The Phases of Your Project

As mentioned in the first of this series of posts, "What...Would You Say...You Do?," the development of an architecture project and the steps that take a thoughtful idea to a well-refined reality remain a mystery to most people.  When we work with an accountant for our tax returns, we know that after the New Year, we collect our W-2's, dig up our receipts and statements to determine our deductions, package everything up and send them to the professional with whom we have trusted our financial well-being.  Assuming all goes well, the accountant does his/her job and sends us the final forms to sign and submit.  The 'behind closed doors' activity between when we submit our paperwork and when we send in our returns is often of no concern to us.  We trust the professional with whom we've chosen to work.  The same is only partially true when working with an Architect.  Should you trust an Architect as you trust your accountant?  Your doctor?  Your lawyer?  Assuming you've done your homework and hired the right company and/or person, then yes, you should absolutely trust an architect.  Moreover, an Architect's creed as a professional is his/her fiduciary responsibility to you.  When signing a contract with you, he/she is agreeing to act as your agent in all project-related matters, looking out for your best interests at every turn.  

Where Architects differ from the example discussed above is that the in-between steps from the first meeting to the final solution are absolutely critical and rely on a rich and ongoing dialogue with the client.  Whether the project is commissioned by a business or an individual, design decisions are personal.  They affect people in tangible ways.  As such, the involvement of the client is important at every step.  It may sound like a lot of work but the investment of a client's time yields incredibly fruitful returns.  If the relationship is considered in this way, the final solution becomes an embodiment and a reflection of the client and his/her stakeholders (his/her family, coworkers, investors or constituents).  

So, you've just been signed onto the design team but you have no idea what's in store. Time to read up!  Not to worry, we're here to help.  Below you will find an overview of the typical phases of a project.  While projects vary in scope, ambition, type and size, these phases tend to be the undertone of a vast majority of projects.  The intent of this post will be to simply provide a summary of each phase which will include the primary goals of each, the valuable services an Architect can provide at each step and the role you, the client, will play as the project develops. Over time, links will be added to each phase that will allow you to dig deeper for more detailed explanations of these major project phases.


GOAL: To clearly outline the design problem.  This can be a complex but is the most critical point in a project as it sets the tone for all future development.  A good foundation makes for a good building.  Such is the case with design.  Most projects commonly depend on several major cornerstones.  The first is the development of clear project goals, required spaces, their necessary sizes and all special requirements.  Also critical is the development of a clear project budget and its requisite structure as well as an ideal project timeline.  The final key goal of the Pre-Design phase is the clear determination of what is feasible for any given site or space.  This involves rigorous research into the site, climate, local environment, zoning regulations and building code restrictions.  The end goal of all of the above components to Pre-Design is to 1) understand what exactly you want to do, 2) confirm whether or not you'll be able to do it, and 3) understand how much it will cost you in terms of time and money.

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: The Architect becomes your guide through all of the above efforts, performing the legwork to 1) ask the pertinent questions that will help you to define your project aspirations in a clear and tangible way, 2) perform all technical and legal research to determine the feasibility of your project ambitions and 3) coordinate the evaluation of your schedule and budget to accurately forecast the future project development and, ultimately, concisely frame the design problem on which future project phases will be based.  Services commonly include field measurements, site and climate research, code review, zoning review, project programming, budget & schedule assessment.

CLIENT ROLE:  The client, as directly as possible, should be prepared to accurately outline the project goals and communicate all information about the project as accurately as possible.  In addition to painting a clear picture of how much they would like to spend and when they would ideally like the project to be completed, it is critical that a client play an active role in identifying their likes and dislikes. Typically, an Architect will synthesize an overall understanding of a client's goals by prompting and listening to a collection of helpful anecdotal stories during early design conversations.  "In my current space, I really hate..."  "It would be great if the new space could allow us to..."  Not to worry, the delivery of information can be messy and disheveled.  As long as the conversation is open, honest and ongoing however, the message will be received and it should have a powerful influence over the project.


HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: A clearly-defined define problem sets the tone for optimal efficiency at all other stages of the project.  Organization and an agile road map for the project development makes the remainder of the project quicker and less costly.  Instead of taking 3 steps forward and two steps back, a project that is staged properly in the Pre-Design phase reduced backpedaling to a nominal minimum. An Architect's  research during this phase into zoning and code restrictions/requirements will also save valuable time and money by preventing the project from delving into areas of exploration that are unfeasible, thereby allowing time and energy to be spent only in areas of development that are productive toward the end goal of the project.


