How The Architectural Design Process Works

Building Designer

After years as an Architectural Designer you find that there are many different ways of achieving the design and construction of a building, be it residential or commercial in nature. Each designer has their own processes and proclivities, shaped by years of trial and error as they have worked professionally to design buildings for their clients. I for one, think this is a great thing, allowing each designer their own individual design process but also allowing prospective clients (people like you) many options and scenarios under which you can find the right designer for your project. Some designers may not be for you, and that’s a good thing! This means that out there somewhere there is a building designer who is a great fit for you and your project with a process that fits your needs and personality while getting you what you want and need.

While each designer, architect or professional may differ in their processes, the architectural design process can for the most part be broken down into 4-5 distinct stages. Every building designer will differ in their application of these phases and how they like to work. But in general the path to a great design that client’s love will look relatively similar. Here’s an overview of these stages to show you what the Architectural Design process looks like.

It is important to note that each project is very different and could require all, or only some the following stages. Also, the Building Designer you work with may provide all of these services or only a few. The following stages may also be also be executed by 1 or more professionals. On some smaller projects, every single stage may be overkill and not relevant to the situation. But at risk of leaving any out, I will broadly cover them all.

1. Pre Design/ Research Stage

Building Design Process

The Pre - Design and Research stage may begin before you have engaged your building designer as a part of your initial conversations. However, this will likely be explored in more detail once you have engaged your designer. Local planning schemes and building code compliance will be researched to ensure the project is viable whilst preparing a detailed brief of your building and how it will be designed. A good design brief will detail the wants and needs of the client, while being mindful of budget and design restraints.

2. Design Phase (s)

Each designer will work differently in the design phase but for the most part, the idea is to move the design from a rough idea through to a more detailed solution, whilst exploring viable options along the way and settling on the right design. The drawing and detailing of your building will be apart of either one or two stages; A Concept Design and A Preliminary Design. These can have different names, but will serve the same function...

Concept Design

A concept design can be prepared to start with, outlining the general scope, layout and functionality of the building taking into account aspects like budget, site layout, space planning and aesthetics.

At this stage the design is usually in a more schematic format, allowing for multiple options to be presented and quick adjustments to arrive at the right design solution. Think of this as painting in broad strokes.

Concept Design Sample - For Site Layout and Space Planning

Concept Design Sample - For Site Layout and Space Planning

Preliminary Design

Once a concept or schematic design has been agreed upon and the path forward looks a little clearer. The design and drawings will be prepared in more detail. This can be referred to as design development, but in my practice I refer to this as a Preliminary Design. A more detailed set of plans will have more drawings and show things like levels, material specifications and the final look of the building likely alongside a 3D Model for visual reference.

From here the final amendments will be made as the design is progressed to its finality.

With an approved preliminary design, the process can move forward to construction drawings and documentation.

In some cases, depending on the location and type of building, the project may require approval by a local council first. Council’s are only concerned with the town planning aspects and impact of the building, and as such typically  require less detailed plans. So this is where a planning approval would applied for, before moving to construction drawings. It would be unfortunate to detail the plans ready for construction, only to find that council will not let you build….that’s fun for everybody ; )

Preliminary Design Sample

3. Construction Drawings

For some clients or situations, a Concept or Preliminary Design is all they need for now. They may even seek options from multiple designers. But for those who wish to construct their building, a more detailed set of construction drawings and documentation is required to move to the next stage.

The construction plans are detailed to show things like dimensions, finishes, construction specs and more. This is for the builder to price and build from, It is also for the Structural Engineer to work from and for the Certifier to issue a building permit.

After the construction drawings are completed and approved, they will be issued to a structural engineer and any other consultants required for the approval of the building permit. After all additional drawings and reports have been completed, the building designer will likely collate all this information and cross check everything to make sure it is correct and consistent before submitting for the building permit. Once the permit has been issued by the Certifier, construction can begin. Again, each project is different, and in some cases the client may wish to manage this aspect, however with the right experience and contacts, the designer is usually best fitted to manage this process.

Construction Drawings Example - Showing Construction Specifications and Details.

Construction Drawings Example - Showing Construction Specifications and Details.

4. Tendering & Construction Administration


Once the plans are completed and the building permit has been approved, you will need a builder to construct your project. Services for build quotes and construction management will vary greatly among designers. Some professionals will provide services or solutions for this stage of the project, whilst others will not. An Architect will likely provide the whole scope of works and oversee the construction process to ensure the plans are adhered too, hence a typically larger fee. Most Building Designers will not oversee the construction of the project, but some may offer this service themselves or in conjunction with a builder.

The construction itself, or idea changes along the way, can cause the plans to need updated. This is called a variation, and will likely be charged as an additional fee by the designer and required consultants. Changes at this stage of the project can prove costly, as everything that has preceded this stage will need updated and approved again. This is one driving factor for the logical progression of a design from concept to construction. Proper planning and execution will always provide a better experience for the client throughout the process, whilst saving on budget.

From start to finish, it is clear that you should align yourself, with registered and experienced professionals throughout the design and construction phases.This will determine the ease and efficiency of the process as you take an idea to paper and then construction. Working with the right people can avoid headaches and costly mistakes while making the process efficient, effective and easy. Ultimately leading to a functional building that you’re over the moon about.

I hope his has shed some light on the Architectural Design process, and if you have any questions related to this topic or your project, fee free to contact us here

Take care and enjoy the process.