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  • Writer's pictureDiego Mendez Arce

A DESIGN-BRIEF, the First Step in Successfully Designing and Building a Home in Costa Rica

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

What is a Design-Brief?

A Design-Brief is generally a document that accurately depicts the “DNA” of your project, and it is the anchor point of the project and the first step to a successful outcome. Some architectural firms will have you write one in the form of a questionnaire or an application. Some will give you more freedom to come up with it your own way. Do not just think of it as a list of rooms your house will have; it is something entirely different. This document should answer things like, Who are we? What is our life-philosophy? What will we use this home for? What is our lifestyle? Do we love to have friends come over all the time? How often do we have guests spend the night? Do we work from home a lot? What is the minimum life span we expect from the project? Do we have any particular intentions or requirements for the family home?.

It is important to emphasize the later and not just the list rooms and spaces. You see, physiologically speaking, we’re all very similar creatures and therefore our spatial needs are similar, but as individuals each one of us is a very unique human being, and that is where the secret lies, great design among other things appeals to your uniqueness, hence, if the Design will be based on the Design-Brief, this document has to be a pure reflection of your essence and accurately portray what makes you a unique being in this universe.

When do you have to make one?

Design-Briefs are typically made in the early design stage of the design phase when requested by the architect, but I believe it should always be the first thing you do, even if you haven’t found a property. Why does it come before buying the building lot? Well, because the property should be a part of the plan and not the first constrain that drives your plan. The property should be something that can support your Design-Brief because this document reflects the ultimate essence of what the house should be. The property should answer to it and match its requirements and not the other way around.

An architect is the best-suited professional to interpret your Design-Brief and make sure that your property is a match for it. Even when you settle for a property that doesn’t quite match your Design-Brief expectations you can adjust your Design-Brief to the possibilities your plot offers with the help of an architect.

Additionally, when you decide to meet with potential architects or architecture firms to hire them for your project, every single one of them will take you way more seriously if you already have a detailed document that explains the task that the professional will have to tackle.

How do you make one?

There are many ways to do one and there is no right or wrong, a musician might compose a song about it and a poet might write a poem about it, but in my personal experience the most effective approach is to write it down, the process of doing that will force you to be convergent and specific while you gain more clarity about your choices and expectations.

If you don’t know where to star, don’t worry, start with the simplest things that make you or the occupants unique, like your lifestyle. We have a saying in Spanish that goes something like this “Somos animales de costumbres” which roughly translates into we are creatures of habits; our uniqueness is almost always reflected in our daily routines.

What are you passionate about? a French writer whose name I couldn’t remember once said that the reason so many people suffer from depression and kill themselves is not because they no longer have a reason to live but rather because they lack something to die for. Meaning we need to have something that drives us every day, forget about architecture and construction and explain in layman’s terms what are your passions and your hobbies.

What is your life philosophy? What do you believe in? Of course, these are not easy questions, but if you attempt to answer them, you’ll be surprised of the results. Laying your thoughts in black and white will be the first real challenge you can posse to an architect, the first trial you can make them go through when hiring one. Just their reaction alone to your Design-Brief will give you the first glimpse on whether he/she is up to the task. Good architects can come up with good design plans and structural solutions for your house but only a great one can come up with something that “feeds your soul” in a cleverly simple and bold proposal that interprets that Design-Brief into your actual House.

Once this is ready you can complement the design brief with a list of desired rooms. Feel free add images of things you like and dislike, always add a short description that explains why you chose to include that particular image. Finally, try to keep it simple yet substantial, there is no need to write long texts, the simpler the better. For more information on designing and building a home in Costa Rica, book a virtual meeting for a free consultation here.

About the Author

My name is Diego Méndez Arce, and I am a passionate, detail-oriented Costa Rican architect with over ten years of experience in the industry. I studied at the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica and The Technische Universität München in Germany. I founded Arkamos Architecture Costa Rica, a company that designs and builds homes. My team and I believe that good design feeds the human soul and has the power to improve people’s lives. We approach design and construction with a highly traceable and precise methodology to confirm that uniquely crafted residential projects are predictable in terms of scope, quality, time, and budget. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with those who are foreign to our real estate market. You can check out our blogswith different topics about design and construction in Costa Rica and its architecture here. If you have questions about how to approach the process of designing and building a house in Costa Rica, you may email me or book a virtual meeting for a free consultation here.


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