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ARE Series: Project Planning & Design | PPD

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

ANNOUNCEMENT: TONIGHT on 2/5/22 @ 4pmPT/7pmET Elif Bayram and I will be going LIVE on my Youtube channel to discuss all things ARE. Check out Elif's incredible practice exams at and join us here on the channel!

Let's break down the ARE (Architecture Registration Exam)! In my ARE Series I am taking you through each exam, how I studied, what I found useful, and how to pass. The forth in the series is all about Programming & Analysis (PA).

If this is your first post, I recommend starting with some of my other videos first. How to Get Through the ARE is a great starting point. I give you a rough idea of the entire exam process, what order to take the exams in, and most importantly what to do if (when) you fail. Start here and then come back when you're ready for PPD!

Watch my Practice Management video here.

Watch my Project Management video here.

Watch my Construction Evaluation video here.

Watch my Programming & Analysis video here.

Now let's talk about Project Planning & Design

Note: For some reason I was having technical difficulty after technical difficulty with this video. So, it doesn't have any text or additional visuals. Sorry! I wanted to get it out to you either way, so enjoy! If you want to listen via the podcast you can always check that out too.


Download my free list of resources here

ARE 5 Review Manual

The Architect's Studio Companion - NOT the student version!

ARE Handbook

Ballast practice exams

Testing Anxiety + Mindset

Before diving into the typical post where I talk about what you should expect to see on the exam, I want to take a minute to talk about something very real that affects a lot of people (including myself) when taking these exams: test anxiety. We can spend all the time in the world talking about details, fire separation, occupancy groups, and moment frames, but at the end of the day if we're not in the right mindset to take these exams they're going to be difficult to pass. Sometimes it’s more than just knowing the information. I could (and will) create a whole post on test mindset because it has a huge impact on the success of these exams.

I bring up test anxiety and mindset during PPD because this can be one of the hardest exams for people to get through. Some take it multiple times, I myself passed on my third try. So, it's where test anxiety can really start creeping in. It's important to develop some strategies to help you deal with this so you can push pass it and focus on the actual information you have studied hard for!

Here are a few quick examples of some strategies to help overcome test anxiety. Like I said, I'll create a more in-depth post about this so we can go into each one in more detail.

  • Visualization - Visualize yourself passing...and failing! I know we're not used to visualizing ourselves fail, of course it's not like we want to manifest that, but there is a lot of strength in visualizing what can go wrong. I talk a little more about this here.

  • Breathwork - Focusing on deep, organized breathing can help you calm your nerves and stay focused. I had a ritual as soon as I sat down for my test: I would get comfortable, close my eyes, and take 3 deep breathes. I'd end it with a smile to send endorphins to my brain and then get started!

  • Movement - One way to get rid of nervous energy is to physically get it out of your system! Before you go into your exam do a few jumping jacks, maybe some push-ups, or even a fast pace yoga sequence. Moving your body expels extra energy and allows your mind to settle down and focus.

  • Hypnotherapy - Hypnotherapy is a very powerful tool I have heard amazing success stories about. I have done a bit of hypnosis since taking my exams, which has been incredible! I did not practice it for the exams, but I definitely would have if I knew more about it back then. This can be self directed or assisted by a professional. It's definitely worth looking into if you are struggling to get through the exams!

Project Planning & Design

Now that we've discussed the mindset behind taking this exam, let's talk about the exam itself. Whether this is your first time taking PPD or your 10th, there will be valuable information in here for you. So first off, PPD is a whopper. It's a big one. I personally felt that PPD was more difficult than PDD, even though it was my understanding that PDD was the hardest. PPD was difficult because it is so broad. There is SO. MUCH. INFORMATION! Everything from materials to structures to sustainability to cost analysis to programming...I could go on. So, not only does this make it tough to study because there is so much information to pack into your brain, it's just a lot to sit down and think about for a single exam. I say all this not to freak you out, but to remember to be kind to yourself. Go through the information knowing that you're not going to be an expert at every single subject. Instead of memorizing and perfecting every concept, try to get a good understanding of the information as a whole. Try to understand why the answers are what they are, why are they important to us as architects, and how can you efficiently find the information you need to answer the correct answer.

During the exam, you are provided with certain tools and handouts. These might include contracts, sections of the building code, and plans. It's important to know how to efficiently use these resources. So you have to know where exactly to look for the information. The worst is when the information is provided to you, but you don't have enough time to find it because you don't know exactly where to look. One strategy to deal with something like this is to know the actual names of the IBC chapters.

One homework I gave to myself for PPD was to be able to name chapters 3, 5, 6, 7, 10 of IBC and have a good understanding of what they cover.

