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The architectural work typically moves through these phases: Feasibility, Programming and Predesign, then Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding, Permit, and Construction.

The architect’s training includes not only the spatial and aesthetic aspects, but also coursework and training in basic structural, mechanical, electrical design and codes. Some architects also do a certain amount of what might be called “interior design” with the selection of finishes and color common. Some also do the design for “outdoor spaces. Architects typically work with consultants who input into the project with advice, drawings, and calculations.

Architects prepare a set of architectural drawings and specifications, which with the consultant work (drawings, calculations, and specifications), form the final “construction documents” package that is used for construction, bidding, and permitting. These documents essentially speak to three audiences, and serve as part of the contract between the owner and general contractor. They should be referred to by document, date, and preparer in the agreement with the contractor.

The work we typically do in our office assumes that we not only create the “permit” set of drawings for construction, but also a “bid set” for use by the contractor during pricing. This adds in drawings that the city does not concern itself with as part of plan check, such as the “interior elevations” that illustrate the wall layout of walls with tile, cabinets, and new trim; so we do these at  rooms such as Kitchens, Baths, and at least one wall of a wall with baseboard and window trim to make crystal clear the scope of work for the builder. We have found that this achieves the best results.

Architects typically coordinate the building permit process, and are on hand during construction to review the construction work and modify the design as needed in response to such issues as existing conditions, code issues, and scope changes.

Getting Started: Gathering Information

  • Make a list of your project requirements, with a rating to indicate level of priority.
  • Gather images of buildings and spaces you like, with notes about what you like about them. You can create an online cloud folder, online bulletin board, or a physical binder or folder to share with your architect.
  • Get a sense of the construction costs for similar projects. Talk to friends and neighbors who’ve done projects in your area (regionally) recently.
  • Consider hiring a contractor or an architect to help you come up with some preliminary, ballpark numbers for the project cost, including “hard costs” (construction) and “soft costs” (architectural, consultants such as structural, permit, storage).
  • For renovation projects, consider locating the purchase inspection report and any drawings of the building for reference

Next: Interviewing Professionals

  • If you decide to proceed with a project, the next step is to interview design professionals. Architects are trained to design with the entire house in mind, even if the area of work is merely one room. Our training is rigorous, and the licensing exams demanding, including both written and oral tests that would span four days, if taken all at once. We must be artistic, technical, practical, attentive to regulations, and highly communicative to do our job well.
  • When interviewing architects look for a connection with the person as well as with the spirit of their work. If you are looking for a green building project, then it is best to choose from the pool of green architects, as their expertise in making the project a reality will be invaluable.

The Architectural Process by Phase

The architectural process is divided into phases as described below:

Programming and Predesign Phase: Information Gathering

  • Architect confirms key project information such as owner goals and objectives, budget, regulatory constraints, site information, and information about existing buildings
  • Architect requests a proposal from a surveyor, as needed
  • In our office, we prepare a preliminary estimate of “hard costs” (with input from contractor or cost estimator) and “soft costs” estimate

Schematic Design Phase: Exploring Options

  • Architect updates the preliminary zoning and building code research
  • Architect creates a variety of alternative schemes to solve the design puzzle.
  • Working with the owner, one scheme is chosen to develop further, sometimes by piecing together elements of the various alternatives.
  • Architect does preliminary “tests” on the chosen design scheme against regulatory requirements such as zoning and building code
  • Commonly, for renovations that involve the demolition of walls or structural elements, we contact a structural engineer for a consultation.
  • In our office, Architect provides consultants with the project design to date, and asks consultants for proposals and updates the “soft cost” estimate
  • In our office, we create a preliminary “outline” specification, for use in preliminary construction cost estimate
  • In our office, we consult with a cost estimator or contractor for a preliminary construction cost estimate, based on the schematic design scheme
  • Based on the results of the construction cost estimate, the project proceeds to the next phase or is revised to bring the scope into alignment with the project budget

Design Development Phase:  Finalizing the Design

  • Architect updates the zoning and building code research
  • Architect refines the chosen design scheme based on owner input, further design consideration, input from the regulations research, and consultant input
  • At the start of this phase, Architect asks consultants for updated proposals based on the developed design
  • In some cases, consultants have started work in the earlier phase, Schematic Design, and update that work
  • We work with the owners to make product and material selections, and prepare an updated product specification.
  • In our office, we consult with a cost estimator or contractor for an updated construction cost estimate, based on the schematic design scheme
  • Based on the results of the construction cost estimate, the project proceeds to the next phase or is revised to bring the scope into alignment with the project budget
  • In cases where the planning department requires a design review or another planning permit, such as a variance, we apply for that process during this phase.

The Construction Documents Phase: Preparing the Drawings

  • The term “construction documents” refers to the drawing and specification package which serves as the basis of the contract between the owner and the contractor.
  • In this phase we prepare additional drawings, and edit and complete the ones we have started. We also update and add to the specification, finalizing it. We do a lot of “behind the scenes work” at this stage, in the sense that while the drawings may not seem to change significantly to the owner, they are in fact being refined and edited at great detail.

The Bidding and Permitting Phase: Last Steps before Construction

Two separate activities occur during this phase. Owners can choose to start with the permit process before the pricing begins, or to do them simultaneously.


  • The architect submits for permit with the “construction documents” (plans and calculations)
  • The planning and building departments review the documents, and issues their response in the form of a correction letter
  • The architect reviews the correction letter, addressing the items in the architectural plans, and sending the items related to consultant work to the consultant for revisions. Architect coordinates the process
  • Upon review and approval, the building permit is issued and typically the selected general contractor, or the owner, picks up the permit.


  • If the owner is choosing a competitive bidding process, then plans are distributed to the selected contractors. Note that this approach costs more design fee as it typically requires a more detailed set of construction documents and more administrative time. The alternative process commonly used is “negotiated bidding” whereby an owner negotiates a price with one contractor.
  • For all bidding formats, the owner and the general contractor negotiate the terms of their contract and finalize pricing.
  • Architect is available to consult to the owner, and answer questions that come up during the bidding process.

The Construction Phase

  • With the building permit in hand, the general contractor can begin work. Typically the contractor needs time for both “mobilization” on site and shifting a construction crew to a new job, especially as often the exact completion date of the permit process is not established.
  • An architect’s continuing involvement during construction is beneficial to the project’s success, enabling the architect to respond to such things as design changes arising from existing conditions or a change of mind, weigh in on construction quality decisions, problem solve about code issues that come up in the field, and in general confirm that the design being built matches the design intent.
  • A good contractor will want to be sure he or she is interpreting the spirit of the design properly, and will ask the architect for clarification about the design, as well as input when something unexpected comes up.
  • The owner’s job during construction is to be available to participate in the ongoing flow of decisions, both small and large, that are an integral part of any successful construction project. The owner must also keep up with any deadlines to supply items that they have agreed to purchase.


  • The Typical Sequence of Construction

Here is a list of the typical sequence of events in a construction project, though the order of some of the items may vary from project to project

  • Demolition
  • Site work
  • Foundation and grading for site drainage
  • Rough framing
  • Windows and skylights and exterior doors
  • Rough electrical and rough plumbing
  • Roof and gutters
  • Insulation
  • Sheetrock or wall finish
  • Cabinets and finish carpentry (trim)
  • Countertops
  • Finish electrical and plumbing
  • Paint
  • Punchlist: tying up the loose ends of small unfinished items









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