Design Process.

Designing and constructing a building is a complicated and lengthy process, no matter how small the project is. It’s not something you can do quickly. It takes 2 years, 3 years… even 8 years. It is a continuous changing, developing and improving process, laying more information as the project goes on. Even when a building is being constructed, issues inevitably unfold, which require further design challenges.

Professional bodies such so AIA (American Institute of Architects) or RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) give experienced guidance organising the process of briefing, designing, constructing and operating building projects. These guides are known as design process stages or work stages. These give an indication of the kind of work architects do at each stage.

Below is clear and simplified look at the RIBA design work stages on a building project.

0 - Strategic Definition

This will usually be one for the first meetings where architect will discuss a few things like the client outline project brief, requirements and business objectives.


1 - Preparation of Brief

Project objectives, project brief and budget are key aspects here. The architect will usually visit the site and give a site appraisal and produce a feasibility study. This should help enable the client to decide whether to proceed. The architect will give advice on the requirements for any other project consultants such as the need for a structural or plumbing engineer or specialists.


2 - Concept Design

This is a basic design on what the building might look like. This might include plans, 3D renderings, sketches and other presentation material such as a model. This will vary depending on the type of project, time and the architect. Admittedly, a lot of information has not been thoroughly worked out yet – eg. building services, structure, buildability, cost and so on. An experienced architect will have a lot of this in his head, otherwise the concept design, will not work and big changes, cost implications and problems will likely to occur later on.

design development

3 - Design Development

This is where the design drawings start to become more practical displaying more detail. Coordination drawings with structures and building service is required and more accurate spacial arrangements and outline specification of building materials. Coordination with other disciplines is also a key. The design drawings must also consider construction safety and building code standards. Typical architects drawings should at least have plans, elevations, and sections and information regarding the building envelope at this stage with grid line columns and slab positions. These are usually referred to as General Arrangements drawings (GAs), which are usually locked in at this stage, if possible. Any major changes after this stage will likely need disciplined change control procedures because they will likely effect many other aspects of the design and other disciplines.

Microsoft Word - 12-07-11 Letter from FL Plan of Work July 2012

4 - Technical Design (Construction Drawings)

This stage is usually known as Construction Drawings. Another layer of detail is required on the architectural drawing package to enable the building to be constructed. Construction details are required on the drawings clarifying how the building is constructed. This might be how windows fit into a wall or how a roof is built. Everything needs to be figured out and drawn in detail in coordination with other consultants such as structural and service engineers drawings. The architectural drawings should identify items that effect the building envelope or any risers, plant room configurations and any access requirements. The drawings will also require accurate dimensions.

Microsoft Word - 12-07-11 Letter from FL Plan of Work July 2012

5 - Construction

Traditionally, the architect is Lead Consultant on building projects and reviews all other consultants drawings before it is issued to site. At this stage the architect will respond to any site queries and further design or information required by site. Making site visits as building designer is necessary to check the work is being carried out in accordance to the drawings / contract documents. Drawing amendments and changes are inevitable and should be updated when necessary on the drawings for record purposes.

6 - Handover & Close Out

Architectural drawings are never done or final until as built drawings have been issued at the end. Architect can advise on resolution defects.

To Sum Up

Work stages can get over complicated due to many contract or procurement reasons. Books have even been written on them. They usually overlap, but architects try to base their service fees around them.

I hope this helps you understand the design work stages and draws a picture of the design process an architect goes through on a project.

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