Architectural Design Phases

Architecture Phases Of Design

(Last Updated On: November 6, 2018)

There are 5 design phases to architectural services. They are (in order) Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding, and Construction Administration. These phases are the breakdown of how architects define their design services and the the steps in an architects role in design.

In this article we will be discussing the phases of design as defined by The American Institute Of Architects. The five phases of design are simply a way for Architects to break up the work they do into categories that should be easy for everyone to understand. Understanding design phases can help explain what architects do and how the project is structured.


The Architect’s Phases of Design

Pre-Design and the 5 Design Phases

There are five phases of design, for the purpose of this discussion we will not consider pre-design or feasibility study as one of the phases although we will provide a brief description. The percentages of architectural fees can vary, those indicated are based on our experiences on a typical project. The architectural fee breakdown is a general guideline of how an architects resources are distributed throughout a given project. The Design Phases are

  • Pre-Design
  1. Schematic Design 15% of Architectural Fees  –  Can Range 10% – 25%
  2. Design Development  20% of Architectural Fees  –  Can Range 10% – 25%
  3. Construction Documents 40% of Architectural Fees  –  Can Range 35% – 50%
  4. Bidding  5% of Architectural Fees  –  Can Range slightly off from 5%
  5. Construction Administration 20% of Architectural Fees  –  Can Range 20% – 30%

Architectural Fee Breakdown will vary on project specific needs and project type. As well different architecture firms may propose a different fee breakdown on the architectural design phases.


Pre-Design Phase / Feasibility Study

Pre Design architectural Services

Pre-Design is a a general term for what we do before we start designing a building. This will include preliminary research on the property owner’s part and possibly the architect. Clients do not always hire an architect for this portion. At our firm we do get involved in pre-design architectural services quite often. This can include helping developers decide if they should purchase a property. We often do a zoning analysis in pre-design. Land Survey and site analysis is often considered part of predesign. The client gets a property survey by a licensed land surveyor not an architect. The developer may want to establish a project budget in the Pre-Design Architecture phase. To learn more about pre design check out another post we wrote on Pre Design Architecture. Essentially pre-design will be determining the information we need to begin design. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Site Analysis
    • Survey, Geo technical, financial, etc…
    • If we are dealing with an existing building: asbestos testing, lead testing, or other hazardous materials investigation.
  • Zoning Analysis / Code analysis
    • What is allowed to be built as for use and size.
    • Specific Code Issues that may affect the project.
  • Project Scope
    • Client must identify to the best of their ability the project scope of work.
  • Project Goals
  • Building Program
    • Building Program are the specific uses intended for the building.
  • Project Budgeting
  • Project Schedule
    • Sometimes this may be too preliminary to establish.
  • Selection Of Project team


Schematic Design (SD)

Schematic Design is the first phase of design. And will account for approximately 15% of the architects work and fees on the entire project. Of course the percentages can fluctuate. At this phase the Architect and the owner discuss the project and any requirements provided by the owner. The architect does precedent research and any analysis of the property including zoning and building code issues that may affect the development. Programming is done at this time where the client provides the architect with a list of what spaces are going into the building. The architect establishes the size, location, and relationships between all the spaces. The basic goal of schematic design is to establish the shape and size of the building with some basic plans of the spaces. Schematic is where we figure out more or less how the building will look and operate. This phase has a great deal of sketching lots of meetings with the clients and is overall the fun part for the clients where you are really doing the general design.

Once The basic design is locked down and the Architect provides the client with drawings the Architect and owner will agree to proceed to the next phase of design.

Plan Sketch

Plan Sketch


Design Development Phase (DD)

The Design Development Phase is going to be approximately 20% of the architects work and fees. In Design Development the architect and owner will will work together to select materials including interior finishes and products such as windows. doors, fixtures, appliances, and materials. The architect will revise the drawings with more specificity and detail than in Schematic Design. Engineering will commence on the structure, plumbing, electrical, heating / ventilation systems, energy analysis and any other project specific systems. At the end of design development a good deal of product selection and systems design should be progressing. This phase concludes when the interior and exterior design of the building is locked in by the owner and architect. Below is a 3D rendering of a house at completion of design development and the following images are diagrams of the house showing some of the systems and materials in place.

Lake house design

Lake house design

Design Development Systems


Construction Documents (CD)

Construction Documents Phase is the largest of all the phases for the architect and will be about 40% of the architects work and fees, of course that may vary a little from project to project or with Different Architecture Firms. In the construction document phase the architect and engineers finalize all the technical design and engineering including structural engineering and detailing, heating air conditioning and ventilation systems, plumbing, electrical, gas, energy calculations, and all products and materials are selected and scheduled. The architect produces multiple drawing sets including a filing set for approval from the Department Of Buildings and a separate set of Construction Drawings. At Fontan Architecture  we typically do our construction documents by making separate drawings customized for each work type. For example the electrician gets his own drawings that only show the electrical work, and the concrete contractor only gets drawings for foundations and concrete work. This reduces confusion on job sites and makes it easier for everyone to price the job and know exactly what they are responsible for. Below is a sheet out of a set of construction documents with details of the exterior wall construction.

architectural plans details

architectural plans details



Bidding should be self explanatory at this time the owner prepares to select the contractor for the job and sign contracts to proceed with construction this will typically take up 5% of the architects time and fees. Multiple contractors submit bids on the job or the client can directly hire a contractor without getting competitive bids The architects role here will be to assist the client, answer contractors questions provide any additional documentation if requested by or needed by the contractor. This phase can be started at the beginning of the project it does not need to wait until all of the construction documents are completed.

If you have an exact budget in mind at the begging of the process we may recommend you higher a contractor to consult and review the schematic design, design development, and construction drawings from the beginning in order to ensure the project is within the specified budget.  Only a contractor can guarantee a price of construction architects and cost estimators who provided budgets cannot guarantee those prices.


Construction Administration (CA)

The Construction Administration phase of architectural services is the final phase and accounts for probably at most 20% of the architects time and fees on a project. Although this phase is the longest phase usually it is not remotely the majority of the architects work. On typical projects the architect does NOT supervise construction. The architect will periodically visit the job site to see progress and ensure the contractor is following the plans. The architect can review contractor’s monthly invoices to confirm work completion. The architect will be available to answer questions and provide additional information to issues that arise. During this phase it is not uncommon that some additional services for the architect arise due to change orders.

In New York City (and perhaps many other places) the Department Of Buildings (DOB) requires architects to perform multiple progress inspections and special inspections during construction and submit Technical Reports to the DOB. Progress inspections are conducted by the architect and special inspections may require a third party Inspection Agency with a specialized license.

The Architect stays on the project until the the building is completed, final inspections are all completed, and the owner obtains a certificate of occupancy and any other certificates required for operation and use of the building.

Under Construction

Under Construction


This was a basic break down of the Architect’s Phases Of Design. The percentages of cost provided will fluctuate from project to project and between different architecture firms. These phases are universally accepted among most architects in the United States and any architect should be able to give you a more in depth explanation on the phases and there specific fee structure. If you plan on hiring an architect always remember to hire Registered Architects who are licensed and insured in your state.


Thank You For Reading our Blog Post on Architectural Design Phases.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post in the comments section below. If you are interested in learning more about our Architecture Firm or in speaking with an architect please follow this link to Contact An Architect.


New York Architects, Jorge Fontan

Author Jorge Fontan AIA

This post was written by Jorge Fontan, a Registered Architect and owner of Fontan Architecture.

1 Comment

  • Rufina

    August 23, 2018 2:02 pm

    Beautiful concept definition for architecture . loved it 👌👌

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