The Stages of Architectural Design

administration design Oct 15, 2020


If you feel like the construction world is a big, big place, you’re not crazy. (It is.)

And if you feel like there’s an uncountable number of tasks to accomplish in literally every project, you’re still not crazy. (There are.)

Thankfully, everything fits into a fairly compartmentalized process known as the stages of architectural design. Use these categories like file folders so you don’t lose your mind when learning the architectural ropes.


1.     PD | Pre-Design

This first stage is largely about programming, which is preliminary research on important factors.

For example, you need to know if the land can handle a building sitting on it, which is predicted primarily through geotechnical analysis.

Pre-Design is also when you begin imagining the building’s general function and form, estimating the building’s projected cost, and getting your head around additional requirements relevant to the project.


2.     SD | Schematic Design

Time to start drawing. Napkin sketches turn into full-blown CAD renderings.

Schematic Design is essentially the proto-drawings stage, when the abstract ideas swimming around now take some discernable shape.


3.     DD | Design Development

Ideas conceived in SD now act as springboards into further detailing in the Design Development stage.

DD is a good time to decide where most items should ultimately stay. You can always make last-minute decisions later, but at least your commitments are now largely solidified, which takes some pressure off.

Getting the specifier involved at this stage (rather than at CD) is ideal, since it gives them more time to work with you and prevents the feverish midnight-hour scrambling which is otherwise a near guarantee.


4.     CD | Construction Documents

Theoretically, all of your drawings and specs are complete by this point — every dimension, finish, nut, and bolt accounted for.

Try to avoid making any changes after this stage. It wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would be messier.


5.     BP | Building Permit

Your building is now legally allowed to be where it’s going to be, which is always good.


6.     BN | Bidding and Negotiating

The project is bid out auction-style to contractors so that they can actually build the building.


7.     CA | Construction Administration

But the work is so not done yet, because now the entire construction process itself begins at this point — and that means keeping up with a lot of procedural paperwork that really is integral to the efficient operation of the project.


That’s the timeline in a nutshell. You can expect most projects to include all these elements in some way or another.