Let's dive into the specific sections and then at the end I'll give you a few extra tips and items you should make sure to study.

sections of the exam

SECTION 1: Environmental Conditions & Context


  • The first section of PPD is very similar to what was in PA. How will the environmental conditions of the site affect the design? What sort of restraints are there - topography, site elements, creeks, trees, hazardous materials, just to name a few examples.

  • Where should a building be located on a site? What factors affect this - wind, hills, orientation, etc.? You'll really need to have a good understanding of sun movement patterns, daylighting design, and wind. This not only affects sustainability but also comfort. If you're in a windy area, the winds coming from the Northwest and you place a building at the top of this hill facing NW it's going to be incredibly windy and uncomfortable!

  • How can we take advantage of the existing site elements to design the healthiest building? Always remember, the HEALTH, SAFETY, and WELFARE of the general public is our #1 concern. So, how do certain site elements affect this? Think of landscape buffers (evergreen vs deciduous trees, hills, etc.) - how can you use them to block sound, wind, etc.

  • Know about the different types of streets and access points - how should a building be located in relation to these? You'll even want to know where curb cuts should be - there are certain distances they need to be from different types of streets, make sure you have an understanding of this.

  • Where should specific items go on a site like utilities, drainage, service access, etc.

  • Understand sustainable principles as well like water harvesting and passive design. Where can you capture wind, sun, etc. depending on the exact location?

  • Know how to read topography lines.

  • TIP:

  • Concave slopes = closer spaced contour lines near the top of the slope

  • Convex slopes = closer spaced contour lines at the bottom of the slope.

  • Site planning and design handbook, ch 10 - is good for this section.

SECTION 2: Codes and Regulations 16-22%

  • Another section that we saw in PA - Codes and regulations. Codes will be really important for this exam and like PA you'll need to know building codes, ADA, and energy requirements. Always keeping in mind the health and safety of the occupants - how can someone safely exit a building? What sort of fire separation is needed between occupancies? What is designed to protect the occupants from fire, earthquakes, and other disasters.

  • Zoning will be important for this exam, so knowing what we can build - size, shape, setbacks and what sort of provisions there are to allow increases (frontage increase calculations are important!). How big can the building be using the height and area tables of Chapter 5?

  • Know what a variance is and when you can have one.

SECTION 3: Building Systems, Materials, & Assemblies 19-25%

  • Alright, now we're getting into the meat of the design (I don't know how else to describe it). You need to have an understanding how all the systems and materials come together to form a proper project. This is where an architect needs to also be a structural, civil, mechanical, and electrical engineer, an interior designer, energy consultant, lighting designer, acoustic engineer, and financial consultant. Joking...but not really. As architects we really have to have an understanding of so many different disciplines - essentially everything that makes up a building. It doesn't mean you have to be an EXPERT in all of these subjects, but you have to have an understanding of them.

  • Have knowledge of what the types of systems are and when to use them. This pertains to the structure itself, HVAC, electrical, etc. An example is if a client wants the first floor of their building to be fully open, how does that affect what type of structure is used. Or if the soils are a certain type, what type of system is needed?

  • The Architect's Studio Companion is CRITICAL for this exam, especially for this section.

  • STC - Understand the difference between sound transmission high vs low. What type of material has the highest and what does that mean? The higher the STC rating, the better the barrier’s ability to control sound transmission. Highly recommend practicing STC equations. There are some in the resource books.

  • Understand sound - If additional absorptive material is being added to a room, how much needs to be added? What values make a difference?

  • TIP: The total absorption should be increased at least 3x (amounting to a change of about 5 dB) in order to be clearly noticeable. The increase is dependent on how much absorption is needed, so have an understanding of what values are desirable and how that changes depending on the use of the space.

  • Know when certain systems are required based on a constraint.

  • Example: A water air systems would need to be used where return air cannot be recirculated for some reason, like contamination. Think of a hospitals or laboratory, you can't have air recirculating in the space because of health and safety. The full amount of supply air has to come from outside air. This is an example of understanding the WHY behind the answer.

  • Location of boiler rooms and chiller rooms

SECTION 4: Project Integration of Program & Systems 32-38%

  • The notes from the above section pertain to this one as well. Now we're taking all the various rules and regulations and implementing them into our specific building. How will the shape, design, structure, and make up of a building be affected based on everything we've talking about.

  • Example if you are located in a temperate climate how should your building be designed? It needs to take into consideration the points below:

  • It should be elongated along the east-west axis

  • It should be designed to encourage air movement in hot weather, but also protect against wind in cold weather

  • You want to minimize heat gain in summer

  • You want to encourage heat gain in winter

  • There will be some structural calculations but they will be really basic, so don't get too hung up on these. Understand more of the principles of structures, not just calcs. Like what is the calc actually telling you, what does it mean? Most of the equations are given to you, you just have to make sure you're using them correctly.

