architectural projects: what to expect

Architectural projects are comprised of several standard phases that include complex sets of tasks. At each phase the client reviews the design and if satisfied, approves it. This insures that redesign will not be necessary and that the project can be completed in a timely and cost effective manner.

The following is an overview of what is involved in the design and administration of a project. Each phase is accompanied by a number roughly identifying the percentage of the Architect’s work and fee. The typical fee for full architectural services runs to approximately 15% of the real market value of construction. Projects differ, as do the architectural services required, so the fees vary from project to project.

Schematic Design Phase - 15%: During this phase the client’s requirements are defined and translated into layouts that accomplish the following:
  • Address the functional needs
  • Are aesthetically pleasing
  • Establish a budget/rough cost estimate for the construction or determine if requirements can be met within the budget

The Architect must also:
  • Identify and begin working with other disciplines if appropriate (landscape architect, mechanical, plumbing, electrical and structural engineers, etc.)
  • Analyze zoning and other regulatory agency approvals that will be required; set a strategy for obtaining the approvals.
  • Obtain or create existing conditions drawings. This can involve going to a records department or measuring and drawing the existing structure.

Some of the work involved early on in a project actually precedes the design work. An example of this is programming (figuring out what each space will be used for.) This may be part of the Schematic Design phase or it may be identified as a Pre-Design Phase.

Design Development Phase - 15%: When the basic layout (the Schematic Design) is approved by the Client, the Architect must refine it, examining the design in three dimensions with interior elevations and cross sections. Building materials are chosen, as well as the finishes, such as bathroom tile. The Client can then see in detail how the spaces will look and function. For example, if a bathroom is included, it will be drawn at a larger size with dimensions and locations of all fixtures, to make sure that it works.

In addition to developing the drawings, a separate Specification outline may be prepared (sometimes specifications are embedded in the drawings). Together these documents are the basis of the material that the contractor will need to build the project accurately.

  • Specifications- Everything from plumbing fixtures, to paint and windows, must be on the drawing and/or the specifications. In this phase the written ‘specs’ are developed in outline form, indicating all the materials and items that must be included in the project. Some of these items are presented to the client for review and approval (like carpet and tile), and some are specified by the Architect and engineers (like roofing insulation).
  • Coordination- The Architect must work with engineers, if required, to make sure that the mechanical aspects of the project mesh together with the architecture. Also, for additions and alterations, the Architect designs the connection between the new and existing.
  • Approvals - this process is usually initiated during the Design Development Phase. This requires that a set of documents be prepared and submitted to the proper authorities. The Architect works with the authorities to address any questions and make changes if necessary. This is sometimes very time consuming, and can involve meetings both with regulatory authorities and the public.

At the end of the Design Development Phase a more meaningful cost estimate can be projected for the project.

Sometimes, to accelerate a project, the Design Development Phase is done at the same time as the Construction Documents Phase.

Construction Documents Phase - 35%: Once the Design Development documents are approved by the client, the Architect produces documents that detail how everything is to be built. Using the roof as an example - it must be structurally sound, a specific color, material and quality and have a warranty. The edge of the roof and the drainage must be designed and detailed clearly.

The documents must contain a great deal of information because the contractor uses them to give a quote for the project, and to build it. If significant items are omitted or are inaccurate, the contractor will make a mistake and will ask for change orders (more $$$) during construction, making the budget difficult to control.

During the Construction Documents Phase the specifications are continually refined.

This is the phase during which the Architect does the most work.

Bidding and Negotiation Phase - 10%: When the Construction Documents are finished, bids are solicited from various qualified Contractors. During this phase the Architect must walk the bidders through the site to insure they are familiar with existing conditions. Often, questions are raised and clarifications must be made to the Construction Documents. These are distributed to all bidders, to maintain an even playing field.

When bids are submitted, the Architect helps the Client evaluate them and then a Contract for Construction is worked out with the preferred Contractor.

Construction Administration Phase - 25%: During this phase, the Architect’s job is to make sure the designs are followed correctly. Usually weekly site visits and job meetings are sufficient, but often, additional visits are required. The Architect may also be required to review and approve submissions of shop drawings and samples by the Contractor.

Another job of the Architect is to review and approve Contractor Requisitions for Payment, to verify that what the work he says has been done, has in fact been carried out to an acceptable standard.

Change Orders may result from an increase in the scope of a project, or from unforeseen site conditions that require additional work. It is the prerogative of the Owner to make changes during construction but it costs money and may delay the project. The Architect’s work may include soliciting proposals from the GC for additional work and vetting those proposals. This work is usually considered an Additional Service by the Architect.

At the end of construction the Architect will identify the point when the work is Substantially Complete, and prepare a Punch List to make sure the last bits are finished properly. After collecting all the warranties due to the Client, the Architect will certify that the work is finished and approve the final payment to the Contractor.