Designing Pavilions With Diligence

You have the funding to incorporate some unique architecture into your park pavilions, so what’s next?

Selecting the right architect will get the project off on a positive note, but a good architect isn’t necessarily the only element.

Selecting the proper style of architecture is just as important to a project. Take cues from the surroundings:

  • Are there existing structures you are trying to complement or contrast?
  • Does the natural environment provide clues as to what the architectural style should be?
  • Is the desired style sellable to those who control the budget?

Keep in mind that it is common for an architectural firm to develop a theme in its architecture that may not be appropriate for what you are hoping to achieve, so be sure to compare and contrast firms before selecting one.

Drawings And Design

Once you select an architect, it’s time to get a design on paper. Design fees typically run around 15 percent of the actual construction costs, but these fees can be negotiated. Know what services are and are not included in the proposed fee. Land surveys, soil borings, and construction observation/administration may or may not be included in the initial design proposal. Compare your anticipated timeframe for design with the design firm’s ability to meet it. All sub consultants to the prime design firm should be known in advance, and there should be a comfort level with their qualifications. All state and local reviews that are required for plan approval should be identified, and the design contract should address those application needs.

To go through a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) or a Request for Proposal (RFP) depends on the entity’s policies and procedures and may prove beneficial—especially on larger projects. Sometimes just a simple conversation with a couple of design firms will provide the comfort level necessary to proceed with negotiating a design contract. Conversations are a good way of measuring an architect’s ability to listen to the client—an attribute that is not as common as it should be. A firm’s ability to consistently design projects that meet a predetermined budget can be checked prior to accepting a design contract. Reference checks also should include:

  • The number of change orders and the reasons behind them on previous projects
  • The firm’s adherence to previously determined design criteria
  • Project cost estimates vs. actual bid results
  • Overall client satisfaction with the outcome of the project. 

Remain Active And Involved

After selecting an architect, park officials still have responsibility in determining the success of the design. Questions still remain:

  • How many people should the facility be able to accommodate?
  • What are the peak demands?
  • Will the facility be used for catered events, and will food-prep areas be required?
  • Will the structure be used in the winter?
  • What are the storage needs?

Don’t rely on someone who is not nearly as familiar with the needs to make design decisions for you. While the architect should recognize the right questions to ask in preparing the design, the more preparation you make in determining the desired results, the greater the odds will be in achieving the desired outcome. Seek advice from maintenance-staff members early in the project and keep them involved throughout. Simple mistakes can be avoided if those members involved in the maintenance and cleaning process include their needs in the design. Desired fixtures, furnishings, access to plumbing, and ease of cleaning can help make the new facility remain fresh, help staff morale, and avoid future alterations that should have been addressed in the initial design. The odds are that staff members can point to other facilities that contain elements to be copied or avoided.

The design theme needs to be considered for a level of community acceptance and respect for the surroundings as well. Are there established themes that should be respected? In Dublin, Ohio, for example, limestone has played an important role in local history. Typically, even in a more contemporary design, respect is shown for the past by incorporating limestone into the structure’s finishes.

Learn From Previous Mistakes

Years ago, a pavilion was built that continues to be heavily used throughout the year. Almost all aspects  were thought out, as both staff and user groups’ inputs were incorporated into the design. The project would have been an overwhelming success except exposed pre- engineered roof trusses were used. The pavilion has one open side, and the birds have found many roosting places—to both the users’ and staff members’ chagrin. Even with the use of various bird deterrents, the roosting place is still a flaw that detracts from what could have been a superb design.

Even if you are fortunate to have the resources to create something special, you still have the responsibility to make the most of it. Park development is and should be fun and rewarding for all of those involved. Proper preparation, focus on details, openness to design options, and diligent oversight can make a new structure into a true legacy for a community.

Fred Hahn is the Director of Parks & Open Space for the city of Dublin in Ohio. Reach him at