Skip to main content

Starting an architectural project can be a daunting task, filled with challenges and uncertainties. Understanding the phases of architectural design is crucial to having a roadmap that guides both architects and clients through each step of the process.

In this blog, we’ll dive into the seven fundamental phases of architectural design, from preliminary planning to construction administration, disclosing the intricacies of each stage and highlighting their significance to ensure the success of any architectural venture.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the 5 fundamental phases of architectural design is crucial for a successful project outcome.
  • These phases, from preliminary planning to construction administration, provide a structured approach to project management and help manage client expectations.
  • Each phase serves a specific purpose, from gathering initial information in the pre-design phase, architectural documentation process to overseeing construction in the final phase.
  • Clear communication and collaboration between architects, structural engineers and clients are essential throughout each stage to ensure project success.
  • Architects play a significant role in guiding clients through each phase, ensuring that the project stays on track and meets expectations.

Role of an architect in architectural design

An architect is like a master planner for buildings. They do more than just make them look good. Architects work on every part of a project, from planning to making sure it meets safety rules. They talk to clients to understand what they want, estimate costs, technical specifications and pick the right people for the job.

During construction, they keep an eye on things to make sure everything goes smoothly. Architects also create documents, visit construction sites, and even do marketing to find new clients.

It’s not an easy job; architects need to study for many years and pass tough exams. But many find it rewarding because they get to create places where people live, work, and play.

Their job can vary a lot depending on the project and their role. They might meet with clients, create designs, plan the project, make detailed blueprints, and oversee construction. Each architect’s experience can be different, depending on the type of project they work on. Some architects focus on smaller projects like homes, while others work on big projects like airports.

An architect designs buildings, like houses or shopping centers, based on what clients want. They use special software and drawings to come up with ideas, which they refine with the client’s input.

Once the initial design options are approved, they create detailed plans for construction, making sure everything meets safety and quality standards. They also help with getting the necessary permissions for building projects. Ultimately, architects focus on the aesthetics and functionality of a building, while civil engineers focus on its structural integrity.

7 phases of architectural design

The architectural design phase is a creative team effort involving architects, engineers, and consultants who work together to turn your ideas into a real-life structure.

Phases of design in architecture projects serve two key purposes: they simplify project management by providing a structured approach to handling multiple tasks simultaneously, and they help manage client expectations by offering a clear roadmap of the project’s progression.

With steps like Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding, and Construction Administration, along with an additional phase like Programming/Pre-design, architects can efficiently guide clients through the process, ensuring their concerns are addressed and their trust in the project’s success is maintained.

Pre-Design (Preliminary Phase)

Before starting to plan a building, there’s a step called pre-design or Preliminary Phase. It’s like collecting all the important information before getting started. First, you talk to the people who want the building to know what they want and need.

Then, you check out the place where the building will be and see if there are any rules about what you can build there. You also figure out how much money and time you’ll need, and check for any dangerous stuff on the site. Basically, Pre-Design is like doing homework before starting a big project, so everyone knows what to do before designing and building.


The Programming Phase is the first step in designing a building, where architects or clients figure out what needs to be done. They don’t make any actual designs yet; instead, they ask lots of questions to understand what the building should achieve and how it should look.

They look at things like space needed, goals of the project, and budget. By gathering all this information and making plans, they make sure everyone’s needs are met. Once they agree on everything, they can move on to the next steps in the design process.

Schematic design

In the Schematic Design phase, the architects start making the client’s ideas into a real building plan. They sketch out different ideas and create rough sketches to show how the building might look. They figure out where rooms will go and start thinking about things like heating and plumbing.

They have meetings with the client to show them these ideas through 3D image and 3D floor plans and listen to their feedback. The goal is to come up with a rough plan that everyone likes. Schematic Design is the first step in making the building a reality, where the basic shape and size start to take form.

Design development

The Design Development Phase is where the architect’s ideas start to become detailed plans. They work on both the inside and outside of the building, figuring out materials and finishes.

