Saving High Design by Digging a Deeper Hole

Architects are often thought of as ivory tower thinkers, designing glass skyscrapers and high end neo-traditional communities. But saving money? Not often.

“Anyone can come up with high design. Getting it built for the right price. That’s a trick,” says Dan McCauley, partner and principal at The Martin Architectural Group.

Working with design architect David M. Schwarz, Martin came on as architect of record, responsible for documentation and completion of the high-end, mixed-use Chevy Chase Lake project in suburban Washington, DC.  The project consists of 530 residential units in three buildings above retail and subterranean parking.

“It’s nice to work on a project from design to completion, but this one presented us with a unique challenge: to bring the project to fruition on budget without changing the original design,” says Martin’s project manager Scott Hartner.

The Martin team was brought on board after years of initial designs and planning with the developer, its partner, and the municipality.  As designs progressed, the project was $20 million over its $120 million budget. No one wanted to change the original concept, least of all the owners and developer The Bozzuto Group. 

Chevy Chase Lake photo courtesy of Bozzuto Construction Company

“Projects of this scale and complexity will always face challenges,” says Steve Knight, principal of David M. Schwarz Architects. “Design and construction for Chevy Chase Lake have taken place during a period of notable cost escalation, so creative cost control was an important part of the process throughout.”

Martin’s team met with Knight, the contractors, the landscape architect, civil engineers, structural engineers, MEP teams, and interior designers to find ways to save money. They made modifications in materials, landscaping, and interiors worth $4.5 million in savings, nowhere near the $20 million they needed. Martin decided to dig deeper.

Among the project’s design complexities was its trapezoidal footprint and underground garage. The original garage design averaged 471 feet per parking space, because of its unconventional shape.  The weight of landscaping and emergency vehicle traffic above the garage outside of the building footprints required additional structural components and waterproofing.

While the three building designs couldn’t be altered, the garage was fair game, so Martin’s team “blew it up.” That’s how it earned the nickname “The Nuclear Garage.” They started from scratch, simplifying the shape into a rectangle and adding a third subterranean level to recoup lost space. Then they did the hard work of getting approval from the original designer, and geotechnical, civil and structural engineers.  With the team’s buy-in, Martin presented the new garage design to the owner, developer, and contractor. 

“As the architect of record on the Chevy Chase Lake redevelopment, Martin Architectural brought important attention to detail throughout construction documentation and administration, combined with creativity in resolving the typical challenges of construction,” says Jeff Kayce, SVP and Managing Director of Bozzuto Development. 

“For instance, as we pursued cost reductions prior to closing, Martin proposed a major revision to the below-grade garage. Ultimately it saved the project several million dollars and will deliver a better experience to the community,” adds Kayce.

By changing to a more efficient grid design, reducing the need for waterproofing, and lessening the structural loads, the new garage saved $4.5 million. Overall, the entire design team along with Martin’s value engineering saved nine to ten million dollars in construction costs. 

President of Bozzuto Construction Mark Weisner says, “It is creative thinking like this and a lack of staunch ego that allows for a true team approach to the design process.”

According to Dan McCauley, “We ended up with a better project going backwards.” Martin solved a functional issue that saved money and increased constructability, bringing the project back on track.

Working with the same client on another project, Martin agreed to become the architect of record after the design phase had already been completed by another team. At the same time, they were both designer and architect of record for a nearby project with the same construction company. Later the construction manager questioned why the latter project consistently came in cheaper than the other of similar size and style. 

“When we start a project, we think about the things that reduce costs without sacrificing good design. We add value engineering into our design process,” says McCauley. “That’s our job.”

Bozzuto’s Weisner adds, “When I think about Martin Architectural, it is their willingness, and I would even say eagerness to be challenged that comes to mind. Throughout their design process they want to know if what they are providing makes the most sense for the client in regard to design aesthetic, function, maintainability, and overall upfront and long-term cost.”


The Martin Architectural Group was established in 1967 with a commitment to client service and design excellence. Our diverse portfolio includes mixed-use, multi-family residential, senior living communities, retail and office designs, transitoriented developments, and sustainable projects. We are award-winning architects and planners committed to delivering the highest quality professional services to private sector real estate development.

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