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The Architectural Design Process Explained

In this article, we’ll clarify the five key phases of the architectural design process.

Are you a building owner looking to engage an architect? Or perhaps you’re new to the profession or just curious about what architects do? Here’s brief guide to help you understand the who, what, and how of the architectural design process.

For each of the five phases of the architectural design process, we’ll discuss the overall goals of the phase, the scope that the architectural design team is responsible for, and the deliverables that move the project forward.

While each architectural project is different, we’re going to use a new construction project as the basis for this guide. Let’s get started!

1. Pre-Design Phase

Architectural Design Process-Layer App-2-What do architects do-Pre-Design Programming Phase

The initial phase of the architectural design process is known as Pre-Design or Programming.

The primary goal of this phase is to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the constraints of the project and to construct a plan for the project’s execution.

During the Pre-Design phase, the design team will evaluate the site that has been identified for the project. They will also work with the owner to clarify how the spaces in the building will be used.

Additionally, they will perform a comprehensive review of all applicable zoning ordinances or restrictions pertaining to the development of the project.

This initial information gathering effort helps the design team clarify the possibilities and constraints of the project and to establish initial goals for the design.

Typical deliverables that are obtained or produced at the conclusion of Pre-design:
1. Site Survey (Showing topographic information, existing structures, utilities, etc.)
2. Geotechnical Report
3. Zoning & Preliminary Building Code Analysis
4. Program & Project Scope Verification Document (aka Room Data Sheet)
5. Owner-Architect Agreement (AIA B101, or similar)

Learn how the Revit model begins to take share in the Pre-Design phase >

2. Schematic Design Phase

Architectural Design Process-Layer App-2-What do architects do-Schematic Design Phase

The primary goal of the Schematic Design phase is to begin to identify the general character of the building and its systems.

During this phase, the design team produces a series of sketches, physical models, and initial renderings of the building in order to evaluate various ways the project might respond to the constraints and goals identified in the Pre-Design phase.

These initial drawings or models help the design team to communicate ideas to the owner and to illustrate how different spaces might be configured within the building, how the building might sit on the site, or how the building might look and operate.

Once the client reviews and approves the preliminary design, the design team proceeds to the next phase.

Typical deliverables provided at the conclusion of Schematic Design:
1. Site Plan, Floor Plans, and Exterior Elevations
2. Interior and Exterior Renderings
3. Building System Narratives (Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing)
4. Initial Estimate of Cost (Optional; an estimate of cost can be generated by a third-party estimator hired by the Owner, by a contractor working with the design team in a design-build capacity, or by a Construction Manager within a CMAR delivery method.)
4. Notice to Proceed (Optional; can be provided by the Owner to the design team as an official approval of design work completed to date.)

Learn how the Revit model evolves during the Schematic Design phase >

3. Design Development Phase

Architectural Design Process-Layer App-3-What do architects do-Design Development Phase

The primary goal of Design Development is to finalize the overall character of the project and to ensure that the project can be realized at the quality and cost anticipated.

During this phase, the design team produces more-detailed drawings and a set of specifications that outline the size, shape, and character of every component of the project.

In addition to solidifying the size and location of all rooms, the team also identifies the building’s exterior materials, interior finishes, and all furniture, fixtures, or equipment (FF&E).

Typical deliverables provided at the conclusion of Design Development:
1. Site Plan, Floor Plans, Interior/Exterior Elevations, Sections, and Reflected Ceiling Plans
2. Updated Interior and Exterior Renderings
3. Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, and Special Systems Drawings
4. Project Specifications and Materials List
5. Updated Estimate of Cost  
6. Notice to Proceed (Optional; can be provided by the Owner to the design team as an official approval of design work completed to date.)

Learn how to coordinate around the Revit model during Design Development >

4. Construction Documents Phase

Architectural Design Process-Layer App-5-What do architects do-Construction Documents Phase

The goal of the Construction Documents phase is to accurately and completely document all aspects of the design.

The drawings produced during this phase are used to bid and, ultimately, construct the project.

Most of the Construction Documents phase involves filling in any of the remaining gaps in information that might prove useful to bidders or contractors as they prepare to construct the building. As a result, this requires intensive coordination across multiple disciplines and multiple members of the design team.

The design team may also responsible for sending a final copy of drawings and specifications to the local permitting authority for review and approval.

Typical deliverables provided at the conclusion of Construction Documents phase:
1. Complete Construction Drawings and Specifications
2. Final Estimate of Cost
3. Architect’s Supplemental Instructions (ASIs) and Addenda (Typically produced during early bidding periods)
4. Revit Model (Optional; a contractor may request to use the Revit model during bidding to develop more accurate material take-offs or quantities.)

Learn how to prepare the Revit model for bidding >

5. Construction Administration Phase

Architectural Design Process-Layer App-6-What do architects do-Construction Administration Phase

After the construction documents have received permitting approval and the actual construction of the project begins, the project enters into Construction Administration.

The goal the Construction Administration phase is to ensure that the project is built according to the intent outlined in the construction documents.

While the design team does not monitor every step of the construction process, they do make regular visits to the site to observe and report overall progress to the owner.

In addition, the design team issues supplemental drawings throughout the process to address questions that might arise on the part of the owner or contractor, and the team keeps a record of all changes made to the design in the field. The architect will also review payment applications submitted by the contractor as the work progresses.

Once construction is complete and all required inspections are performed, the owner is provided a Certificate of Occupancy allowing them to occupy and utilize the building.

Typical deliverables provided at the conclusion of the Construction Administration phase:
1. Requests for Information (RFIs) and Architect’s Supplemental Instructions (ASIs)
2. Proposal Requests (PRs) and Change Orders
3. As-Built Set of Construction Drawings
4. All Product/Equipment Warranties and Maintenance Manuals
5. Certificate of Occupancy
6. Architect’s Field Reports (AIA G711, or similar)
7. Application and Certificate for Payment (AIA G702 and G703, or similar)
8. Final Punch List
9. Certificate of Substantial Completion (AIA G704, or similar)
10. Revit Model (Optional; an Owner may request the Revit model for use in future operations and maintenance processes.)

Conclusion

While the phases outlined above provide a general picture of a typical architectural design process, not every project will follow these five steps precisely.

For example, an owner might request that more detailed drawings be produced earlier in the process, a tight schedule might result in two phases being collapsed into one, or a project might not require construction administration at all.

Regardless of how a specific project might play out, the general framework of the architectural design process allows design teams to successfully map out and track the delivery of each project.

Have more questions about the Architectural Design Process?

Or curious about how Layer App can help make your building project more efficient? Email us at help@layer.team or schedule a personalized demo below.