Each month as a practice owner I work out how much we will generate in revenue and each month I consider how much my outgoings are going to be. Like any business the aim is to create a sustainable business by matching our revenue with our liabilities. When I make my estimates, I consider as many variables as I can, such as existing projects, client expectations, resources, previous expenditure. To give myself breathing space I give myself a contingency to take into account of circumstances that I cannot predict. In a sense, my planning is my best guess as to how the month will transpire.

Circumstances change – so we need to be flexible in our approach.

Designing and planning a building is in some ways no different to running a business. For all the time that we spend planning and designing a building we cannot predict every aspect of the project. Our drawings, specification and scheduling work is a working model of what the building will look like, how it will perform and how it will be perceived by others. The time taken to consider as many variables as possible should ensure that the model anticipates the way in which the building will function in time and space.

However, the architecture model is not the real building.

Design is a process of conceiving ideas and testing those ideas against a range of parameters. It is often the testing of ideas and the scrutiny of project parameters that ensure that the model is fit for purpose when the project is realised. In building projects – which are highly complex – it is important that clients, architects and builders allow for a contingency. A contingency may be related to time, money or design issues and their importance cannot be underestimated in ensuring a smooth transition from idea to reality. A contingency should be part of every project and far from thinking of needing a contingency plan as a failure of planning – it can be an important feature of a successful project.

A contingency highlights the need that we need to be flexible in our thinking approach on site. This is not a failure of the design process but rather an acknowledgment that things may change once we start on site.

Used wisely, a contingency can take advantage of opportunities as they arise or resolve problems that may occur – for example, moving or adding a new window to capture a view that could not have been anticipated. Or having a contingency can save the day – imagine going into a project without a contingency only to find that the ground condition is very different to that which was predicted by the soil engineer. This can happen as we rarely have full access to every part of a site.

No matter how rigorous we make the design process – projects benefit from having room to move once are on site. It leads to better outcomes and better communication with key people. Maintaining the design intent throughout the design process is something that should never be compromised – but in order to achieve this outcome we sometimes need adjustments to bring projects to life.