18 FEB 16 | what is conceptual design?

rist canyon event center case study


One of the best parts of our jobs as designers is helping a client conceptualize a project. Architectural and Interior Design visualization services help developers determine the feasibility of the project, find investors, and shop for a bank loan.

For the Rist Canyon Event Center project, we worked with the developer to find the best place to locate the new complex on the site, develop a building footprint within the confines of the county requirements, and explore a variety of exterior treatments.

step 1 | understand the site

For new build architecture projects, we need to consider local Zoning Ordinance and Building Code Regulations, pedestrian and vehicular access, parking, solar orientation, predominant breezes, views, drainage, ease of construction phasing, and the environment as a whole before we can start developing massing concepts. We believe buildings should take advantage of the forces of nature, rather than resist them. (Not many manmade structures are going to win in a throwdown of Building vs. Nature, right? So we figure, why egg her on?)


On the Rist Canyon Event Center project, the developer had worked with a Landscape Architect prior to contracting with WORKSHOP8, but he did ask us to make a few tweaks to the site plan. He did not want to pay us to visit the site, but with Google Earth we were able to investigate the site virtually. It isn’t as good as going in person, but it provides a lot of information and allows us to work on architecture projects that are not economically feasible to visit in person.

step 2 | define the program

Before we can start designing, we need to fully understand the functional program which tells us things like square footage, intended uses, design intent, budget. These items are client generated and are typically provided in a written list or table. For this project, the developer indicated that he wanted to open a four-star event space on his property near Fort Collins. The event space was programmed to be 1,980 SF and a separate restroom / staging building was to be 500 SF. Stylistically he was looking for a “modern barn” type structure. 

step 3 | go pin some images

As the idiom goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” That is why sites like Houzz and Pinterest are popular for collecting images for design projects of all types. For the Event Center, the developer and WORKSHOP8 were inspired by these images:



step 4 | invest in the design process

There is always more than one way to satisfy the functional program and the budget, which is why WORKSHOP8 generates several solutions for a project. During the early design phases, we are getting to know each other and how to best work together. The client’s clear, direct, and timely input in this phase is vital. The images below illustrate some of the early concepts for the Rist Canyon Event Center. You can see how the preliminary SketchUp model becomes more and more refined over time. The conceptual design process ends when the client signs off on the a single concept that will guide the construction drawings. 

Rist-Canyon-Concept-8-11-158/11/15 — Just getting started. 







Rist-Canyon-Concept-8-25-15E8/25/15 — The first introduction of the jutting box concept. 

Rist-Canyon-Concept-9-4-15A9/4/15 — Starting to combine different design elements and refine concepts. Each concept starts to take on a personality of its own at this point. 


Rist-Canyon-Concept-9-4-15C9/4/15  — This is the concept our studio liked the best because of the contemporary wooden box element which adds a touch of glamour to the modern barn form. It seems like a perfect place to greet guests and serve cocktails. Our final our renderings are based on this concept. 

Rist-Canyon-Concept-9-21-15A9/21/15 — This is the concept the developer liked the best, and although we really liked the way the open trellis looks (it was my idea), Joseph was concerned about how it would hold up over time: he feared it would require too much maintenance. I can tell you as his wife, he doesn’t dig maintenance projects. 

Rist-Canyon-Concept-9-21-15Bbb9/21/15 — Since the developer only engaged WORKSHOP8 in conceptual design, our work was complete after this SketchUp model was produced.

side note | SketchUp is our friend

Did you know that the original SketchUp was developed in Boulder, CO by @Last Software? It was then purchased by Google and is now owned by Trimble. They still offer a free version that architecture geeks can play with. We often use SketchUp in the conceptual design phase of architecture and interior design projects.

renderings are like creating digital art

Photo-based renderings are quite time consuming and many clients do not have the budget to pay for them. We produced these images for our in-house use. It took about 60 hours to create these three renderings using several types of software and combining imagery from a variety of sources. 




what does conceptual design cost?

That depends. Factors that contribute to the cost of the conceptual design phase include the number of iterations developed by WORKSHOP8, the level of detail required by the developer to meet his or her needs, and how effective the developer is at making decisions and moving the project forward. The work presented in this case study (including our in-house renderings) took about 130 hours to complete and would be valued at about $10,800.


Shawn Berry served as the project’s designer and produced the stunning renderings in this post. Joseph Vigil was the project architect and had to have the hard discussion with the client about the client’s vision versus budget and durability considerations.


I love a good party and I was thrilled to get to my hands dirty on the conceptual design of an event center.

Speaking of a good party, I’m in the thick of planning the WORKSHOP8 portion of the 15th Street Design District party that take place on April 29 from 5-8. Mark your calendars—this will be a good one!

Thanks for reading and I welcome your questions and comments.

Brandy LeMae
18 February 2016