Planning + Programming

Defining the "Right Thing"

Regardless of scale: a multi-campus university system, a large federal facility or individual work units within a department, good design should always be preceded by focused planning efforts. This process begins with defining long and short term objectives and requirements, resulting in a “big picture” vision or Master Plan as well as a highly-detailed program of spaces. In all cases, good planning derives from an understanding of the client’s existing conditions, mission, and future goals. Together we outline a strategy where the physical environment can evolve over time to support their changing needs. Collectively, planning and programming are the processes by which we define the best way forward – the “Right Thing.”

MCA Planners & Programmers understand that successfully-managed change starts with a disciplined planning and programming process. We call it “Defining the Right Thing”. We begin with client engagement and data gathering – asking thoughtful questions, listening, and providing thorough research and documentation. Only then can we assist our clients with assessing needs, projecting growth, and identifying key adjacencies, functions and migration strategies. We use our extensive knowledge of industry space standards, current trends, and the regulatory environment to help inform our private and public clients’ land use and real property investments. MCA’s successful work in this area has resulted in truly actionable and lasting solutions that have helped our clients move forward with confidence.

Planning + Programming

MCA defines Master Planning as a documented and actionable “big picture” overview of the steps an organization might take over time to bring physical assets into alignment with current and future organizational and mission requirements. A good Master Plan is comprehensive, yet allows flexibility in execution as funding sources and needs change over time. Ideally it is developed through positive and collegial engagement with the entire community of stakeholders. This engagement may take the form of interviews, questionnaires, site visits, online and social media surveys, and brainstorming sessions, in order to understand specific goals while forming a wider institutional perspective.

MCA’s professionals have a broad range of master planning experience. We have worked with our clients to develop master plans for specific functional spaces, for example, all libraries across multiple college campuses, as well as for entire installations such as installation development plans (IDP) for large military bases. We are skilled in establishing meaningful dialogue in order to reach consensus on vision while addressing operational challenges in a world of multiple stakeholders and funding constraints. MCA leverages our past experience, vast technical knowledge, and understanding of industry benchmarks and trends to assist our clients with developing master plans that are clear, holistic, and, most importantly – actionable.

Programming precedes architectural design. It provides a detailed description of the functional requirements and associated space allocations of a proposed project or multiple related projects, while also addressing the qualitative needs of the institution and occupants of the space. A program may be developed in phases – first documenting the client’s space and needs assessment, and then providing a detailed program of spaces. Proper programming, where all elements are included and sized to achieve the project’s objectives, is required in order to achieve facilities that are aesthetically pleasing as well as operationally effective, comfortable, safe and efficient for the building users and occupants.

MCA believes that an accurate program is best achieved through an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach working directly with facility managers and the various stakeholders. A complete program involves the optimization of functional adjacencies, the proper application of circulation and other efficiency factors, and a detailed description of all anticipated space needs. This includes subjective spatial qualities, anticipated occupant loads and consideration of finishes, lighting, safety, acoustical, and loose equipment considerations. It also delineates minimum expectations for the subjective and qualitative aspects of a project that impact institutional status and the wellbeing of facility users and occupants.

With MCA’s experience and knowledge of relevant industry standards and benchmarks, we serve as a subject matter expert, facilitator, coach, and translator of our client’s intentions, so they can successfully prepare for the design process. MCA’s programming efforts have helped avoid unnecessary duplication of space, minimize unusable space, and reduce operating costs – ultimately leading to higher building owner and user satisfaction.

MCA performs studies to assist our clients further define or refine the scopes of their asset management and capital improvement initiatives. Feasibility and concept studies can involve the testing of a series of assumptions, alternatives, and solutions to determine if a proposed project can meet the Owner’s requirements – whether those requirements are based on design specifics, function, budget, schedule, or other key parameters. While these studies typically do not involve detailed design, they may involve preliminary design, design test fits, and alternatives analysis in order to provide adequate data for evaluation and consideration. They often include preliminary cost estimates, implementation and phasing strategies, and initial assessments of code and permitting constraints.

We find that by the use of a feasibility or concept study clients avoid the possibility of a disconnect between an “idealized“ program, and a program that can actually work comfortably within the parameters of an existing facility. As such, we often run feasibility studies for existing facilities concurrently with the programming efforts. This serves to focus expectations on what is readily achievable and streamline the actual design process in later phases. It can also identify early strategies for further design exploration in later phases, such as the use of infill construction, additions, re-use of “found” space or space consolidations. Well-executed studies provide informed early design deliverables that have a positive impact on influencing key decision makers and project funding sources.


Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research
Expansion Study

Since 1986, MCA has been privileged to work for various Department of Defense (DoD) agencies. We support military construction (MILCON) projects from “cradle to grave” – from concept through construction. MCA’s planners assist our clients with scope development, requirements analysis, site selection, and programming, ultimately resulting in the development of a complete DD Form 1391 package. These efforts include identification of alternatives, consideration of various phasing approaches and acquisition strategies, and preparation of life cycle economic analysis to justify projects based not only on their mission impacts, but also their cost avoidance and savings potential.

MCA understands the importance of proper up-front planning and accurate project documentation – often years in advance of execution – in order to justify the project to senior leadership and have it rank well among competing priorities for limited funding resources. We consider it an honor to support our military and play a role in shaping its real property assets.


Russell-Knox Building – Military Department Investigative Agencies, Quantico, VA
719,000 square feet, 129 Acres, 3000 employees

OUR PRACTICE

No shortcuts: chasing down the options....


Crucial to master planning is the collection, analysis and presentation of data. MCA assembles the metrics on a wide range of topics to understand how all the parts of your organization are connected. The type of data varies with each study, but often includes space allocations, room utilization schedules, staff and visitor counts, maintenance reports, enrollment data, interviews, mission statements, growth projections, and business plans.

Once gathered, it is organized, analyzed and synthesized. And then we get to the real work – developing, considering and presenting option after option until we find just the right balance between all the aspirations, needs and wants of the clients organization. There really is no shortcut if the master plan is to provide the necessary institutional direction and stand the test of time.