THE ARCHITECTURAL PROCESS

February 15, 2013

One common question I encounter while consulting clients is in regards to the the design process. That is, how does an architect assist owners to take their conceptualized plan or project needs, and turn them into a physical structure. Unless you work in the industry, for a procurement or purchasing office, or work on the finance side, you may not understand the process. In fact, the architectural profession is so fluid in its delivery of services that often individuals experienced in the field may not understand the complexity of the various processes, procedures, and project delivery methods.

 People generally understand that architects are responsible for the design of spaces and buildings, and they also understand that we develop the technical details and specifications necessary for construction. In this blog post, we will outline the most common 7-step process most architects implement to take the traditional design project from conception all the way through construction. Let's get started!

  • Programming Phase - So you have decided it's time to undertake a capital improvement project to address some functional or operational objective. This phase of the project is essentially the development of a "design program". The design program is the basis for the design, a guideline, or a portrayal of the conditions and expectations of the project. The owner will work with the architect to develop a document that concisely lists the expectations and requirements for the project. An architect will often ask the building's owner or users various questions related to their needs, wants, and desires. The final deliverable of this phase is a document that in theory could be handed to somebody completely removed from the programming process, and they would have a clear understanding of the project goals. 

  • Schematic Design Phase - Once the Design Program has been established, the architect will begin the process of conceptually designing spaces and layouts based on the defined project requirements. They may issue flow charts, spacial layout diagrams, conceptual renderings, or various other documentation based on project criteria provided to them. This phase also starts to consider the building site location, the sites characteristics, and the defined spaces integration with site elements.

  • Design Development Phase - Each subsequent phase attempts to tune or "dial-in" the design from the previous. This phase is no different, and it utilizes the approved schematic design documents to start to develop rough layouts. Any of a number of charts, studies, and diagrams utilized during the schematic design phase are referenced for this purpose. In theory, the referenced spacial layout will start to be transformed into a floor plan, while the flow charts become the door, corridor, and passage locations. This set of documents will begin to represent the drawings and details that will be issued for construction, but need owner review and approval before getting too far along! 

  • Construction Documents Phase - Now that the design concepts are being developed for construction, various industry standard details and drawings are developed to allow for bidding, permitting, and ultimately construction. Contract and technical specifications are developed and organized in a manual which defines the specific performance requirements of the various materials and systems used in the building. When this phase is complete, the detailed documents allow builders and tradesman to understand the design intent, project goals, contract requirements, and ultimately prepare a cost proposal for construction. Time to hire a General Contractor! 

  • Proposal Phase Service - The drawings have been issued to the builder or builders, and they are starting to develop pricing and estimates for construction. In this phase, the architect assists the owner to answer their questions related to the Construction Documents, issue addenda to better define project parameters that may not have been clear, and ensure that the bidder has met the project requirements such as bonding, insurance, licenses, etc. When the contractors have all finished preparing their bids, the architect will help the owner to evaluate their proposals, consider cost and schedule, and ultimately recommend the award of the project to a builder. Finally, the smell of dirt and the rap of hammers. 

  • Construction Administration Services - The contractor starts the process of mobilizing to the site, possibly obtaining building permits, and begins scheduling their sub-contractors to start work. In this phase, the architects responsibility is to oversee the construction process, ensure that installed work conforms with the design documents and specifications, and assist the owner in making progress payments and addressing any issues that may arise. The contractor will often make "submittals" about the products or construction materials to be installed, or ask the owner and architect to make selections on product color, model, or material. The contractor may have questions, and will submit a Request for Information. These processes are all documented and logged as the construction process continues to completion. 

  • Project Closeout - The owner has a building that was first conceptualized, programmed, designed, and developed into plans for a built structure. Now, that structure finally exists. As the contractor puts the final touches on the building, and the owner is trying to get moved in, the architect works to assist the owner in the closeout phase. The architect will issue various types of documents which assist the contractor to address tying up any loose ends, he will ensure that the contractor has provided the accurate as-built drawings, documenting any changes from the design, and the architect will make sure that all documentation and warranty paperwork is in order. 

Depending on the complexity of the project, and an array of other services available, the architect may have additional phases, but this 7-step process outlines the majority of services provided for a traditional design-bid-build method of delivery project.

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