Ellipsis Post - What is Your Problem?

American Institute of Architects - Programming

American Institute of Architects - Emerging Professional's Companion: Programming

Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 0 - Pre-Design


GOAL: To explore the potential project development paths. Using the final synthesis of the previous project phase, the goal for Schematic Design is to, in a loose and non-binding way, explore the options. "What if the building is taller and keeps a small footprint so we can have a larger public space in front?" "What if the building is low and wide so that we can add a large exterior space on the roof?"  The ultimate goal for this phase is to choose a path on which the team will walk as development in future phases unfolds.

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: The Architect, as alluded to above, uses this phase to play a game of 'what-if?'  By prompting the client with a range of project approaches and listening intently to the client's feedback, he/she begins to narrow the field of options.  The prompts used for this phase, as in most phases, are physical (drawings, models, diagrams, project examples of previous work, etc.). During this phase, the Architect will typically delve into preliminary space planning, building massing, circulation & egress studies, as well as preliminary structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing design.  During this phase, the Architect will commonly initiate a loose conversation about material options.

CLIENT ROLE:  Feedback is the fuel for the engine of design.  Sometimes, an "I don't like that" or a "no way Jose" can be as much- or even more fruitful than positive reactions, though any and all honest reactions are valuable.  It is critical for the client to listen as much as possible to the intent driving each design option rather than relying solely on gut reactions.  This makes for a productive dialogue that will yield very positive results.  Schematic Design is the litmus test for the project so the honest opinions and an openness to new ways of thinking is fundamental to the success of the project.

PROJECT TEAM DURING THIS PHASE: Architect(s), Owner(s), Additional Stakeholders (Community Members, Investors, Donors, Steering Committees, Board Members, etc.)

HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: Decisions as simple as how your building site, where windows are located, how bathrooms relate to each other; these choices can have a major impact on not only on the construction costs of your project but the long-term operating costs as well.  How does your building interact with the sun and prevailing winds during the day?  Does the window placement, wall construction and shading strategy minimize solar heat gain?  Thoughtful choices such as these in stride with the other idiosyncrasies of the project visioning can equate to major financial savings.


Ellipsis Post - Blazing Your Trail

American Institute of Architects - Schematic Design: Quality Management Phase Checklist

Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 01 - Schematic Design


GOAL: Having established a clear direction at the conclusion of the Schematic Design phase, the goal of Design Development phase is the refinement and solidification of the looser design vision into a focused path of project development.  This phase marks the hinge point between the visionary ideas of schematic design and the translation of those into technically viable concrete solutions.  Although creativity is ever present from start to finish in every project, the goal of this phase is to zoom in on the project to calibrate each element into a part that supports - and is in harmony with - the whole.

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: The Architect's services for this phase include design refinement, material selection & specification, budget refinement, construction detailing and the rigorous coordination of all major building systems (structural strategies, mechanical/electrical/pluming solutions, etc.)

CLIENT ROLE: Similar to the previous phase, the role of the client is to provide open and honest feedback with timeliness and regularity.  Equally important during this phase is to practice the discipline of sticking by the design decisions made and approved during the previous phases.

PROJECT TEAM DURING THIS PHASE: Architect(s), Owner(s), Additional Stakeholders, Engineering Consultants (Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Fire-Protection, Acoustical, Audio-Visual, Security, etc.), Contractor(s) (in cases where the Owner would like pricing and construction input on the front-end of a project to help steer its development).

HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: A deep knowledge of construction systems, building systems (HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing, etc.) and the agility to marry the Owner's needs with the appropriate strategies (systems, materials, etc.) can build-in major savings into a project, both on the front-end and long-term.  Missteps during this critical phase of development can set costly measures in motion so having an Architect in your corner to guide you through these choices can dial back the bottom line in significant ways.  In support of this value, the Architect is typically responsible for assembling a qualified team of consultants (engineering & otherwise) as required by the scope and ambition of the project.  Choosing these team members wisely can extend the savings dramatically.


Ellipsis Post - Making Your Project Tick

American Institute of Architects - Emerging Professional's Companion - Design Development

Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 02 - Design Development


GOAL:  Upon the client's approval of all final information discussed at the conclusion of the Design Development Phase, the goal of this phase is to translate all design information from previous phases into clear technical documents that may be used to communicate the full scope of the project to construction professionals and permitting authorities.  

