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Feb 27

How To Manage Your Time During The Building Layout Vignette

Learning how to manage your time on the Building Layout vignette an important aspect to understand because a lot of ARE candidates don’t manage their time efficiently.

Even though finishing on time is typically not an issue with this vignette (since you have 4 hours to do it), it’s important that ARE candidates come up with a solid approach to this vignette because it can get complicated very quickly if you’re not organized.

Staying organized and managing your process will go a long way in terms of avoiding large, time-consuming issues that may come up in this vignette.

Before we get into some of the measures you can take on this vignette, let’s take a look at some of the basics behind the Building Layout Vignette:

Building Layout Vignette

This vignette is one of the two vignettes that make up the Schematic Design exam of the ARE (the other being the Interior Layout Vignette).

The SD exam is unique because the exam does NOT contain any multiple choice section. Instead, there are 2 separate vignette sections. This is unique because on the SPD and BDCS exams, where there are multiple vignette sections, you typically have a set amount of time to complete all of the vignettes in any order.

Building Layout Vignette - Final

The Schematic Design exam treats the two vignette sections as different sections. You will have 1 hour to complete the Interior Layout vignette and 4 hours to complete the Building Layout vignette.

Yes, 4 hours is a long time for one vignette and time should not be a factor; but, if you’re unorganized with your approach to this vignette, you’ll find yourself struggling to stay on track.

Let’s take a look at some of the strategies you can take to manage your time on the Building Layout vignette:

  • Analyze and Dissect the Program and Code

I know that analyzing the Program and Code is important on every vignette, but the Program on this vignette is definitely the most extensive one yet.

In the Program, each required room is listed along with the square footage and any other requirements. Included in the requirements are typically adjacency relationships such as: adjacent rooms, exterior windows, first/second floor, etc.

Trust me, I know the Program can see overwhelming but it’s important to take time and the beginning to read through and dissect everything in there.

One suggestion that a lot of ARE candidates do is they basically copy down the Program (word for word) on their scratch paper. This may seem tedious and a waste of time, but it will save you the headache of constantly flipping back and forth between your solution and the Program. Plus it may help you remember some of the information by writing it down.

Since you have 4 hours to complete this vignette, you can afford to take time at the beginning to make sure you dissect everything properly.

The last thing you want to do is get too far in your solution before realizing you forgot something. It will take you much more time to go back and fix everything at that point than it will to analyze the Program and Code.

  • Roughly Lay Out Rooms

When it comes to laying out the spaces in your Building Layout vignette, you have to understand that it’s a slow process of tweaking the design.

There’s no way that you’ll come up with your final design on the first pass through so it’s not worth it to try and figure everything out at once.

I would recommend that when you first start your design, you roughly draw in each room.

When you draw in rooms, try to keep them fairly square in shape and draw them at exactly the square footage that’s listed in the Program.

Technically you can be within 10% of the square footage at the end but when you’re roughly laying everything out, keep them at the right size.

Building Layout Vignette

Again, pay attention to the adjacencies and relationships listed in the Program and begin to roughly lay out your rooms accordingly.

By roughly laying out all of your rooms now, you’re able to quickly move rooms around as needed. If you were to get too far in your design before noticing a mistake, it may cost you much more time to go back and fix it.

Just like the first tip about reading the Program, it’s all about taking your time and doing the hard work up front so that you can avoid any large mistakes that will cost you much more time to fix later on.

  • Slowly Tweak Room Sizes

Once all of your rooms are roughly laid out in your design, you can begin to tweak your design as needed.

At this stage, you should have all of your rooms in the proper space, but just needing general tweaking.

You’ll want to make sure you start aligning walls from floor to floor. Remember, you can’t have any overhangs or cantilevers on the second floor!

Remember, you should be going back and forth between your first floor plan and your second floor plan to make sure you’re picking up elements that change such as lining up the elevator shaft and avoiding cantilevers.

Again, it’s important to take your time and slowly fine-tune your design.

  • Continuously Check the Program and Code

As you’re making your way through your design of the Building Layout vignette, make sure you’re checking the Program and Code every now and then.

While you’re designing, it’s very easy to forget small (or large) programmatic elements since there are so many on this vignette. Even though you wrote down most of this before you started, it’s important to go back and check as you’re refining your solution.

You’ll be surprised; you may catch something major before it turns into a major hassle to fix!

Final Thoughts

By learning how to manage your time on the Building Layout vignette, you can really save yourself a lot of time and headaches.

Ironically, time should NOT be a factor in this vignette, but completing this vignette in an efficient way is critical. There are so many factors and elements that go in to your design, it’s easy to lose track of things as you go.

Missing an element or incorrectly placing a room could be very costly if you catch it too late in the process. By managing your time early on in this vignette, you can avoid critical mistakes that may cause you to fail!


If you’d like a closer look at some tips and tricks of the Building Layout Vignette, please see the Schematic Design Vignette Guide, part of the ARE Advisor Vignette Series.


This guide will give you a step-by-step breakdown of the SD Vignettes (Interior Layout and Building Layout Vignettes) and what you can expect. The guide uses the examples provided by NCARB so you can follow along using the NCARB practice software.

Since a fatal error on a vignette will cause you to fail an entire ARE exam division, I certainly recommend taking your time to understand exactly what you need to do to pass the vignette section. In my opinion, the vignette sections of each exam are the most important parts since one mistake can cost you the entire section.