De-mystify the architectural design process

20 July 2021 by Darren Leach

South View 5

We have rewritten the RIBA’s ‘Plan of Work’ document, in a rather more human friendly way, which we hope will be useful. Whilst the original document is a very good piece of work, it is easy to baulk at the technical terminology and information overload, for those not involved in the architectural process on a day to day basis it is easy to get baffled by it, which is not a good way to start your design journey.

The plan of works is a very useful plan, as no two projects are the same. A clear process is essential to keep us, and our clients, on track, on budget, and bringing every element of the project to a beautifully choreographed conclusion. 


Setting the scene = RIBA Work Stage 0 Strategic Definition 

We help you grapple with the big questions. What are you hoping to achieve and where are you trying to get to? And is a building project even the right way of getting there?

Kick-off = RIBA Stage 1 Preparation and Brief 

The questions get a little more personal at this point, and if we haven’t met you already, we definitely want to meet you now – along with your partner / family / dog / colleagues / customers (depending on the project, obviously).

We explore your site. If it’s your existing house and garden, we investigate every nook, cranny and irritating detail. If the site is a muddy field, we’re just as interested – pacing up and down in our wellies, breathing in the air, absorbing our surroundings, and working out where the sun rises and where it sets.

We bounce ideas around with you, and throw out some figures too. What might be possible? How much is it likely to cost? How long might it take? Together we agree on a way forward and begin to hatch a plan.

Taking shape = RIBA Work Stage 2 Concept Design

We love this stage, and you will too. We start sketching furiously and giving shape – on screen and on paper – to the ideas we’ve discussed.

On the one hand we’re drawing on our experience of every project we’ve worked on. On the other, we’re leaving all that behind and coming at your project completely fresh, thinking far outside of any box and focusing entirely on you.

Right now, everything’s more than a little rough around the edges and very much up for discussion (and there’ll be a lot of that). But your positive, enthusiastic reactions at this point are usually enough to tell us we’re hitting the right notes and firmly on the right track.

We think about time and cost issues, about sustainability, and about health and safety. If we need to test the water with the local Planning department, we do that too. 

Getting planning = RIBA Work Stage 3 Spatial Coordination

It’s at this point that our drawings have to start doing some real heavy lifting. We drill down to the detail, making sure everything is as buildable and functional as it is beautiful.

We submit the planning application, and if it’s a particularly sensitive site, we may do this with the help of a planning consultant. If we need listed building consent, then we apply for that too. 

This can be a tense time, but we don’t just see it as a hurdle to get behind us. It’s about conveying our vision – and every bit of careful thought that’s gone into it – to the planners, conservation officers, and of course your neighbours. We want everyone to appreciate and embrace our designs, so our drawings are beautifully crafted and perfectly presented.

Full steam ahead = RIBA Work Stage 4 Technical Design Part 1

With planning approval now sorted, we pull together all the technical information, coordinate the specialist input from consultants, and assemble a ‘tender package’. You can think of this as a very thorough instruction manual, and it gives a builder everything they need to know to price up and then build the project. It has all the specifications for materials, all the technical drawings, and a ‘schedule of works’, which is basically a long and very detailed to-do list for the project. 

By nailing all of these things now, we avoid unexpected costs, unforeseen delays and other not-so-pleasant surprises during the build.

The technical drawings, along with quite a bit of explanatory detail, also go to Building Control, who’ll be keeping an eye on building works. If the Planning department has specified certain conditions, we bring these into the equation too.

But we can’t forge ahead with the technical stuff while ignoring the softer stuff. It’s all part of one cohesive, choreographed vision. So, at the same time as specifying the building envelope (which at its most basic keeps the heat in and the water out), we’re talking to you about the finer points of the building. We’re turning materials over in our hands, weighing up textures and contemplating colours. And while one eye is on plumbing and electrics, the other is on interior design, lighting and bespoke joinery.

Choosing your builder = RIBA Stage 4 Technical Design Part 2

We send out the tender package to a shortlist of potential builders so that they can understand exactly what’s involved and give us an accurate price.

Once we’ve got the quotes back, we go through them together with you, weighing each one against the others. But picking a favourite isn’t all about price. We like to work with people we trust, people who care about doing a beautiful job. Our weighing-up process takes all that into account too.

Then we prepare a building contract for you and your chosen builder to sign.

Getting it built = RIBA Stage 5 Construction

At last we’re on site. We keep a close eye on the contract and on what’s happening, making sure everyone – and everything – is on the same page. We check on progress and on quality, keep track of cost, oversee health and safety, and certify payments to the builder.

We visit the site and give you regular updates, explaining what’s going on in frequent progress meetings, and through written reports, photographs and impromptu conversations.

We’re your ‘contract administrators’ as well as your architect, and you can think of us as the go-between, answering questions from all sides and keeping everyone moving in the same direction.

We can’t promise that real life won’t throw up the odd problem, but we can promise that we’ll jump to attention with the first hint of something unforeseen. We’re here to shoulder the stress, keep the big picture in mind and ensure that every element is true to the design.

When the builder gets to the end of the schedule of works, with everything ticked off to our satisfaction, we give you a ‘practical completion’ certificate. The builder, meanwhile, gets sign-off from Building Control. 

Then the builder moves out and you move in.

Fine-tuning = RIBA Stage 6 Handover & close out

You’re in, but for a year or so it’s not unusual for the odd thing to need sorting or fine-tuning – snagging, as it’s known. We’re still here for you, and we work with the builder to resolve any loose ends.

Once those loose ends are dealt with, we issue a final certificate, which is another step on from the earlier ‘practical completion’ certificate. Now you can pay the builder’s last invoice and sit back, safe in the knowledge that everything’s just as it should be.

Enjoy! = RIBA Stage 7 in use

It’s time for you to get on with the business of enjoying what we’ve created together.

But don’t forget us. We hope you’ll invite us over some time for dinner or even cocktails. We’d love to see your new spaces in action and hear you talk about anything – or everything – you particularly love about them.

And because we’re as geeky as we are creative and sociable, we’ll evaluate your building’s performance. Doing that helps us understand the impact of our work, keeps us learning, and means we can check your building is keeping you warm and comfortable, in just the way we intended.

Take the first small step.

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