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Architecture Explained: The 5 Architecture Phases of Design

Updated: May 2, 2022

In this guide, we will break down the 5 design phases as defined by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and explain what each phase consists of. This article is helpful for both clients and emerging design professionals.

Designing and building a home or property from start to finish can be an extensive and complex task that is broken down into design phases in order to organize the project into more manageable steps. Breaking it into design phases helps all parties involved with both organizing project schedules and managing client’s expectations. As a client, building a new home or property can be overwhelming therefore being familiar with each phase and what’s included in each phase will help alleviate these fears and form trust in the architect. In this guide, we will break down the 5 design phases as defined by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and explain what each phase consists of.



Phase 0:


Prior to the first phase of design, we do preliminary research and gather information on the both the property and the client’s lifestyle and needs. During this time, we get to know the client and understand their desires for this project in order to determine square footage, spaces, and organization of program that best fits their needs. Clients should expect to answer questions about their lifestyle in order to allow the architect to get to know you better, which allows them to better create a design that better fits. This is often referred to as Pre-design, which can also include extra research about the feasibility of a project including but not limited to zoning and code analysis, site analysis, and reviewing any legal documents related to the site. This study portion may not always be included and a client does not always hire an architect for this.

Phase 1:

Schematic Design:

The first phase of architectural design is Schematic design which involves creating a basic plan for program adjacencies, size and locations. This is where the architect will begin to lay out spaces and create the basic form of the building. This process can include both sketching and formal drawings. While drafting up these preliminary designs, the architect is also keeping in mind the discussions of the client’s project vision, compiled information on the site, as well as client budget. The architect can draft design options to then present to the client. At this stage, the client and architect will have meetings to go over these designs and the client can express what they like or don’t like. Make sure to be open with your design professional and let them know if there is something you don’t understand or prefer. Once the client and the architect have agreed to the general design, the next phase will then begin which is where a great deal of the details will be worked out.

Phase 2:

Design Development:

The second phase of architectural design is Design Development where the details of the design are now going to be flushed out. Now that the client and the architect have a basic idea, we must now refine the design. At this stage the client and architect look at specific materials for both interior and exterior finishes, fixtures, as well as windows/doors. Other specifics such as plumbing, electrical, cooling/heating, and general structural details will also be finalized. The client will begin to see their project coming to life and have a better idea of the final outcome. The design will now be finalized after both parties have come to an agreement.

Phase 3:

Construction Documents:

The third and largest phase of architectural design is Construction Documents in which the architect will start working on construction blueprints which include specifications of all the details, dimensions, and notes that are necessary in order for the builder to easily understand how the building will come together. This phase takes the longest due to the need for precision and accuracy in order for effective communication of the project details to the builders. There will typically be two sets of drawings: the Permit set and the Construction set. The permit set will be sent to the building department for approval and the construction set will be for the general contractor.

Phase 4:


The fourth phase of architectural design is the Bidding phase in which the goal is to identify a construction company to build the project. The architect can assist in introducing the clients to reputable builders that they believe are best suited for the project. This can always include a multitude of factors including variables such as the construction company’s experience in passive home building for a project that utilizes passive home.

Phase 5:

Construction Administration:

Construction Administration is the fifth and final phase of architectural design in which the architect will periodically make visits to the job site to review progress and ensure the contractor is following the construction documents. The architect is not required to supervise construction but should be available to answer any additional questions or concerns the contractor might have. During this process, it is possible that decisions must be modified and change orders might be required. The architect will write field document reports and at the end of the project, will help develop the final punch list to ensure all work is completed to satisfaction.

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