  • TIP: Pay close attention to the units in the question to help you figure out how to solve the problem. For example, on a structural question there might be 4 multiple choice answers that are all in lbs. You’re given some sort of diagram with dimensions of a building on it and are told that there’s some sort of number, say 5 lbs/sf of force acting on a building. You need to get from lbs per square foot to lbs, so you need to make sure in your calcs you're not forgetting this.

  • Hint: if you multiply lbs/SF x SF, you will end up with an answer in lbs, because the two SF units cancel each other out. So, during your calcs you have to calculate the area of something in the diagram to get SF. This is an example of simple arithmetic, but something easy to overlook. Don't let something silly like that cause you to miss the answer. Slow down and really look at what they're asking.

  • The above tips also relate to converting numbers like square foot to cubed foot and acres and miles, you need to know how to convert these types of things.

  • What is torsion, how do you calculate moment, understanding moment bending, how forces act on a member, how do structures fail, etc.

  • TIP: When thinking about certain structure questions think of it in practical terms. Someone gave me this example and it really helped with getting through a lot of the questions thinking about the answers in terms like this: "Imagine you hold your arm out straight and someone puts pressure on the end of it, that is way harder to resist than someone putting pressure nearer your shoulder." Simple concept.

  • They may ask you a question where you need to figure out the moment about a specific point. If a building is under a certain loading condition, what is the load on a specific area? The ARE Handbook has some examples like this that you can use as a reference for studying.

  • Have a really good understanding of moment and shear diagrams. The Architect's Studio Companion is critical for this. On page 31 there is a chart comparing structural spans. You need to have a good understanding of shear walls, braced frames and rigid frames. How do you properly integrate these into a building and when is one system preferred over another?

  • Fundamentals of Building Construction is also really helpful for understanding moment vs shear connections, steel and lateral structural systems.

  • TIP: For rigid frames, The Architect's Studio Companion says, ”shear walls can also be part of the exterior wall, although in this location they limit access to daylight and interior views.” This is the type of information that is critical for the exams. It's giving you the information you need to know to design a building properly for your client's goals. So, if you get a question about lateral structural systems and your client wants a lot of light and perimeter windows, you know shear wall is not the right answer.

  • You'll need to know how to calculate slope.

  • TIP: Calculating slope

  • S = DE / L and S x L = DE

  • Where S=Slope, L=Total Length, DE=Depth (i.e. elevation change).

  • So for example: S = 10' / 18' = 0.555 (or 55.5% slope) 0.555 x 8' = DE = 4.44' So the elevation at the point is 820' + 4.44' = 824.44' If the slope and elevation change are given and we needed to find the distance between the contours we could use the first equation and solve for the length. So 0.555 = 10' / L = 18

  • Understand fire and how to protect against it. What are the different hour ratings? What structures/materials are combustable/non-combustable? What type of materials can be exposed in a specific occupancy? What are the different types of construction and how do these relate to fire? How do you deal with fire ratings in historic buildings?

  • TIP:

  • 1-hour walls divide different occupancies

  • 2-hours for stairwells and elevator shafts

  • 4-hour for separate connected buildings

SECTION 5: Project Costs & Budgeting 8-14%

  • This section is small, but it's one that tripped me up on a few questions. Of course, you never know what exam you'll get so this might not come up during yours, but for mine I had a few that stumped me. You may be asked to analyze a design and calculate costs to determine which option to go with. I literally used to do this for work! I worked on estimating at a construction firm for over 4 years and this portion still tripped me up a little. So below are a couple tips.

  • TIPS:

  • Go through the ARE Handbook and practice all of the cost estimating calculations. Not just in the PPD section, but in all of the sections! Do them over and over until they make sense and come easily.

  • Just like in the structural calcs, pay attention to the UNITS they are asking you for. They may want the answer in cost per square yard of a material, but then the question only provides a square foot number. Make sure you know how to go from square foot to square yard! I know the new whiteboard system is so much more cumbersome than a good ol' fashion pencil and paper, but try to write out these units in the equation as you go so you don't forget to convert it. If you catch these subtle tricks, then the calculations aren't difficult.

  • You'll want to know how to do a material take off to understand how much is needed and how that might impact costs.

  • Understand when certain types of cost analysis are done - at what stage of design? Also, when one type of cost analysis is preferred over another - for example cost per unit.

  • Know what types of systems and structures would be more cost efficient. What materials can you use in your structure that can save cost?

Extra Tips you need to Know

  • IBC 3, 5, 6, 7, 10: Learn them. Live them. Love them.


  • Make sure you read through FEMA earthquake manual ch 4,5. Download my resource guide for these links and recommendations.

  • You'll need to understand parking requirements - how many spaces are needed, sizes, what's required for circulation, walkways, etc.

