Architectural Design Process 101: From Concept to Construction

Every building starts with a vision.  Architects bring these visions to life.  But what does the architectural design process entail? How does a vision go from a conceptualized idea to something tangible?  In this blog post, we will explore the steps and processes that an architect must undergo in order to transform a vision into a three-dimensional reality. 

Step 1: Masterplanning (Pre-Design Process)

The first step of the architectural design process involves everything before any actual design takes place.  To put it simply, architectural masterplanning is where the goals, values, and needs of a client are defined.  This is the stage of the process where an architect will meet with his/her client to discuss and refine a shared “game plan” for the project.  Developing a cohesive relationship with a client is a critical piece of the puzzle as it is extremely important for the client and the architect to share the same “vision” before moving on to the subsequent stages.

During this phase of the architectural design process, questions such as: What sorts of features – both functional and aesthetic – does the building require? What is the time frame for occupying your new space? Who will be occupying the space?  How will the space be utilized? What are the indoor and outdoor space requirements? What does the budget look like? 

Once these questions are fully considered and discussed, the next stage of the architectural design process can take place.

Step 2: Schematic Design

Now that the architect and client are on the same page with the overall vision of the project, the foundation and design elements of the building are brought to life through drawings.  The architect evaluates the program, schedule, and budget from the first stage of the architectural design process and prepares a rough sketch of the building schematics to review with the client.  The preliminary illustrations will outline the layout, features, and aesthetics of the space, which work to offer a first glimpse as to how the building will take shape.  

During this stage of the architectural design process, honest communication between architect and client is paramount.  Establishing a clear decision-making process can make the difference between satisfaction and regret.  

Step 3: Design Development

Now that the schematics are drawn out and agreed upon, it’s time expand those illustrations into a working model of the final project.  During this phase of the architectural design process, the schematics from the previous step will be overlaid with far more detailed information provided by team members and consultants. 

The design team will work to solve any coordination issues, while at the same time focusing on enhancing the project in order to mitigate the need for major revisions during construction documentation, or even worse, construction itself. 

At the same time, the architect will put their minds toward scaling floor plans and drawing out detailed elevations for approval.  Here, the design elements and plans that have been decided on along the way will be fleshed out into a three-dimensional form.  This is where things start to get really exciting since the schematics for the building will start to become much more vivid and tangible. 

It is, however, worthy to note that once the final outline is approved and signed off on, any significant changes made after this stage of the architectural design process will result in costly repercussions – so make sure everything is 100% up to par before moving on to the next steps.

Step 4: Construction Drawings

The final step of the architectural design process involves translating the schematics so that they are suitable for construction and permit submittal. The architect will prepare final drawings that fully communicate the design elements to those who will be involved in the construction process of the space. 

Construction drawings take form through large scale, detailed outlines that define the components of the building that need to be assembled and fabricated in order for it to take shape. It is the architect’s task, now, to develop the remaining elevations and preliminary structural analyses before consulting with the team of engineers, designers, landscapers, etc. to ensure a complete and coordinated set for construction. 

Step 5: Bringing the Vision to Life

Once the architectural design process is completed and ready for building, it’s up to the construction team to take those ideas and bring them to life. 

Zeroing in on a Net-Zero Future

Climate change is the fundamental design flaw of our modern-day era.  It’s the elephant in the room we have yet to confront head-on.  While other concerns such as healthcare, education, unemployment, etc. are all profoundly important in their own way, there’s a crisis knocking at our door that we must, now more than ever, answer to.

The threat that climate change poses doesn’t just apply to humans, but all life on earth, and buildings have continued to remain complicit—arguably more so than their ever-roving counterpart, the automobile.  Just this past year, residential and commercial buildings accounted for roughly 40% of the total energy consumption in the U.S.  Due to cement production, greenfield development, and fossil fuel burning, the residential and commercial sectors have also become the culprit for nearly half of the carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

It’s not too late to turn things around.

In recent times, the idea of “net-zero” buildings has become the talk of the town – or planet, more like it.  From related news articles, social posts, and blogs (just like the one you are reading now) flooding the internet from nearly every angle, it would seem that everyone is slowly becoming more and more interested in this utopian idea of a “net-zero planet”.

What exactly does it mean?  And how can we achieve this status?  

For those of you who have sought refuge under a comfortable rock, distanced far from the turbulence of today’s current events, you probably aren’t too familiar with the recent net-zero ideologies.

To put it in layman’s terms, net-zero buildings (or net-zero carbon/energy buildings), are structures that generate 100% of their energy needs on-site and/or off-site via renewable energy sources.  This means that an energy utility bill of a net-zero building would be – as the name would infer – zero ($0).

How is this possible? 

As of today, conventional buildings often utilize energy systems that result in emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, etc.  Net-zero buildings, on the other hand, harness emissions-free, renewable energy via on-site/off-site sources such as solar, wind, and/or thermal energy systems.

To increase efficiency and reduce a building’s carbon footprint even further, many buildings will incorporate passive design elements within their build.  Some examples of this include implementing natural desiccants to remove humidity, strategically placed windows and mirrored surfaces to harness natural light, as well as vegetative roofing to deflect heat in the summer and retain warm air in the winter.  For more information on the sustainable techniques of “green buildings”, click here to check out one of our recent blog posts titled: Building a Sustainable Church.

So, what are our next steps?

At this point in time, we already have the technology to make this net-zero dream a reality.  It’s just a matter of convincing the rest of the world to hop on board.  Yes, it’s true that net-zero buildings often cost more upfront than your run-of-the-mill fossil fuel burner, but looking at it from an investment standpoint, many would deem that this choice to go net-zero makes great economic sense.  It’s up to us now to spread the word and help others see the value in pursuing the net-zero future ahead.