The Stages of Architectural Design
February 25, 2014
The biggest question we get when meeting with new clients who haven’t worked with an architect before (aside from, “How much does it cost?”) is always about how the process works. What are the stages of architectural design, and what happens at each phase? The answer also helps explain the response to the common question of, “Can’t you just do a super quick sketch, you know, nothing fancy?” I’m never offended by the question because there is such a lack of knowledge of what it takes to design, document, and permit well-designed buildings, but it does really highlight the poor job architects have done communicating what we do and the value of it. (And how far from "quick and simple" it really is!)
I’m obviously a big proponent of hiring an architect to get the most out of your remodel or project as the end result is usually far superior to a project where someone just “winged it” to get it done. I think the work that we do at Board & Vellum helps differentiate liking the place you live or work and LOVING it.
So, what the heck do we do to create a space that you’ll LOVE? Here are the steps along the way...
This is where we assemble all of the parts and pieces, and figure out what our big picture options are from reviewing zoning and building codes. We produce full code summaries and do the research required to determine what our design parameters are. We will also do some initial site research to confirm solar angles and any other site-specific conditions so we can hit the ground running during the design process. These parameter areas will tie into the program that we’ll be establishing at this phase.
Once we’ve got all the basics covered, now we’ll head out and measure any existing buildings so we have a set of plans to sketch over and use as the basis for our drawings. We go out and measure the existing building, and draft it in the computer to create ”as-built drawings.” This as-built set of drawings will then serve as an accurate base to begin sketching design alternatives.
This is where the real fun begins! Basically, this is the dream-to-reality stage where we figure out what design works best for your site and budget.
All of the ideas are on the table, and now we start sketching several design alternatives based on the mutually agreed upon program (what rooms and features you want). The entire process is iterative, as several options are presented at the beginning, and then based on the owner’s feedback, reworked until a particular design direction emerges. Drawings will be loose, drawn at 1/8” = 1’-0” scale (often by hand), and are fast and loose. It isn’t uncommon for us to have a roll of trace paper out in a meeting to work with you in real time to tweak plans based on your feedback. Once we have an approved direction, we move ahead with what we call the Schematic Pricing Set, which includes plans, sections if applicable, elevations, and a basic outline specification (list of everything that can’t be drawn at this point). With this set, we’ll be able to enter the next phase and find you a contractor!
Now that we have a basic set of drawings without too great of an investment in time or fee, we send out those drawings and solicit feedback from some contractors, which we help you select. Using our drawings, contractors will produce preliminary budgets based on our drawings and we’ll use that, their references, availability, and experience to help select someone to work with. They’re retained for services during the rest of “pre-construction” and used to help update the budget in real time as the project becomes more finalized. Some folks like to bid out the project much later in the process but we strongly feel there is tremendous value in having this team member on board as early as possible. We get along with general contractors and recognize that while we are good at budgeting, they are outstanding at pricing things with real market costs.
Once a contractor is selected, we jump into “value engineering” to ensure that we’re spending your money wisely, even if we’ve hit the budget target straight on. We’ll make a comparative spreadsheet to help go through all of the line items and ensure that your money is being spent in smart and efficient ways in every category.
Design Development and Permitting
Now that we have a general contractor on board and a final design direction, we need a permit! Given the lengthy review processes with many municipalities, we move ahead with all of the required drawings for a building permit concurrent with the full interior design of your project. Once we’ve got the concepts down, we produce a set of permit drawings and submit them to the city. Detailing, interior elevations, and material selections which aren’t necessary for a permit set happen in the next phase. We often produce a full 3D model of the project here to help finalize all of the design decisions. We’ll also do extensive coordination with a structural engineer contracted through us to complete the engineering and detailing of the project.
Once we’re in for permit, we then jump ahead to finalize the rest of the documents and tie everything together into a set that will be used to build the project. (This set will be consistent with the permit drawings, just with more information.) This phase includes design refinements of the approved design development documents, in particular, the refining of construction details. The construction documents shall set the detailed requirements for construction of the project so it can be confidently built by a contractor. Final material and product selection/revisions will usually occur during this phase, as well. This phase is typically the longest and most fee-intensive out of all of the phases, as there is so much coordination and detailing to do. This phase helps distinguish the barely-thought-out projects that you see from many production builders to fully custom homes that look incredible.
It is now time to build! This phase includes the design services provided during the actual construction of the project. These services include site visits to observe the project during construction, phone calls and other communication with the contractor and consultants as questions arise, and creating additional construction detail drawings when needed. Material and product selection is finalized during this phase, if not previously selected. A final walk-through with the owners occurs at the end of construction, with the creation of a “punch list” for final contractor touch-ups.
This is a critical phase for the architect to be involved in, as it not only ensures that things get built the way we drafted them (a bigger problem than you would imagine), but there will also be numerous issues that pop up that either haven’t, or couldn’t have, been anticipated. Detailing every single condition in the construction documents is extraordinarily time-consuming and there reaches a point of diminishing returns where it is simply cheaper, faster, and more efficient to verify some details during construction. If this phase wasn’t selected, there would either need to be a drastic increase in the fee for Construction Documents or an acceptance that the project that you just spent time and money designing won’t come out the way you hoped.
Time to Move In!
So, that’s how we work! Some projects are smaller and we may combine or omit some phases, but in general, this linear process works on all projects of all sizes. It is a precise way of helping make sense of what could otherwise be a confusing and haphazard process of using creative energy to produce very specific set of documents.