Architectural projects involve a series of design phases that help organize the process into manageable steps. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the significance of design phases and delve into each of the architectural design phases:

1. Why Design Phases are Essential

Before diving into the design phases, let’s understand the importance of implementing them in architecture projects. Design phases serve multiple purposes, including effective project management and managing clients’ expectations. By breaking down the project into distinct phases, architects can ensure a smoother process and instill confidence in their clients.

2. The Five Phases of a Design Project

a. Programming Phase of Design

The initial phase, also known as the pre-design phase, involves problem-seeking and scope definition. Architects interact with clients to comprehend their needs, wants, and requirements. No actual design work is done in this phase; instead, it focuses on research and decision-making. Creating a six-step programming process helps in gathering relevant information, establishing goals, and determining quantitative requirements.

b. Schematic Design

The schematic design phase is where the basic form of the building takes shape. Architects develop floor plans, site plans, and building elevations, and engage in iterative discussions with clients to finalize the basic design. Several design alternatives may be presented to the client during this phase.

c. Design Development Phase

In this phase, architects delve into the details of the design. The basic ideas from the schematic design phase are refined, and specific materials are evaluated for beauty, durability, and cost. This phase also involves solidifying the plans into actionable steps, considering construction methods and materials. If the schematic design produced multiple design options, the client selects one during this phase.

d. Construction Documents

During the construction documents phase, architects transition from service providers to product providers. They create two complete sets of drawings: a Permit set for building permit applications and an Issue for Construction set for the construction process. Construction drawings include detailed information on structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, interior and exterior finishes, and the building site.

e. Bidding

The bidding phase involves finding a suitable construction company to build the project. The architect guides the client in selecting a contractor, either through a negotiated bid or a competitive bid process. Contractors are invited to submit bids based on the construction documents. The accuracy and completeness of the construction documents impact the accuracy of the bids received.

f. Construction Administration

During the construction phase, architects provide oversight and ensure that the building is constructed according to the design specifications. This involves arranging pre-construction and progress meetings, reviewing contractor submittals, responding to Requests for Information, and conducting regular site visits. After construction, the architect performs a final walk-through, develops a punch list, and assists with project closeout.

3. Fee Breakdown by Design Phases

It is essential to understand the percentage of time and effort each design phase requires when determining architectural fees. A proper fee breakdown based on design phases ensures that adequate resources are allocated to each stage. The fee breakdown typically includes percentages for Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding, and Construction Administration.


By following the architectural design phases outlined in this guide, architects can effectively manage projects, meet clients’ expectations, and ensure successful project outcomes. Each phase serves a distinct purpose, leading to a well-organized and seamless design process.

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