Six Steps to Building Your Dream

Design and construction projects involve several steps. Typically, projects go through the following six phases. However, on some projects, several of these steps may be combined; on others there may be additional steps.


This first stage, called programming, is probably the most valuable time you will spend with your architect. It is at this time you discuss the requirements for your building: how many rooms, what function the structure will have, who will use it and how. It is also the time when you begin to test the fit between what you want, what you need, and what you can spend.

Don’t come in with solutions already decided upon. Be prepared to explore new and creative ideas. Be very frank about how you want the end result to feel and work. The architect will ask you lots of questions to get a better sense of your goals and needs and to determine if your expectations match your budget. The architect may suggest changes based upon knowledge, experience, and your budget. After thoroughly discussing your functional requirements, the architect will prepare a statement outlining the scope of your projects. During the next step, your program will be realized.


Once you have defined what is to be built, the architect will then do a series of rough sketches, known as schematic designs. These sketches will show you the general arrangement of rooms and of the site. If you have difficulty understanding the sketches (many people do), ask the architect to explain. Depending on the project, some architects will also make models of the design to help you better visualize it. These sketches are not “finished” construction documents. They are meant to show possible approaches for you to consider.

The architect will refine and revise the sketches until a solution is developed that you agree meets the needs of your project. At this point, the architect will also give you a rough preliminary estimate of construction cost. Remember, there are still many more details to be established about your project and that this cost estimate is very general. It is hard to predict market conditions, the availability of materials, and other unforeseen situations that could drive up costs. Therefore, this figure must include a healthy contingency to cover cost changes that arise as the design matures.

Don’t panic if these first sketches seem different from what you first envisioned. Ask your architect how these designs satisfy the requirements you discussed in the first stage. It is vital that you and your architect are clear about what you want and what the architect intends to design. It is much easier to make changes now when your project is on paper, than later on when foundations have been poured and walls are erected. Before preceding to the next phase, the architect will ask for your approval of these sketches.


This step called design development is when the architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design. The floor plans show all the rooms in the correct size and shape. Outline specifications are prepared listing the major materials and room finishes.

When looking at these drawings, try to imagine yourself actually using the spaces. Ask yourself: do the traffic patterns flow well? Does each space serve the intended purpose? Do I have a good sense of what it will look like? Do I like how it looks? Do I agree with the selection of wall and ceiling finishes, door types, windows, etc.?


At this point, the architect prepares construction documents, the detailed drawings and specifications that the contractor will use to establish actual construction cost and to build the project. These drawings and specifications become part of the contract. When construction documents are finished, you are ready to hire the general contractor or builder.


There are a number of ways to select a contractor. Your architect can make recommendations, or, if you already have someone you want to work with, you might send the construction documents to him or her and negotiate fees and costs. Or you may wish to choose among several contractors you’ve asked to submit bids on the job. The architect will help you prepare the bidding documents, which consist of drawings and specifications as well as invitations to bid and instructions to bidders. The bidding documents are then sent to several contractors, who, within a given period of time, reply with bids that include the cost for building your project. The lowest bidder is often selected to do the work.

While the architect can recommend contractors and assist in the selection process, the final choice is up to you. Some people prefer to act as their own general contractor or to do part or all of the construction themselves. These methods can save you money initially but can also add problems and cost later on. Discuss the pros and cons of these methods with your architect to help you decide what will work best.


This final step is often the most anxiety-producing part of the whole process. Up until now, your project has been confined to intense discussion, planning, and two-dimensional renderings. When construction begins, your project moves from an abstraction to a physical reality.

The architect’s involvement normally does not stop with the preparation of construction documents. Architects also provide construction administration services. These services may include assisting you in hiring the contractor, making site visits, reviewing and approving the contractor’s applications for payment, and keep you informed of the project’s progress.

While the architect observes construction, the contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules, and procedures. The contractor supervises and directs the construction work on the project.

Member Spotlight: Katia McClain, AIA, NOMA, DBIA, LEED AP BD+C, LFA
services-420 Questions to Ask Your Architect

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