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: This phase includes the creation of drawings, calculations and specifications for the purposes of 1) securing a building permit, 2) obtaining final pricing and 3) guiding the manner in which the building or space is constructed. The various iterations of the drawing set (blueprints) and the design specifications that are created during this phase become the key tool with which the construction of the project will be priced, evaluated for the required permits and will ultimately become part and parcel to the contract between the Owner and the Contractor.  

CLIENT ROLE: As technical drawings are created, questions emerge on a daily basis.  Although this phase is more technical in nature, design is still in full stride.  The willingness of the client to engage in frequent discussions and to make clear, timely decisions is key.

PROJECT TEAM DURING THIS PHASE: Architect(s), Owner(s), Additional Stakeholders, Engineering Consultants, Contractor(s), Permitting Authorities (to assist in subsequent rounds of detailed code interpretations), Product Manufacturers & Vendors (to assist in the selection, specifications and pricing of various finishes, fixtures, equipment and building components).

HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: What's the quickest way to over-extend your budget?  Skimp out on the drawings.  A poorly-coordinated drawing set and/or haphazard mistakes on paper translate into huge losses during the construction phase.  Wait, you wanted this wall to be placed over THERE?  The drawings show it HERE!  Oops.  Let's call the framer, electrician and plumber back to the site to tear down their work and rebuild it over THERE.  Cha-ching.  Your Architect should, by all means necessary, strive to deliver the best, most comprehensive set of drawing possible.  Any project funds allocated to the creation of these drawings will be a drop in the bucket compared to the dollars it will save the Owner in potential onsite conflicts, confusion and rework.  Guess what else?  These drawings will also be used to procure your building permit so they'd better be clear, accurate and thorough.  And one more thing - these drawings are the centerpiece of the contract an Owner will sign with a Contractor.  Their job is to articulate the exact scope of work for which an Owner will be paying.  They.Better.Be.Good. 


Ellipsis Post - Speak With Purpose

American Institute of Architects - Construction Documentation-Drawings

Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 03 - Contract Documents


GOAL: Having developed the construction drawings and design specifications to a reasonable level, the goal of this phase is twofold; to 1) negotiate and secure a competitive construction bid from a reputable contractor and 2) secure the necessary permits for construction.

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: This phase includes the administration of the permit process (i.e. completion of all applications, administrative review meetings at City Hall, etc.), administration of the bid or pricing process and consultation to the Owner during contract negotiations with a contractor.

CLIENT ROLE: Remember when we discussed trusting your Architect?  Never is there more critical a time to trust the professional you've hired than now.  Selecting the right contractor is critical to the success of any project.  A project is only as good as the hand that builds it.  The negotiation and selection process requires finesse and a deep-rooted knowledge base that can only be drawn from a career spent juggling the nuances of creative ambition, technical proficiency and construction know-how.  In order to keep all the balls in the air, you must rely on the professional insights of your Architect.  Placing your trust in the professional you've hired will ensure the most optimal relationship of quality, cost-efficiency and project schedule compliance.  

PROJECT TEAM DURING THIS PHASE: Architect(s), Owner(s), Additional Stakeholders, Engineering Consultants, Contractor(s) (General Contractors and Specialized Sub-Contractors), Permitting Authorities (to review and approve the project's detailed design intent), Product Manufacturers & Vendors (to assist in the selection, specifications and pricing of various finishes, fixtures, equipment and building components), Legal Professionals (to assist the Owner in structuring their contract with the contractor).

HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: Efficiently navigating the permitting process and the various gauntlets of project review can be tricky.  Experience in dealing with the idiosyncrasies of various municipalities can save a lot of time and can protect the momentum of a project.  Efficiently bridging the gap between the design phases (Phases 00-03) and the construction phase (Phase 05) is critical in keeping things on track.  Time is the critical savings in this case but, as we know, time-is-money.  In parallel to the permitting & various review processes is the important effort of bidding the job and securing a qualified contractor. Architects can bring contractors to the table that have survived their own rigorous vetting process.  Trust us when we say that nobody is more aware and appreciative of a good quality construction professional than an Architect.  These are the professionals we seek out throughout our careers and these are the people we can bring to the table as a value to the Owner.  During this phase an Architect will also evaluate all bids, communicate with the various bidders to dial in on their specific combination of scope and costs and, ultimately, translate the nuances of each bid into a clear apples-to-apples comparison.  Knowledge is power.  This analysis allows the Owner to make an educated choice and acquire the most comprehensive value for the money they will be spending. Finally, the Architect assists the Owner in negotiating the terms of the contract they will ultimately sign with the contractor. We will consult with the Owner and the Owner's legal team)


