Architecture Design Process

Schematic design of construction documents

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Good architecture should be invisible. If you look at a well-designed building, the rooms and concepts should flow seamlessly into one another, resulting in a stylish dwelling that is practical and makes sense for the needs of the client. The architecture just works well without the benefits being particularly obvious.

When you walk into a well-designed building, you can just feel it.

But what are the stages of the architectural process? Although every architect has a unique design process, most of their work can be split into 5 clear stages. Here we’re going to go over the 5 main design phases used by Kitchen Infinity team members and other architects in the US, tell you what they mean, and look at how architectural design principles apply to your kitchen.

Let’s get to it!

The Architectural Design Process

Architectural design phases in the US are defined by the AIA – the American Institute of Architects. The architecture process can be split into 5 distinct design phases – schematics, design development, construction documents, bidding, and construction administration.

Some architects also have a “pre design” process whereby teams are selected, sites are analyzed, budgets are discussed, goals are laid out, and other “big picture” things are discussed. The pre design process is mostly about talking to the owner about their wants and needs, giving you a general idea of what to design.

After the pre design process is completed, most architecture processes will follow these 5 design stages:

1. Schematics

Schematic design is the general design of the building whereby an architect sketches out the rough “schematics” of the building, showing a blueprint for the layout of different rooms and where appliances, doorways, and windows might be.

Schematic design drawings help architects to map out the general shape and size of the building, perhaps detailing any elevations and massing too.

The schematic design process is not about minor details – we’re not looking at what door handles you’re going to buy or what color your kitchen tiles will be. This is all about the major “skeleton” of the building design, sketching out the rough floorplans that give the client a feel for the building you’re trying to make.

These are the questions to ask yourself in the schematic design phase:

  • How large is the building?
  • What is the general shape?
  • Where will all the rooms go?
  • If there are multiple stories, how are they connected?
  • How will sunlight enter the building at different times of day?
  • How do rooms flow into one another?

Toward the end of the schematic design process, the architect might produce floorplans and/or digital renderings that they can take and pitch to their client, getting the go-ahead before moving on to the next stage of the architectural design process.

2. Design Development (DD)

Design development, sometimes known as DD, is the next stage of architectural design. The design development phase is about figuring out the smaller details not mentioned in the schematic designs. Once the client has approved the initial floorplans, now you can start thinking about how to make your building practical.

For example, you can start to plan out your HVAC systems, water systems, drainage systems, and other practical matters. You can also go into more detail on wall sections, specifying designs and materials in more detail. You might go into detail about interior elevations, construction materials, finishes, specific appliances for the bathroom and kitchen, etc.

RCP (reflected ceiling plan) is also a critical part of the design development phase – this is when architects plan out your lighting and how the rooms will be optimally lit for both atmosphere and efficiency. Once the DD stage is done and the client approves it all, the architect can move on.

schematic design of architecture project
Photo Credit: Freepik

3. Construction Documents (CD)

Construction Documents (CD) is when you start getting down to the nitty-gritty of the architectural design process. At this stage, you will detail the exact materials needed to build the structure in real life, tackling any issues that might come up when trying to make the building successfully.

The architect will look at details such as how the walls meet the floorplates, how the windows fit into the walls, and more. There will be many tedious drawings showing the final details for all of the building, with detailed construction drawings showing potential contractors exactly how this building will be constructed, what it will be constructed from, and how it’s all going to work.

As the final construction drawings are completed, the architect will create a “filing set”. This is when they seek permission from the local city and/or government to build this building in compliance with all local building codes and zoning laws. This is sometimes known as “planning permission” in other parts of the world.

The government must approve the design before the project moves to the next phase.

4. Bidding

Once the project has been green-lit by the appropriate authorities, architects will then start the bidding phase of the project. This is when architects give their final construction drawings to various contractors, who will then assess how much they think it will cost for their construction firm to build the structure as the architect wants it.

Things that contractors have to take into consideration here include:

  • How much all the materials will cost
  • Whether permits need to be obtained
  • How long the project is likely to take
  • What their labor costs will be
  • Whether they have any additional questions

Naturally, contractors will have a lot of questions when reading through the construction documents for a project. This is when they produce an RFI – Request For Information – with the appropriate architect. This way, they can make sure that all of their questions are answered, allowing the contractors to adjust their price estimates accordingly and realistically.

Once all of the contractors have put in their final estimates for the work to be completed, the architect and/or client select which contractor they’re going to work with. Some contractors may be chosen because they offered a lower price, while some may be chosen because of their quality and reputation in the industry.

Eventually, a contractor will be awarded the commission to build the structure.

5. Construction Administration (CA)

Construction Administration, also known as CA, is basically when the architect oversees the construction project to make sure that the building is being built according to plan and with structural integrity. This will usually be in the form of frequent site visits and two-way communication between the architect and the lead contractor.

Lots of problem-solving and troubleshooting comes up at the CA stage of the architecture design process – much of this is inevitable stuff which cannot be predicted beforehand. This results in a “Change Order” whereby contractors seek approval from the architect and/or owner to change parts of the original design. This could be due to the owner changing their mind about the design, construction problems, and more.

For example, the contractors might miscalculate the price of a kitchen tile and ask you whether they can use a different style which is closer to the price they originally estimated. Similarly, a kitchen counter might need to be installed at a slightly different angle to allow for better use of the cabinets or due to some sort of unforeseen issue.

At the CA stage, architects will often need to redo some of their construction drawings to account for problems discovered in the building process. This final stage of the architectural design process is very fluid, with a constant back-and-forth between the architect and the project manager.

Once this stage of the project is nearing its end and the building is complete, there will be special inspections from government officials and signoffs will be coordinated. If everything goes well, the building will receive a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) to confirm that it is legally safe for humans to live in.

How Architects Design Kitchens

Here at Kitchen Infinity, we work closely with architects when designing and remodeling kitchens – we want our kitchen projects to be well-designed and well-managed at every phase. Here are some of the ways that our architects design a kitchen project to ensure that our customers are satisfied:

  1. Eastern Windows – kitchens are ideally laid out so that the main windows are facing east. This gives bright sunlight in the morning when you’re enjoying your morning coffee!
  2. The Working Triangle – the working triangle is the space from your cooking area to your fridge and your sink. You should ideally be able to move between these 3 areas quickly, easily, and without obstruction
  3. Kitchen Islands – if there is space for one, a kitchen island is a great way to break up your kitchen and have more storage and counter space while creating a hangout or eating area
  4. Wall Cabinets – wall cabinets should ideally be placed at a height where they won’t obstruct the view of the countertops
  5. Work Surfaces – if possible, there should be work surfaces on both sides of the hob, giving you multiple options for placing down hot pans and pots
  6. Ovens at Eye Level – ovens should ideally be placed at eye level. This reduces the need for bending down and makes the kitchen far safer for children

There are lots of quirks that go into the design of a kitchen project, from the initial phase to later development and the construction administration phase. Your kitchen design should take your needs, desires, and budgetary constraints into account.

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