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The 7 Phases of Architectural Design Process: A Comprehensive Guide

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Unlock the secrets of architectural design process with this comprehensive guide. Learn the 7-step process, from pre-design to close-out.

Architecture is not just about creating visually pleasing structures; it’s also about designing functional and safe spaces that meet the needs of the people who will use them. 

The architectural design process is the method architects use to turn concepts into real-life structures. It is a long and complicated process with many steps, each of which has its challenges and considerations. 

In this blog post, I will provide an overview of the architectural design process and its various stages to give you a better understanding of what goes into creating the built environment around us.

The seven steps are pre-design, schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding, construction administration, and close out.

Let’s get started

Step 1: Pre-Design Phase – Programming and Site Analysis

Meeting of people to define the architectural design process.
By Headway

Before the formal architectural design process starts, the first step in the architectural design process is the pre-design phase. The most crucial parts of the pre-design step are programming and site analysis.

Let’s start by talking about programming.

1️⃣ Programming in architectural design process

Every client comes to you with different goals and needs, like making the most of the view or saving energy. Whatever it is, it is crucial to define what they want early on.

Programming is to gather information about the project, including the client’s needs and goals. Then, you use the information you collected to make a program, which is a document that describes the project’s goals, scope, and limitations.

You use the program as a guide for the design as you move through the architectural design process, ensuring that the project stays on track and meets the client’s goals. It also helps you identify any potential challenges or constraints early on.

Programming can include requirements like:

  • The number of rooms
  • The Area
  • Any particular feature, such as an elevator or a rooftop terrace

💡 Personal Insight: Instead of seeing programming as something that will hold you back in your design project, see it as a chance to let your creativity run wild. I believe that creativity cannot exist without constraints. 

Constraints will help you to:
• Have a clear focus and direction for the project 
• Generate effective solutions

For example, you can see a client’s small budget as a chance to be resourceful and find creative, cost-effective solutions. In the same way, you can look at a short deadline as a chance to work efficiently and generate innovative ideas to save time.

So how can we start the programming phase?

You can start the programming phase by having an initial meeting with the client to learn about their needs, goals, and vision for the project. 

Ask the client questions like:

  • How do they plan to use the space? 
  • What is their budget for the project?
  • Do they have any specific requirements?

Make sure to document everything because this meeting will serve as the foundation for the first draft of your program. Then, as you learn more about the project, you will develop and refine the program even more.

2️⃣ Site Analysis in architectural design process

The next step in the pre-design phase is site analysis. But what is a site analysis? 

Site analysis is an architectural design process of identifying how the site’s physical and environmental features will affect the building’s design.

Site analysis helps you, as an architect, determine the site’s unique opportunities and constraints. 

This analysis significantly affects your design decisions. For example, sun and wind problems can affect the entire building layout. 

Want to know all the ins and outs of conducting a thorough site analysis? I’ve put together a comprehensive guide that delves into everything you need to know. From reading this article, you’ll discover:

  • The essential elements of a complete site analysis
  • Handy online resources that will make site analysis easier for you
  • The important things to keep in mind before heading to the site. 

Check it out here! ➡️ Guide to Successful Site Analysis

But I don’t want to read the article; I want a quick answer. 

In short, a site analysis looks at everything about your project site that will affect our design decisions. For example, you will typically consider the site’s location, transportation, and zoning regulations. In addition, you will check the topography of the site, including its slope, drainage, and soil conditions. The site’s climate, which includes temperature, humidity, and precipitation, is also considered. You will also consider how existing buildings, trees, and other natural features will affect the design of the new building, etc.

💡 Personal Insight: Once you have information about the site, you can put it into the software you use to figure out how the project fits with the site and maybe come up with some rough building options. At this early design stage, I like to use Sketchup because it is quick and helps me to brainstorm better.

Step 2: Schematic Design – Exploring Different Design Options

A floor plan displayed on a tablet and a guy pointing to it.

