We break down each phase of the residential design-build process in plain English so you know what to expect during a home remodel or new construction project.


The Residential Design Process


After touching on the five phases of architectural design in a recent post, we wanted to take a closer look at the residential design-build process.

Virtually any residential architecture project—from tiny guest suite additions to sprawling new home construction—can be broken into five fundamental stages. Outlined by the American Institute of Architects, the five design phases help break a project into deliberate points to ensure architect teams, contractors, and clients are all on the same page. 

As a current or prospective client, familiarizing yourself with these phases can help you communicate with your architect and let you know what to expect throughout the residential architectural process. To help you develop a basic understanding, we’ve broken down each of the five phases of residential architectural design in plain English: 


Step 1: Schematic design

Duration: 2 to 6 weeks

The first phase of the architectural design process, schematic design, is actually a two-part phase that begins with pre-design or programming. During the pre-design/programming step, your architect’s goal is to gather information about your program or your needs and wants in terms of spaces, functionality, and overall vision.  

Pre-design generally involves architect-client interviews and surveys. Your architect may request images of spaces that inspire you from places like magazines, picture books, Pinterest, and Instagram. During pre-design, your architect will also visit the site to collect information, in addition to researching applicable zoning laws, building codes, and regulatory requirements.

Armed with extensive information about your design goals and vision, as well as details on your site and any existing structures, your architect will be ready to begin the schematic design part of this phase. During schematic design, your architect will draw from the gathered information to begin laying out the site, interior spaces, and exterior design basics. These deliverables may include preliminary floor plans, elevations, computer renderings, models, and sketches to help you visualize the finished space, in addition to a rough cost estimate.

Over the course of the schematic design process, you’ll be able to voice preferences, request changes, give feedback, and ask questions. During these initial meetings, your architect will refine the concepts according to your reactions until everyone agrees on a design direction to hone in the next phases. 


Phase 2: Design development 

Duration: 6 to 10 weeks

During the design development phase, your architect takes the floor plans, exterior design, and other preliminary drawings and fleshes them out into a final design. Your architect will also consult with contractors, engineers, and other professionals to determine the necessary materials, equipment, plumbing requirements, electrical systems, and the like. For this phase, the deliverable includes a detailed drawing set, exterior elevations with a proposed basis of design openings and finishes, site plan, and 3D virtual model of the entire space, as well as an outline specification with major materials. During this phase, your architect will also provide you with an accurate cost analysis.


Phase 3: Construction documents 

Duration: 6 to 10 weeks

One of the lengthiest, most intensive phases for your architect, phase 3 involves drawing up detailed construction documents. During this phase, your architect finalizes all the necessary technical information and creates blueprints that communicate instructions of project aspects to the build team. These construction documents explain how building components will be connected and outline all the required materials, equipment, fixtures, finishes, and appliances. 

Construction documents also include the permitting application, which specifies how the project will comply with regulations required by the city or jurisdiction issuing the permit. The length of the permitting approval process depends on the jurisdiction, complexity of the project, and any historic district or community design requirements.


Phase 4: Bidding and negotiation

Duration: 2 to 4 weeks

Probably the simplest of the five phases is bidding and negotiation. During this step, your architect helps you hire a construction company to complete the project. You may already have a construction company you want to work with, but it’s often worth taking advantage of your architect’s relationship with a wide variety of local area contractors. 

During this phase, your architect may analyze bids from multiple contractors, answer questions, provide additional documentation, and suggest alternative methods and materials to make sure the project costs fall within your budget. Your architect will guide you through different qualifications and costs to help you decide on the best construction contractor for your needs, budget, and preferences. 


Phase 6: Construction administration 

Duration: Varies

The Residential Design Process - Construction Administration


The final phase of the architectural process, construction administration, involves overseeing the building process. During the construction phase, your architect will visit the job site at regular intervals to ensure the project is being completed according to plan, in addition to addressing any problems and answering any questions from the build team. Your architect may also use this time to verify materials, issue modifications, and solve any problems. The frequency of visits can range from daily to monthly, depending on the complexity of the project. 

During these visits, your architect will take photos, make notes, and document progress to report back to you. Once construction is complete, your architect will perform a walk-through and create a “punch list” that includes any remaining updates or changes to make to the final design. Once everything is completed according to project specifications and meets or exceeds your expectations, your new home will be ready for occupancy and use.

Do you have a remodel, addition, or new home construction project you want to get off the ground? We encourage you to get in touch with Webber + Studio, a local Austin architecture firm with more than two decades of experience in designing custom residential homes.