Building Programming: Questions to Ask Yourself When Designing a New Space

The Logistics of Leasing

The purpose of programming, also known as pre-design, is to establish a total building area, determine the building and user requirements, finalize the project objectives, and set the scope of work. Usually, this is done when you find a building that could work – if and only if – you make some changes. The question then becomes, how many modifications are necessary, and at what cost? Most client’s knee jerk response is to ask a general contractor. A general contractor inquiry can work for a quick ballpark estimate; however, architects are usually suited for this as they excel in creating the best-case ballpark pricing. An architect can also create a line of items that the client can add on depending on budget and desires.

If we have an unusually complicated project, or already have a trusted architect to discuss our needs with, then we might engage an architect upfront. Sometimes a landlord will provide their architect to try to help win the tenant’s business by assisting them to custom fit the space to their needs.

Below is a checklist of questions to ask yourself when it comes to designing a new space:

Office Space

  1. How many people do we need to accommodate in the office?
  2. How would we define our company’s culture? Are there any cultural initiatives or imperatives that would enhance the use of the space? There is no better time to institute an effort than when people are moving into a new building. The experience of adjusting to office life within a new space is rife with new connections, new adjacencies, new light, new feels, new places, and new ways for people to work together. A great concept is the LPA Architects’ headquarters. They built a stairwell that travels up through the middle of their first floor to their second floor in their corporate headquarters. This stairway is half stairs and half seats so they can use it for all-hands meetings in an open and collaborative environment.
  3. How many break rooms, conference rooms, break out rooms, training rooms, and bathrooms would be ideal? More importantly, what is the nature of each of these rooms? What is the purpose for each meeting room? Traditional office build-out changed in the 2000s with the advent of creative office concepts. This morphed conference rooms into more collaborative areas. Private offices also moved in the direction of open concept as a for people to bounce ideas off of each other and to increase density to lower overhead. The current COVID-19 crisis, however, will change this. The value of separation, sanitation, and personal space will increase, and with this increase, a new normal for common areas will emerge.
  4. What are each of the departments we have? How many people are in each department? Are these departments in need of open areas, private spaces, or their own section of the building?
  5. What areas need to be adjacent to each other? What areas need to be separated? In logistics operations, we separate driver’s rooms from customer-facing offices. In professional services businesses, we separate visitor conference rooms from back-office support
  6. What furniture do we currently have? Is it worth trying to reuse old furniture in the new building? Old furniture can be costly to break down, transport, set up, and supplement. Many companies use the act of relocation as an opportunity to get refurbished, new, or custom furniture.
  7. How will we utilize security? Are there any specific security or access restrictions needed in particular areas?
  8. Are there any office components that need to be near the warehouse or accessed through the warehouse? Sometimes this is a diver’s break room, assembly area, lab area, quality control, testing, or another area that might need climate control.

Warehouse Space

  1. What is the total amount of warehouse space needed? Break down the warehouse space into its components, for example:
    1. Shipping and receiving
    2. Raw material storage
    3. Low height pallet stacking areas
    4. Racking areas
    5. Manufacturing
    6. Assembly
    7. Packaging
  2. Are there any specific building lengths, shapes, or column spacing requirements that are optimal for our operation? For example, logistics operations like shallow and wide buildings with large speed bays. Moving and storage companies need long walls for racking.
  3. What is the minimum ceiling height needed? Many warehouse ceilings have different heights at different parts of the warehouse, with the highest part being in the middle of the building. The change in height can be 2-4’ depending on the size of the building and the year built.
  4. What is the fire sprinkle rating required? Are there particular sprinkler heads that are needed? Does our insurance have any requirements here?
  5. What kind of machinery will we be moving to the new building? Will we add new machinery? How many pallet positions are ideal?
  6. Will we be using an existing rack system or purchase new? Are we able to move inventory around during the relocation process to free up existing racking?
  7. How many amps of power do we need? Is three-phase power needed? Are there any specific voltage requirements? If we need to bring in additional electrical supply from the utility, how long will that take?
  8. Do we need any kind of climate-controlled areas within the warehouse?
  9. What are the warehouse lighting requirements?
  10. How many bathroom stalls will we need? Workers who are manufacturing materials, running laboratory tests, or assembling medical devices will need restrooms in addition to the office restrooms.

Dock Equipment/Truck Court/Yard

  1. How many dock high loading positions are needed?  
  2. Are interior or platform dock positions acceptable? 
  3. Do the docks need to be outfitted with bumpers or with levelers?  
  4. If our docks need levelers, should they be mechanical or hydraulic?  
  5. If hydraulic, is there any specific weight rating? 
  6. How many grade level loading doors are needed? 
  7. How many trucks will be coming to the warehouse daily? 
  8. What size trucks will be coming to the warehouse daily? 
  9. Do trucks need to have a separate drive aisle? 
  10. What is the zoning? Is the specific use(s) permitted? What are the parking requirements for each use?
  11. Is there a need for trailer parking? If so, how many stalls? Do they need to be secured, or can they be a common area and shared with other neighboring businesses? 
  12. Is there a need for any outdoor storage? 
  13. Is there a need for an exterior trash compactor? 
  14. Does the yard need to be fenced and secure? 
  15. Is there a need to install a truck scale in the yard? If so, is the scale a platform scale or below ground? 
  16. Are there any outdoor chemical storage needs? 
  17. Are there any exterior silos, raw materials, refrigerant, chillers, saltwater tanks, backup generators, or any other outside improvements that might require footings, screening or additional external space considerations? 


  1. What kind of building image is necessary for customers and employees? How big of a consideration is this? 
  2. How are many customer and employee parking stalls do we need? 
  3. How many shifts daily? 


  1.  Where are critical inbound cargo routes? 
  2. Where are the vital customers located? 
  3. Where are the essential employees housed? What drive times are acceptable for executives and employees? 
  4. What are the ideal cities in our target market? 
  5. What are stretch cities if needed? 
  6. What traffic patterns are problematic? 
  7. Are there any infrastructure projects scheduled in our target market that might affect our operations positively or negatively?