This phase is crucial because it determines the preliminary cost estimate and how long it will take. Architects collaborate with engineers and other experts to make sure everything is on track.

They create more detailed drawings and choose materials like floor plans, windows and doors. This phase is when clients can really see their project taking shape. It’s also when they decide on specific materials, which can be exciting or stressful. The goal is to finalize everything so construction can begin.

Construction documents

During this phase, the architect turns their design into detailed plans for construction. They create two sets of drawings: one for the construction team and another for the local authorities for permits.

These drawings include all the details needed to build, like materials and connections between building components. It’s a crucial step that takes a lot of time because it ensures the design is executed accurately.

Clients might need to make decisions during this phase, and the architect helps guide them. This phase is the longest and makes up about 40% of the architect’s work. The drawings are tailored for different potential contractors, reducing confusion on the construction site.

Once the drawings are ready, they are submitted for approval, but this process can take a while. Some people hire helpers to speed up the approval process.

Bidding and Negotiation

In a design-build project where the same firm handles both design and construction, there’s no need to get bids from contractors. But if the client needs to find a contractor, they can interview and get competitive bids from different ones.

Contractors prefer projects that are ready to start construction, so having all the permits in place helps. Bidding involves the client selecting a contractor and signing contracts.

This phase takes up about 5% of the architect’s time and fees. The architect helps answer contractor questions and provides any needed documentation. It’s possible to start this phase early, but waiting for all construction documents to be completed ensures a more accurate price estimate.

Hiring a contractor early on can help keep the project within budget, as only they can guarantee construction cost estimates.

Construction administration

In the final phase of a construction project, the architect shifts from designing to managing. They visit the site regularly to ensure the plans are being followed and address any issues. They act as an advisor to the owner, documenting progress and ensuring quality.

This phase, called Construction Administration, typically takes up to 20% of the architect’s time and fees. They oversee construction until the building is finished and the owner gets a Certificate of Occupancy. During construction, architects lead meetings, review contractor submissions, approve payments, and address any issues that arise.

After construction, they perform a final walkthrough, create a punch list of remaining tasks, and exchange necessary documents with the owner. They may also conduct a warranty inspection about ten months later.

Importance of understanding phases in architectural design

Understanding the phases of architectural design is essential for a successful project outcome. It provides a structured approach to project management, helps manage client expectations, and ensures that the final building meets everyone’s needs and desires.

Architects play a crucial role in guiding clients through each phase, making sure that everything is done just right from start to finish.

Each phase serves a specific purpose and helps manage the project efficiently. It’s important because it ensures that everyone involved, from architects to clients, knows what to expect at each step of the process.

For example, in the Pre-Design phase, architects gather important information and understand the client’s needs and desires. This phase acts like doing homework before starting a big project, ensuring that everyone is on the same page before diving into the design process. Moving on to the Schematic Design phase, architects start turning ideas into actual building codes. 

Design team sketches out different concepts and collaborates with clients to create a rough plan that everyone agrees on. This phase is crucial because it sets the foundation for the entire project.

As the project progresses through phases like Design Development and Construction Documents, the details become more refined, and decisions about materials and finishes are made. This helps ensure that the project stays within budget and meets the client’s expectations.

Finally, in the Construction Administration phase, architects oversee the construction phase to ensure that everything is built according to the plans and address any issues that arise along the way.


Going through the steps of architectural design is crucial for making sure a project turns out well. Starting from the early planning and figuring out what’s needed, to making 3-dimensional images, detailed plans and overseeing construction, each step is crucial.

Making sure everyone agrees on everything and that the project stays on track is key. Understanding these steps helps everyone involved work together smoothly and ensures successful completion and the final building meets expectations perfectly. Architects are there to guide clients through each step, making sure everything is done just right.

Jan Kees van Mourik

Jan Kees van Mourik, Owner of Blinqlab Direct and an entrepreneur has lead his companies in providing innovative real estate marketing services. He has been providing state-of-art real estate marketing services for real estate agents, property developers, photographers and others. Allowing them to focus on their core business of developing, selling and renting property.