Phases of an Architectural Project

This article outlines the typical phases of an architectural project through the permitting process. In very simple projects, the phases are abbreviated or overlap and the distinctions between phases are less obvious. In complex projects, the phases also can overlap, especially when there is a short timetable. The phases outlined here are Programming, Pre-Design, Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents and Plan Check/Permit.


Architects usually work from a “program” that is created by the client, or by the client in conjunction with the architect. The program is simply a list of requirements and desires for what should be included in the project. It’s a “wish list” to a certain extent. It should be prioritized by what is critical vs items that are desirable but perhaps not critical, if they can be accomplished within the budget. The program can include items such as rooms that are required, sizes of functions, rooms and workspaces, equipment that must be accommodated, relationships between the required functions, such as proximity requirements, views or particular orientations, and even stylistic and aesthetic preferences.

Some clients require the latest energy saving strategies, or highly detailed woodwork, for example, whereas others might want a very inexpensive project which can be finished by the owner as more funds become available. Often, a client will collect a number of photographs from magazines or the web showing elements/colors that they like. This is quite valuable in giving the architect a direction. But some clients are open to suggestions of the architect as to what he thinks is appropriate for existing conditions and to accommodate the required functions.

It is not necessary for the client to propose where the functions occur or how the project is physically laid out: This is the purview of the architect during the design phases.

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