Demystifying The Process Of A Construction Project

Architectural services may seem to be enigmatic to the layperson, however in this entry I will try to demystify some of the process of architectural services. To begin with, projects almost always follow the same pattern, whether they are renovations, additions, or even new construction. The process is usually the same. In every project there are typically five phases which are:

  • Schematic Design

  • Design Development

  • Construction Documents

  • Bidding/ DOB Filing

  • Construction Administration


Schematic Design


During this phase the architect visits the job site to record the existing conditions by measuring the site thoroughly on the interior or exterior, or both depending upon the scope of work. This is called the survey. After the existing conditions are recorded the architect will take his notes back to his office and begin inputting the information into CAD. Once the information is input the architect can easily see what needs to be done in plan. At that time a design can begin to develop once the architect has the program or the requirements from the client. The architect can then present the client with a preliminary layout for their approval.  Also during this phase, the architect will conduct a zoning and/or building code analysis which will outline what is allowable and what are the limitations of the construction according to the laws of that town or city.

Design Development

In this next phase the architect can take the preliminary layout and begin to develop the design according to the client’s needs and wants. This is where the architect begins to collaborate with the client to iron out all of the kinks of the design and perfect it. It is also during this time the architect begins to present the client with possible materials, finishes, and colors for their approval. Once the design is finalized and approved by the client the architect can now move into the next phase. Also during this phase, consultants may be initiated to join the design team, such as structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers.

Construction Documents


In this phase of the project is where the bulk of the work begins. The architect begins the long process of drawing in detail, everything that had been discussed and approved during the design phases. The drawings almost always include floor plans, elevations, sections and details of the design. Basically, the architect is drawing instructions for the contractor to follow during construction. In the drawings the architect uses very specific language to convey the layout, distances, sizes, heights, materials, and finishes that will make that space a possibility. Sometimes clients are under the misconception that changes are easy to make at this stage after the design has been approved. Another misconception that people typically have is that much of the cad work is automated in some way. Nothing could be further from the truth. The client has to be aware that any changes during this time will affect the design in three dimensions. In other words, any changes, as minor as they may seem, will affect an entire series of drawings creating much more unanticipated work for the architect and slow the project’s progress.


In this phase, the construction documents have been completed and are ready to be submitted to multiple contractors for their pricing. But contrary to popular belief, the lowest bidder is not always awarded the project. Once the bids come back from the contractors with their pricing, sometimes the architect is asked to level the bids, which means the architect goes through each bid, line by line, to see if everything was included and to see if anything is missing. If a contractor comes back with a very low pricing, that bid is always suspected of not being correct or missing items. Simultaneously, the bid process is an opportune time to also submit the drawings to the department of buildings for their review and subsequent approval. Most times the drawings come back with comments from the department of buildings (DOB), asking for more information or to insert additional information on to the drawings. The client may see this as something the architect did wrong, but the reality is that most times the drawings come back with comments from the DOB. The drawings are rarely approved on the first try. Responding to the building department may take a couple of submissions until the building official is satisfied and issues a building permit.

Construction Administration

At this point the project has been awarded, the building permit issued and the construction begins. The architect will monitor the construction’s progress by coordinating the engineers, the contractor, the consultants and the client until the project is complete.

The architect may oversee:

  • all payment requests

  • shop drawing approvals

  • punch lists

  • mock-up approvals

  • alternate materials/ finish approvals

  •  any change orders

Every project varies in size and scope and the client may feel they could skip some of the phases. Often, clients who try to skip steps slowly realize the enormity of such an error and result in paying much more than they intended to have them corrected. Feel free to contact me with any questions.