  • Allowable building footprint / area

  • Location of buildings on site

  • Occupant loads

  • Frontage increases and how this affects what can be built

  • Historical buildings - how they should be treated, reused, adapted etc, for both historic structures complying with the NPS standards and just older buildings being adapted to new uses.

  • Hazardous conditions, how to deal with them - asbestos, radon, dioxide, etc.

  • Know common path of travel and dead end corridors

  • Soils; which are best to build on, drainage, liquefaction etc.

  • Adjacencies: know how these diagrams/floor plan layouts work. NOTE: If you are given an adjacency plan where you need to move the pieces, don't forget you can rotate them! There are definite right and wrong directions, even if they are in the right place.

Important to Remember

  1. Understand the concept BEHIND the question. When you are studying, it's important to understand why the answer or solution is the way it is. Memorization is not an effect study method for these exams. When you are taking a practice test, go through all the ones you did not answer correctly and try to really understand why the answer is what it is.

  2. Not every exam is the same. This is why it's important to study a little bit of everything, but if you get a wildcard exam (AKA an exam from hell) try not to stress it. If you don't pass the first time you'll get it the next time!

  3. The most important thing as an architect is that we design healthy buildings. As you can remember from the first 3 exams, say it with me: we need to make sure we protect the HEATH, SAFETY, + WELFARE of the general public. So, when thinking about the site and programming, you need to think of how the different elements will keep the occupants safe and comfortable.

Study Tips

  1. ARE Handbook - Look over the handbook and see what they want you to study. Go back often to reference the handbook to make sure you are studying for each section.

  2. Resource Guide - Download my resource guide to show you what resources are best for this exam. Below are a few important areas to review in these resources.

  3. IBC - egress distances, clearances, door widths, occupancy classifications and separations

  4. ADA - clearances, ch 4 accessible routes

  5. Heating, Cooling, Lighting - read about heat movement, thermal resistance, mechanical systems, passive strategies and lighting (read if time after ASC, it will come in more for PDD)

  6. Arch graphic standards ch 5, 7, 8

  7. The Architect's Studio Companion (ASC) - This is critical for this exam and PDD. Read it cover to cover - seriously. Pay attention to pg 39 - lateral structural systems and pg 74: systems, specifically look at the diagrams shown.

  8. ARE 5 Review Manual - This manual was key for my studying for each exam. The book breaks down each section of the exam with study material, it's so incredibly helpful!

  9. Building Construction Illustrated - This is needed for understanding construction details. You want to pay extra attention to Chapter 10. This is will critical for PDD, but worth looking into now.

  10. Sun, Wind, & Light - This book is critical for this exam! Don't skip it. It's also a great book for your studio, so it's worth the investment. I have heard the 2nd edition is better than the 3rd, but I have the 3rd and it is great.

  11. Practice Practice Practice - Ballast practice exams, Designer Hacks, Archizam, Hyperfine

  12. Cornell Notes You may have not used these since high school (do they even still teach these in school??), but there is value in notes! Take notes while you're studying.

  13. Filler Words Read the questions of the exam VERY carefully. They will try to add extra information or filler words in the questions just to add noise to your head. Cross out any information that isn't relevant to what they are actually asking. Don't get bogged down by unnecessary information.

  14. Hold Yourself Accountable! Schedule it, create an incentive for yourself, join a study anything to hold yourself accountable. It's so easy to put off taking the exam, so design a way to make it harder for yourself to push it aside.

Now, what really helped me pass the third time around (other than taking it and studying really hard the first 2 times), Amber Book and Hyperfine! Amber Book really helped solidify all the concepts into my brain. I could visualize the answers when taking the test, so for me the videos really helped me grasp the information. As always, I go into a lot more detail in my video/podcast episode, so make sure to check it out! Hyperfine's questions were laid out in a very similar way to the exams which was amazingly helpful. Working through the example exam helped better prepare me for the questions.


Now before you go, here's a little homework for you right before you take your exam:

  1. Where is the fire protection required? PPI pg 314

  2. Where is the fire barrier required? PPI pg 315

  3. Answer the questions in PPI pg 335

  4. Name chapters 3, 5, 6, 7, 10 of IBC

  5. Draw optimal building (orientation, solar/wind considerations, etc.), on a hillside with some sort of water source nearby for each climate - cold, temperate, hot arid, hot humid. Name a geographic location example for each climate.

  6. Cost examples in handbook: 46, 70, 83, 100, 130, 138, 146, case studies.

Good luck! Please reach out with any questions as you move through your studies and please let me know if this has been helpful!


Download my free list of resources here

ARE Handbook

Ballast practice exams

*Note: Some of the reference links are affiliate links. This means if you purchase through the links it will help my small business. You won't pay a penny more, but we'll get a small commission. Every recommendation is there because I have personally used, tested, and highly recommend it. You will never find a recommendation solely for monetary purposes. Thank you for your support!


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