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How to Achieve High Quality Cost Effective Design


Architectural design is often associated with high costs, with many assuming that only those with deep pockets can afford quality design. However, this is a common misconception that overlooks the importance of ingenuity and creativity in the design process. In fact, quality architectural design is not mutually exclusive from inexpensive design, and in many cases, cost-effective design can even enhance the quality of the final product. Here we will explore a variety of methods that can be used to bring interest to design without adding cost.

Many of Baran Studio’s designs use standardized, off the shelf components coupled with amplification of existing conditions to achieve cost effective results

Taking Advantage of Availability

One way to achieve quality design while keeping costs low is by using readily available inexpensive materials and methods. Rather than relying on expensive, imported finishes and materials, designers can focus on maximizing the functionality and aesthetics of the space with more cost-effective alternatives. Simple and elegant designs can be achieved with 'off the shelf' materials. These are typically readily available, which reduces lead times and potential delays. They also implement standard sizes and shapes that can reduce material waste and play well with other materials, ultimately and lowering costs. More on this under 'prefabrication' below.

Baran Studio’s 53rd Street project uses inexpensive materials in unique configurations to make an impact

Keep it Simple

Examples include siding, windows, and roofing to interior elements such as countertops and fixtures. More specifically, exterior “off the shelf” finish material includes metal, wood, and cementitious materials. Corrugated metal can be used as an affordable and durable siding material that adds an industrial aesthetic to a building. Cement fiber board is another siding material that is low-cost and low-maintenance while still offering a sleek and modern appearance. These materials can be combined with other simple elements, such as plain concrete or exposed structural elements, to create a visually interesting and cost-effective design. By using a mix of affordable materials and creative design solutions, it is possible to achieve a high level of quality in architecture without breaking the bank

Baran Studio’s Armory Lofts expressed many structural, plumbing and mechanical elements to achieve a dynamic aesthetic economically

Maximize Composition

Using standard materials in a unique composition can create a one-of-a-kind design. For example, by varying the orientation of wood boards or shingles, a striking pattern can be created on the exterior of a building. A creative use of color, texture, and patterns can also make a significant impact on the overall design. Additionally, incorporating sustainable and energy-efficient design elements, such as strategically placed windows and natural ventilation, can enhance the quality of the space while also reducing long-term energy costs.

Despite the misconception that quality architectural design comes at a high price, it is possible to achieve quality results with a limited budget. By focusing on ingenuity, creativity, and a balance between functionality and aesthetics, designers can create beautiful and useful spaces while keeping costs low. With a bit of planning, research, and a willingness to explore alternative solutions, it is possible to achieve quality architectural design without breaking the bank.


Construction projects can save cost and achieve unique design by taking advantage of the inherent qualities in modular and prefabricated components. Further, these systems can be modified and combined in unique ways to create a distinct design without the need for wholly custom fabrication, saving time and money.

It is important to note that prefabrication comes in several different configurations, including the major categories of standardized precut building materials, prefabricated building components, and volumetric modular. Each of these has different advantages when it comes to creating high quality cost effective design. We will explore each below.

The design of 1888 MLK takes advantage of volumetric modular construction by expressing the modules in the building form and standardized prefab panels on the exterior of the building.

Capitalize on Standardization

AS noted above, standardized, pre-cut building materials serve as a fundamental aspect of prefabrication. This approach involves manufacturing standardized construction materials off-site, ensuring consistency and accuracy in measurements. By pre-cutting materials to standardized dimensions, such as wood framing members and plywood panels as well as standard steel shapes and concrete elements, projects can benefit from reduced construction material cost, simplifying installation and saving time and enhancing quality control. The use of standardized building materials minimizes errors and waste, resulting in cost savings and improved efficiency. Moreover, the ease of transport and assembly facilitates projects in remote or challenging locations. These materials can be configured in unique ways to create highly original architecture.

This house on Wood Street in Oakland used inexpensive modular cement board panels and siding in different orientations and patterns to create variety. Color also helped to provide richness.

Deploy Larger Components

Beyond standardized materials, prefabrication extends to individual building components, including walls, floors, roofs, and even kitchens, and bathrooms. These components are manufactured in controlled factory environments, allowing for careful craftsmanship and precise detailing. By leveraging prefabricated building components, construction projects can achieve a higher level of quality control, as the controlled environment reduces the risk of weather-related damage and ensures adherence to strict quality standards.

Prefabricated building components offer several advantages in terms of cost-effectiveness. The streamlined manufacturing process leads to time savings, as on-site assembly becomes faster and more efficient. Furthermore, the availability of pre-engineered components facilitates better planning and coordination, reducing the potential for delays and rework. Additionally, the utilization of prefabricated components minimizes material waste, enabling sustainable construction practices.

