Project design is the core service of most architecture firms. And though each office will have its own nuanced approach, the general steps in the design process remain the same. Developers who are familiar with these steps are more involved in the design process and often have a better experience. When everyone is on the same page, relationships are strengthened, expectations are managed, and the project’s design becomes more refined.
There are five main project design phases, starting with the initial vision of how to approach the project and ending with the final construction details. We’ve broken down our architectural design process to give a closer look at what to expect in each phase.
For a better understanding of how long a potential development could possibly take, we’ve also put together a timeline diagram that includes all phases of the design process for a typical midsize development. Although every project is unique, the percentage of time each phase takes is generally the same.
Phase Objective: Get to know the developer’s chosen site and development goals and conduct research to evaluate potential challenges and opportunities.
In this phase, the architect and developer work together to create a program. The purpose of programming is to construct an outline that will establish a foundation for the design phases that follow. Through site research, the architect determines the amount of space the developer needs, how it should be organized and how much additional space is needed for the future. In the pre-design phase, it is essential to examine the site’s existing conditions, survey the community, and review applicable zoning requirements. At the end of this phase, the developer will be able to make more informed investment decisions, which could include abandoning the current site for one with greater potential.
Services: Programming, Context Analysis, Feasibility Study
Essential Questions: Are my development goals feasible for this site? What is the most appropriate and productive use for this property?
Phase Objective: To utilize the criteria established in pre-design to explore possible design concepts. These are narrowed down to one final design direction.
In the schematic design phase, the program requirements and conceptual designs are translated into preliminary building designs by evaluating each component of the project with the developer. Conceptual designs are created in this phase to better visualize the scale and characteristics of the project. The architect then collaborates with consultants from related disciplines such as civil, MEP, structural, and landscape to obtain feedback from their respective areas. This feedback is then used to create a detailed set of plans that the developer can use as a proposal to the City’s development review board and to present to their internal development team. The developer will also get a better sense of preliminary construction costs and will be able to make any necessary changes to the project scope before the design progresses further.
Services: Site Planning, 3D Visualization, Preliminary Cost Estimation
Essential Question: Which project goals are highest priority and what challenges stand in the way of achieving those goals?
Phase Objective: To solidify essential design decisions and coordinate with consultants to implement various systems into the building’s design.
The design development phase takes the floor plans, elevations, and concept sketches established in the schematic design phase and fine-tunes the details. While the material selection process can seem overwhelming, the architect’s role is to listen to the developer’s goals and help guide them through the design process. At the end of this phase, the developer will have a clear understanding of how the building will look, feel, and function.
Services: Materials and Systems Selection, Value Engineering, Consultant Coordination
Essential Question: What important decisions need to be made in order to finalize the building design?
Phase Objective: To prepare the technical documents and drawings needed to obtain building permits and construction bids.
In the construction documents phase, technical information is added to the drawings to serve as instructions for how to build the project. The plans are then submitted to the local building department for code-compliance review. These drawings are also submitted to general contractors to secure final construction bids. Once the plans have been reviewed, they are updated with any necessary changes. This phase generally ends when permits are approved and when bids are finalized.
Services: Engineering Coordination, Quality Assurance, Coordination with Contractor
Essential Question: How do we efficiently and accurately convey the project’s design intent to city officials and to general contractors.
Phase Objective: To observe project construction and assure that the design intent remains consistent.
The final stage in the architectural design process is construction administration. A design professional will actively review materials and products to make sure the project is being constructed as intended, while Project Managers establish and maintain records of construction. The PM will also participate in OAC meetings, respond to requests for information, and proactively solve construction related issues concerning design intent.
Services: Field Observation, Shop Drawing Review, Design Intent Clarification
Essential Question: How do we successfully navigate necessary design changes and unexpected field conditions during construction?
BC Architects produced this guide with developers in mind. If you have any questions or need advice, give us a call at 305-663-8182.