What Are the Stages of Architectural Design?

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Programming and Site Analysis

At the beginning of a building project, the architect determines the scope of the work, also know as the program. It is in the programming phase that the key parameters and objectives of the design work are defined. For a house project, the program would contain information such as the types of amenities the client wants in the house, room square footage requirements, numbers of rooms and construction budget. For a larger building project, such as a school, a program would be more complex, describing the functions and numbers of room types, building systems such as electrical and mechanical, exterior design features such as playgrounds and required interior finishes. For very complex projects, a program would be split into separate buildings with a master programming document uniting the individual building programs.

The architect will research the applicable building and planning codes that relate to the project location, also known as site analysis. Thorough site analysis is important in the early stages of a building design, as knowledge of the development rules of the project location can determine parameters for the size and layout of the building.

Schematic and Developed Design Phases

Schematic design is one of the best recognized phases of architectural design, as this is when the architect quickly sketches or models several design schemes. These preliminary sketches and models are then turned into schematic floor plans, elevations, and 3-D images of the building design. Based on the program and site analysis, the architect interprets the information into floor plan and site plan drawings that fulfill all of the client's design criteria. The end of each design phase is marked by a presentation to the client, followed by their approval of the architect's design work. The early design phases require a lot of client feedback, and there are often several changes to the initial schematic design before it moves into the developed design phase.

In developed design, the approved schematic design layout is further refined into a workable building. The architect will assemble a consultant team, typically consisting of a structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers. Parallel with the development of the architecture, the consulting engineers perform design work on the systems in the building and provide engineering design drawings for the architect to accommodate into the architectural design. As new information is acquired from the consultants, a challenge for the architect is to keep the building true to the original design intent and within the estimated construction budget. By the end of the developed design phase, the architect will typically present CAD drawings of floor plans, elevations, sections and site plan. The client may also request 3-D computer renderings of the design to get a sense of the look of the completed building. The scope of work for the developed design phase varies from project to project and can also include physical models, colored presentation drawings and computer animations.

Working Drawings

With the design of the look of the building complete and approved by the client, the architect focuses on the design and documentation of the details of the project. This phase is known as both working drawings or contract documentation. Design of the ways materials, structure and systems connect is worked through between the architect and the consultant team. In the working drawings phase, a set of drawings and specifications are completed for builders pricing and building permitting.

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