This multifamily building will use imported prefabricated components that include walls and kitchen elements to help reduce material cost and speed construction.

Deploy Entire Building Volumes

Volumetric modular construction represents the most comprehensive type of prefabrication, involving the assembly of fully functional modules that can be stacked or connected to form a complete building. These modules, typically built off-site in controlled factory conditions, encompass various elements, including walls, floors, ceilings, plumbing, electrical systems, and finishes. The adoption of volumetric modular construction significantly accelerates project timelines by allowing simultaneous on-site preparation and off-site module fabrication.

This form of prefabrication offers substantial benefits in terms of design flexibility, quality assurance, and cost-effectiveness. With volumetric modular construction, designers can incorporate innovative architectural features and tailor designs to meet specific project requirements. The controlled factory environment ensures consistent quality, resulting in fewer defects and rework on-site. Furthermore, the reduction in labor hours and material waste contributes to cost savings and increased sustainability. As with other prefabricated elements, modules can be expressed in the design to provide more variation and interest.

MacArthur Annex implemented used shipping containers as volumetric modular elements that were built off site and craned into place after foundations were poured. Unlike typical wood modular, no exterior skin was necessary.

Working with an experienced architect that can make the most of prefabricated elements is essential to achieve the highest design quality and receive the benefits of prefabrication. Implementing prefabrication can lead to architecture that is equally or more exciting than custom fabrication if your designer understands how to take advantage. Modules and prefabricated elements can be highlighted in a design enhancing the positive qualities of prefabrication and expressing their form. Giving a voice to these aspects, rather than attempting to cover or disguise them, can lead to unique proportions and layouts in space planning and building massing.

Prefabrication in its various forms presents an array of advantages for creating high-quality, cost-effective designs. From standardized, precut building materials to prefabricated components and volumetric modular construction, each configuration offers unique benefits, such as improved quality control, reduced construction time, minimized waste and unique design opportunities. By embracing prefabrication, the developer can unlock new levels of efficiency, sustainability, and innovation, paving the way for a future where quality and affordability go hand in hand.


Baran Studio created a dynamic entry space from what was a dead and unused stair access. This project boosted the presence of the property at the street level, and gave occupants a quality experience when coming to the workplace.

In this section we will delve into space planning and interior design. These aspects play a crucial role in creating quality designs without adding unnecessary costs. By considering functional adjacencies, efficient circulation, flexibility, creative use of space, and the incorporation of ample light and air, we can enhance the value of a building without inflating the budget. Quality space planning ensures that occupants experience comfort and efficiency through thoughtful programmatic relationships, while quality interiors enhance positive spatial characteristics.

Baran Studio inserted a courtyard and skylights into this project to bring light and air into an existing warehouse space that was converted to housing.

Prioritize Light and Air

For example, harnessing natural light as the primary source of illumination makes better space. Light, bright interiors have positive effects on perception of space and the well being of occupants. This also reduces the need for artificial lighting and lowers energy consumption, and can also provide natural ventilation that avoids ‘sick-building’ syndrome. Strategic window placement and orientation can create an open and connected atmosphere with the outdoors, which has further benefits to occupants.

In this warehouse to workspace conversion, Baran Studio grouped and located discrete functional elements such as bathrooms and kitchens and placed them at the perimeter near existing plumbing access, creating and open, flexible plan.

Provide Open Flexible Space

Moreover, incorporating flexible spaces can be a cost-effective solution. This includes utilizing open, column-free plans, relocating infrastructure to a core or perimeter, providing generous height and large openings for access and outdoor connections, and even incorporating movable partitions. These adaptable spaces can accommodate changing needs and foster a sense of spaciousness without requiring additional square footage or costly reconfigurations. When open, flexible spaces are not feasible, the proportions of rooms and spaces become vital in shaping the overall perception of quality in a building. Appropriately sized rooms enhance functionality and contribute to the overall aesthetic.

In this garage to ADU conversion, Baran Studio took existing unused volume in the space and converted it into a sleeping loft while still maintaining an open, vaulted feel.

Think Creatively about Space

Creative use of space is also an effective design strategy. By maximizing the potential of every square foot, architects can create functional and visually appealing environments without the need for excessive square footage or costly expansions. This can be accomplished by finding use for unused or ‘found’ space. By harnessing the power of innovative space utilization techniques, designers can deliver high-quality designs that are both budget-friendly and visually impactful.

Baran Studio deployed operable partitions in this warehouse to live / work conversion to create flexible space that can serve multiple functions

In this series we have explored the methods of high quality cost effective design including materials and methods, interior design and planning aspects, and deploying prefabrication. Through these methods, the misconception that quality architectural design comes at a steep price can be dispelled - it is indeed possible to achieve exceptional results within a limited budget. We can achieve high-quality architectural design that is functional, aesthetically appealing, and affordable.

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