American Institute of Architects - Emerging Professional's Companion - Bidding & Contract Negotiation

Ellipsis on Pinterest -  Phase 04 - Bidding, Negotiation & Permitting


GOAL: The goal of this phase is simple.  Get the project built.  Get it built well.  Get it built on schedule and within budget.

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: This phase includes on-site coordination with the General Contractor during construction, review and approval of contractor payment applications, review and approval of product submittals and shop drawings from vendors as well as supplementary drawings.

CLIENT ROLE: The role of the client during construction will be to regularly meet with the Architect and general contractor to discuss the myriad of adjustments that become necessary as construction unfolds.  Clever design thinking, problem solving and quality assurance is a team sport.  It requires frequent and collaborative attention from all three parties.

PROJECT TEAM DURING THIS PHASE: Architect(s), Owner(s), Additional Stakeholders, Engineering Consultants, Contractor(s) (General Contractors and Specialized Sub-Contractors), Permitting Authorities, Municipal Inspectors, Product Manufacturers & Vendors.

HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: No matter how thorough and water-tight a set of construction drawings may be, unforeseen situations will always arise during construction.  It is the nature of the game. The purity of a project's design intent is a moving target from the first shovel in the dirt to the last stroke of a paint brush.  It must be protected from start to finish.  An Architect's regular presence on a job site can allow mistakes or unexpected obstacles to be recognized and addressed in the moment for little-to-no cost.  Missing these situations and allowing construction to continue in-and-around that area can result in an exponential increase in the cost of rework when the situation is finally noticed.  A typical contract between an Owner and a Contractor will task the Architect with reviewing and approving payment applications from the contractor during construction.  Having a sustained presence on a job site allows the Architect to evaluate the progress of construction in real-time to ensure that the Owner's payments are directly commensurate with the work that has been completed. 


American Institute of Architects - Contract Administration 

American Institute of Architects - Construction Contract Administration: A Perspective for Design

Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 05 - Construction Phase Contract Administration


GOAL: The goal of this phase, simply put, is to dot all the i's and cross all the t's

ARCHITECT'S SERVICES: This phase includes the administration of the final punch list for the project to ensure proper completion of the construction work.  Additional services include assistance with coordinating the ongoing calibration of the building & its systems and the the organization of all building-related documentation from the Architect to the Owner.

CLIENT ROLE:  You're done!!  Your role at this point in the project is to pat yourself on the back and simply enjoy living and/or working in the completed building or space as the Architect assists in continually bettering your environment.

PROJECT TEAM DURING THIS PHASE: Architect(s), Owner(s), Engineering Consultants, Contractor(s).

HOW ARCHITECTS CAN SAVE YOU TIME & MONEY IN THIS PHASE: An Architect's punch list is the key tool to ensuring that an Owner gets exactly what they have paid for.  Typically, a reasonable percentage of the construction contract amount is withheld until the final completion of the punch list.  A quality punch list and the proper coordination of the completion of all items included is critical to the final quality and success of a project.  This ensures that the Owner is given optimal value for even the last of the dollars they spend on construction.


Ellipsis on Pinterest - Phase 06 - Post-Construction Administration


American Institute of Architects - How Design Works For You

American Institute of Architects - The Five Phases of Design

American Institute of Architects - Maximizing Your Relationship 

American Institute of Architects - Defining the Architect's Basic Services 

American Institute of Architects - Questions to Ask Your Architect 

American Institute of Architects - You and Your Architect

Be sure to check out the previous posts in this series as well as the subsequent posts covering the remaining phases of your project.  Links are provided below:

01 - What...Would You Say...You Do?

02 - Soup-to-Nuts: The Stages of Your Project

03 - What is Your Problem?

04 - Blazing Your Trail

05 - Making Your Project Tick

06 - Speak With Purpose

07 - Price It, Permit It & Put the Rubber to the Road