Great design begins with the users: The case for programming

By: James C. Auld • AIA • CDP
When a new campus student center and bookstore complex was still on the wish list for East Los Angeles College (ELAC), the Los Angeles Community College District recognized the need for thorough evaluation of the needs and wants of many groups who would be using what was envisioned to be a multi-use complex at the heart of the Monterey Park campus. The District engaged STIR Architecture to develop a full program and design criteria for the building.

ELAC, the largest community college in Los Angeles, is a busy commuter campus, with thousands of students crisscrossing the grounds and facilities every day. The new complex would be a hub, housing the student center, bookstore, food service, health services, multi-purpose meeting rooms and offices filled with students, faculty, staff and multiple other groups with reasons to care about how the future facility would serve their requirements.

With a clear understanding of the tight site and other constraints, we began to meet with the various user groups and over several months of interviews and questionnaires, the building began to take shape in terms of needed square footage and adjacencies, access and circulation. We also collaborated with other consultants including engineers, landscape architects, lighting, acoustic and graphic designers. More layers of information, more design parameters.

The challenge was to convey not just the functional and spatial requirements, but the dynamics of this complex building and the aspirations of the college. Based on the program information gathered from the users and informed by the entire team, we developed plans for three building levels and presented them both horizontally and three dimensionally.

The entire programming phase took nearly a year and resulted in a 200-page program and design criteria document that provided the three competing design build teams with a clear picture of ELAC’s requirements during the RFP process.

Once the final team was selected, STIR remained involved conducting Peer Reviews throughout design to assure that the voices of the many diverse users who articulated their needs and hopes early on in the programming process would have the building they wanted. And ELAC would have a great, thoughtfully designed building as a centerpiece to the campus.

James C. Auld, AIA, CDP