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The architectural design process has seven main design phases, each of which plays a critical role in the success of the project. Whether you're a landowner planning a new building, an architect chasing a big commission, or a prospective homebuyer, you need a clear understanding of what to expect in all seven phases of design.

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7 Phases of Architectural Design

The seven phases in the architectural design process are, in order:

  1. The pre-design phase: Also known as the programming phase, this phase kicks off the architectural design process. In the pre-design phase, the architect interfaces with the client to learn about the plot of land, any existing structures, and the client's wishes for the future building. (Whenever possible, an in-person site analysis gives the most accurate information for all project types.) The architect researches local zoning and land-use restrictions, then makes a cost estimate as part of their competitive bid to win the commission. If the parties agree on terms and the scope of the project, they draw up a contract for architectural services.
  2. The <a href='https://masterclass.com/articles/schematic-design-guide' target='_blank' class='article-bodylink mc-text--link' data-mc-segment-trigger='true' data-mc-segment-event-type='Article Page Click' data-event-obj='{"textTag":"p","href":"https://masterclass.com/articles/schematic-design-guide","linkCopy":"schematic design"}' automatic='true'>schematic design phase__: In this next phase, the architectural design team begins to translate the client's wishes into a building design concept. This may involve sketches, drawings, 3D renderings, and preliminary site plans, floor plans, and building elevations. Any building systems, such as HVAC and plumbing, also belong in the schematic designs.
  3. The design development phase: This is the phase where the architect's design intent manifests as a detailed plan. If the project requires a structural engineer, that person typically joins the team at this point. The architect also presents the client with both exterior and interior finishes, which will go atop the foundational structure. Finishes can greatly affect the total cost of a construction project (as well as the project schedule), so this phase must be handled with the utmost degree of respect. At this point, a more realistic cost estimate will come into view.
  4. The <a href='https://masterclass.com/articles/guide-to-construction-documents' target='_blank' class='article-bodylink mc-text--link' data-mc-segment-trigger='true' data-mc-segment-event-type='Article Page Click' data-event-obj='{"textTag":"p","href":"https://masterclass.com/articles/guide-to-construction-documents","linkCopy":"construction documents"}' automatic='true'>construction documents phase__: In this next phase of the architectural design process, design becomes a reality. The architect produces two sets of detailed drawings that specify every detail of their final design. One set is called the construction set, and it remains on-site throughout the construction process. The other set is called the permit set, which the architect sends to the local permitting authority, whether that's a city or a county. In a design-build project, the in-house construction contractor becomes involved at this point.
  5. The building permit phase: At this point, the architect must submit the permit set of drawings as part of a larger permit application. The city or county reviews the submittals for structural integrity and adherence to zoning laws and building codes. Permitting can be one of the slowest parts of the construction process, but it protects architects, builders, and property owners from potentially dangerous construction errors. Simple construction projects in permissive municipalities can get approval in a matter of days. If you're building something ambitious, or if you're building in a historic district, the permitting process can take months.
  6. The bidding and negotiation phase (optional): If the building is a design-build project that is designed and built by the same firm, there is no need to field bids from construction contractors. If no contractor comes pre-attached, the client and the architect interview contractors and solicit competitive bids. Potential contractors sit down with the client and architect to go through the construction drawing sets and discuss materials and schedules. Contractors seek shovel-ready projects to keep their crews busy throughout the year. Therefore you will have a better chance of securing a contractor—and a competitive price—if your project is already permitted and ready to go.
  7. The construction administration phase: In this final phase, the architect's role shifts from creative design to project management. While they don’t physically manage the job site, they make regular site visits to ensure that the project is being executed according to their plans. The contractor and their crew assumes control of the project like a film director taking over a screenwriter's script. Project budgets can balloon on account of cost overruns, but with careful planning, no changes will be needed.

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