The schematic design phase begins with a definition of the project’s objectives and possible components. Based on this programming information, various sketch solutions are explored. Usually one of these schemes (or one composed of aspects of various solutions) becomes the direction for the architectural design. The schematic phase concludes when a known contractor, acting as a paid cost consultant, works up a preliminary cost estimate for the chosen scheme. If the estimate falls within the client’s budget criteria, the schematic design phase is complete. If the estimate fails to satisfy the budget criteria, further explorations are conducted reexamining the scope of the project, the quality of its components, and the complexity of the chosen solution, to produce a modified scheme that falls within budgetary expectations. This phase, like life, is all about reconciling means and desires.
The design development phase consists of deeper examinations of the proposed design elements and building systems. Structural solutions, electrical and mechanical systems, materials, finishes and colors, as well as many other aspects of the design are further explored. During this phase the bones of the construction documents are laid down as these explorations demand drawn solutions. Another cost estimate is advisable during this phase to insure that budgetary goals are intact. Another crucial and seemingly ever-expanding portion of this phase of the work is to prepare documents for planning department approval. Depending on the locale the level of scrutiny entailed varies greatly. Approval may be ‘administrative’, meaning that it is carried out amongst the planning staff; or it may be a process requiring a public hearing. The latter route is a very unpredictable one, fraught with uncertainty, but it is one that is increasingly common as municipalities become ever more timid with regard to the question of detriment. Many municipalities are instituting a formalized design review process, a mechanism which usually insures mediocrity by outlawing the wonderful for fear of the awful. This process is also time consuming and less than predictable. The design development phase dovetails with the next phase, construction documents, in such a complex way that the threshold between the two is often blurred. Certainly a landmark in the design development process is planning approval.
This phase consists of the production of the documents which will be used to procure the building permit, establish a contract for construction, and actually build the building. The construction documents include both drawings and written specifications; generally the drawings describe “where” and ‘how much’ while the written specifications define “what”. Easily the most time intensive portion of the architectural process, the construction documents phase integrates information concerning every aspect of the building’s nature including structure, finishes, fittings, and equipment, and also addresses all pertinent building code issues including state mandated energy compliance standards.
This phase is complete when the documents are submitted to the local building department, and a building permit is issued. Since much more information has continued to accumulate on the drawings throughout this phase, an updated estimate is not a bad idea.
This phase consists of establishing who the builder of the project will be and also establishing the actual cost of the work. This can be done in various ways, two of the most common being bidding and negotiation.
The bidding process invites a number of contractors (I usually invite four) to competitively bid the job. The owners are then presented with a number of proposals from which they may choose. The advantage of this process is its built-in competitive checks and balances, that is, the owners will get a good sense of the reasonable range of prices for which the project could be built. Excessively low or high bids can also be identified. The disadvantage of this process is that it does not adapt well to times in which the building economy is super-heated. In these times there is so much work available that many contractors are disinclined to compete, favoring instead a negotiated construction agreement.
Under the negotiated agreement the owner ideally settles on a contractor early in the process (as early as schematic design, if possible) and so gains a valuable resource to inform the design process. In this way the owners may also be able to reserve a reliable spot in the contractor’s construction schedule. It is often thought that the downside of the negotiated contract is that competitive cost information is not available; in actuality, the general contractor will still be soliciting multiple bids from all subcontractors and suppliers. The remaining part of the equation concerns the general contractor’s labor, profit, and overhead numbers. Profit and overhead are easily compared to industry standards, but labor is difficult to verify.
For this reason I recommend that this type of construction contract relationship be entered into only with contractors who are known either to the owners though previous work, or to me through previous projects. The negotiated agreement usually takes the form of a fixed price contract, but other forms are also used, ‘time and materials’, and ‘cost of the work plus a fee’ are other common forms.
This phase concludes when a satisfactory contract for construction is signed.
It is important to have the architect maintain a presence during the actual construction of the project. This is done for many reasons: unforeseen conditions may arise during the construction, design changes may be requested by the owners, or cost saving opportunities may be presented by the contractor. In addition the architect can and should review the contractor’s requests for payment, should assist in the preparation of the “punch list” at the end of the job, and should make sure that all of the project close-out provisions have been attended to.
I usually arrange for a weekly site meeting where the owners and contractors can share their observations and raise any important questions. This serves as a way to promote ongoing involvement and communication amongst all parties. In addition to the weekly meetings many small issues are resolved by phone or digital means.
Although many owners see this phase of the basic architectural services to be optional or expendable, it is my experience that these services are among the most important. As in any triangular relationship, communication and proactive problem solving are of paramount importance. Ongoing involvement by the architect during construction serves this end. I feel so strongly about this point that I will decline to participate in projects where this portion of the architect’s basic services is deleted.
Apart from the full panoply of basic services described above, the firm also offers other services as well:

• Site Assessment Services
• Design Consultation
• Lighting Design Consultation
• Referrals to Related Professionals:
–Structural engineering consultants
–Geotechnical consultants
–Energy compliance consultants
–General contractors
–Speciality subcontractors
–Material and product suppliers