Expert Insight: Construction

Size-Quality-Cost Triangle: A Balanced Building Project

Every building project has three sides that must be thoroughly communicated and understood from the earliest stages of project planning: Size, Quality & Cost. We often draw this as a triangle but you can also imagine you have a 3-legged stool:

Balancing these three sides/variables early in the project is crucial in having a successful project for both Owner and design team.

The scope of the SIZE leg of the triangle falls under 2 sub categories: New Construction and Renovation.


  • What square footage does the building require to function?
  • Also, understanding what area of the site will be disturbed is crucial.


  • What square footage (%) of the existing building will be renovated?
  • To what extent are certain areas of the building requiring renovation? (i.e. which spaces are being renovated, is the renovation aesthetic/intensive/both, and does the renovation include interiors/exteriors/both)

The QUALITY leg is the understanding of what the final product will look like, and life cycle cost savings should be discussed here too.

  • Interior Finishes – Flooring, ceilings, wall coverings, etc.
  • Exterior Finishes – Wall finishes, windows, roofing, etc.
  • Building Systems – HVAC, Lighting, Plumbing, Elevators, etc.
  • Space – Atrium, high ceilings, large/open spans, etc.
  • Millwork – Quantity, special features, solid surfacing, paint grade v. laminate, etc.

The COST leg naturally garnishes the most attention. Higher Quality materials cost more, and higher quantities due to larger Size buildings cost more as well.

Understanding that each variable directly affects the other variables is key. The stool will not stand if they are not balanced. Jay Labarre likes to say, “You’re the Client, so we’ll allow you to chose 2 of the 3 variables to control. If you choose the size and quality, we’ll tell you what it will cost. If you choose the budget and size, we’ll tell you what quality you can expect. You can’t have all 3.