The schematic design is where the real fun begins for architects! It’s where you get to experiment with different design concepts for the project and envision how it will look and feel without having to build it. You will create various design options and present them to the client. Together, you will determine the best one for refinement and development. 

At the beginning of the schematic design phase, your goal is to brainstorm and get a better understanding of your project; you will do things like diagramming, brainstorming, and rough area zoning to figure out how the project fits into the site. This early schematic phase will help you sort your ideas, dump the bad ones, and keep the good ones for more refinement. 

As you progress through the schematic design process, things will become more concise and professional. By the end of the schematic design process, you should have architectural drawings like floor plans, elevations, sections, renderings, and 3D models.

During the schematic phase, you need to consider the project’s program and site analysis, as well as building codes and regulations.

💡 Personal Insight: At this phase, your goal is not to brainstorm broadly; instead, you should approach your design thoughtfully — base each design decision on reason. 
The software I like to use at this phase is Revit for architectural drawings, 3ds Max for modeling, and Lumion or Vray for renderings — depending on the project’s scope.

Step 3: Design Development – Refining the Design

Two architects discussing

Most of the time, your first idea isn’t that good. How you develop and improve your design is what will make it great.

Design development is the process of making your design better. In this step, you take the design option you chose in the last step and refine and develop it further.

The design development process is not always linear. There may be back and forth between stages as you work to solve problems and finalize details. You could, for instance, do more site visits and research other building materials and systems.

You may also work with other consultants, like structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers, to include their work in the design and ensure that everything fits together.

Step 4: Construction Documents – Creating the Blueprint

Floor Plans

Think of construction documents as the blueprint for bringing your building to life. Also known as “technical drawings,” they are a comprehensive set of detailed drawings and specifications that contain all the information necessary for the building’s construction. They are the result of the design development phase and lay the groundwork for the construction phase.

Construction documents are essential because they give contractors the information they need to: 

  • Make accurate bids on projects
  • Get building permits
  • Construct your design the way you intended as the designer. 
  • Help the construction team execute according to the design, building code, and safety rules.

Now it’s time for the bidding phase.

Step 5: Bidding – Soliciting Proposals from Contractors

Two men shaking hands

Bidding is a crucial phase in bringing your construction project to fruition. It’s where you reach out to different contractors and ask them to submit their proposals for the construction work. 

This process allows you to compare the different options and choose the contractor who can deliver the project on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards. 

During this phase, you will meet with potential contractors, look at their proposals, give the contract to the best candidate, and negotiate the terms of the construction contract. Once you hire the chosen contractor, it’s time to bring your vision to life.

Let’s go to the site.

Step 6: Construction Administration – Overseeing the Construction Process

Architect on construction site

Construction administration is where you and the contractor join forces to ensure that the construction project is proceeding smoothly and according to plan.

Your role will be:

  • Provide guidance
  • Oversight during the construction process
  • Act as a link between the owner and the contractor, ensuring that the construction process meets the owner’s needs and concerns and that it stays on schedule and within budget
  • Help resolve any problems that might come up between the owner and the contractor

💡 Personal Insight: Construction administration is not a one-time process but a continuous one; it’s a critical phase that starts from the beginning of the construction and goes on even after completing the project.

Step 7: Close-Out – Tying up Loose Ends

The close-out is the last phase of the architectural design process. It marks the end of the construction process and the completion of the project. This phase consists of several essential tasks that ensure the building is ready for occupancy and that all parties are satisfied with the result. What tasks?

During the close-out phase, you will walk through the building one last time with the owner and the contractor to look for any problems or issues. You and the contractor work together to fix any problems before the final inspection.

The building department or other relevant authorities conduct the final inspection to ensure that the structure meets all code and safety requirements and is ready for occupancy. Then you will get the occupancy permit, which is needed before anyone can live in the building.

💡 Personal Insight: It’s also important to note that the close-out phase is not the end of the project; it also includes the follow-up, warranty, and maintenance.

Picture of Bahaa Aydi

Bahaa Aydi

I'm Bahaa, a Licensed architect specialized in Interior design & Archviz • Sharing my design days with you to help you design better space