It is common for individuals or organisations to feel a little unsure about what they’re getting into when they contract the services of a professional architect firm for the first time. Indeed, the process of effectively building something from nothing can seem very convoluted to an outsider.

The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of the basic architectural design services which most professional companies provide. Whilst, all firms have their own particular way of taking on and completing projects, most will go through a number of identifiable phases.

In general, these phases are:

Phase One – Schematic Design

The first thing all architect firms do is consult with their clients so that they they can accurately determine the goals and requirements of the project. It is during this initial phase when architects normally utilise study drawings, documents, or other forms of media to illustrate the concepts of the design thereby enabling the client to fully appreciate (and review) important aspects such as spatial relationships, scale and form. By the end of this phase, a final schematic design will be drawn up and costs estimated (based on overall project volume).

Phase Two – Design Development

As well as laying out mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, and architectural details, this phase (sometimes referred to as ‘DD’) is largely about producing drawings which will specify important design elements, such as specific materials to be used and locations for windows and doors. This phase often concludes with the architect firm delivering a formal presentation to the client.

Phase Three – Construction Documents

If the client is happy with what they have seen at the DD phase, the architect company will produce construction documents – drawings of even greater detail – which will include specifications for aspects like construction details and materials. These documents will then be sent to contractors for pricing or bidding (if this is to be included in the contract). The end of this phase is characterised by contractors providing a final estimate of project costs.

Phase Four – Bid/Negotiation

The first part of the bid/negotiation phase involves preparing the bid documents to go out to potential contractors for pricing. The bid document set often includes an advertisement for bids, instructions to bidders, the bid form, bid documents, the client-contractor agreement, and a labour and material payment bond, as well as any other details required for successful price bids. Once the bids come back, the client – advised by the architect – will assess them and determine which one to opt for. This phase concludes with the selected bidder being presented with a formal letter of intent to allow construction to begin.

Phase Five – Construction

The architect’s chief responsibility during this phase is to help the contractor build the project to the specifications set out in the construction documents. Sometimes, architects are required to develop architectural sketches on site – drawings issued after construction documents have been released – to provide further clarification.

About the author – Bo Heamyan blogs regularly about residential and commercial architecture and has written extensively about interior design and architectural services for various websites, including