kroy lettering machine. What we developed in Tulsa at that point was the process for high volume rollout that would evolve for years to come. Nobody understood what Walmart would become — but we certainly helped pave the way to get them there.”

Today, what many people know as “green” architecture overlaps with our work with prototypical architecture. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at how prototypical architecture plays an essential role in sustainable architecture as part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s® (USGBC®) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) volume certification.

Prototypical Architecture in the Present

“In the past, we used CAD for prototyping and there were layers upon layers of built-in options. Scripts deleted unwanted options based on site-specific project requirements,” added SGA Vice President, Chris Young.

When it comes to the current marketplace, Young says “Prototypical architecture today is geared more for the integrated building lifecycle owners are looking for and is an additive process rather than the old subtractive one.”

 To shed light on how prototyping is used currently in architecture, just look at USGBC’s LEED certification system — a globally recognized green building rating system.

When it comes to large-scale LEED architecture projects involving multiple sustainably designed building sites, prototypical architecture can play an important role in certification. Through USGBC’s LEED volume certification program, organizations can take advantage of a streamlined and more cost-effective process for certifying their building portfolio. According to USGBC, this process is “based around a simple concept: the prototype.”

In short, USGBC breaks down the LEED volume certification process into three steps: “Get started”, “Precertify” and “Certify.” The first step involves an application process, meeting an account manager, as well a compulsory orientation. In the subsequent Precertify step, documentation of an architectural prototype is provided. In the final stage, individual projects are certified and subject to ongoing audits.

How do you know if your organization should consider volume certification? The USGBC website recommends this process if you:

  • Build, own, or operate buildings that are similar
  • Have established green building practices for building design and construction or operations and maintenance processes
  • Have a large number of projects to be submitted for LEED certification
  • Feel efficiency and corporate social responsibility are important

Prototypical architecture allows organizations to develop sustainable building standards for their building portfolio while simultaneously helping to achieve LEED certification. This is just one way prototypes serve as an essential tool in the world of architecture planning today. With an understanding of the importance of prototypical architecture in LEED certification, let’s look to the future and discuss how software is shaping the prototype game of tomorrow.

Prototypical Architecture in the Future

Building Information Modeling (BIM) when used by key project stakeholders, can support a wide variety of work for architects, contractors, and owners — whether it’s designing, constructing, evaluating, or operating buildings. Going forward, the software in use when it comes to prototypical architecture will shape the road ahead.

Revit, a BIM software used by our team of architects, is one of the most powerful tools available when it comes to conceptualizing, developing, and testing architecture prototypes.

When discussing its capabilities, Chris Young explained, “The BIM platform requires a different workflow that utilizes families, design options, and linked models. It results in a kit-of-parts approach to prototyping. The exciting thing is that the open API within Revit is more powerful than the previous CAD script capabilities and is expanding the potential of automation and data-driven parametric design  — potentially loaded with information that is useful downstream.”

Architectural prototypes will continue to open doors when it comes to multi-site construction projects, LEED certification, and other new undertakings. Whether it’s leveraging software technology for creativity and innovation, or developing conceptual prototypes and putting them to the test, our prototypical architecture expertise allows clients to experience savings from certification costs to operational costs.


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