Construction Process 101: The 7 Phases of Design

construction design phases

CDO Group has partnered with hundreds of clients to deliver exceptional new buildings and building improvements since 1998. The construction process is second nature to us!

However, we find it helpful to step back and review what is familiar from time to time. We often glean new understandings or simply remind ourselves of the significance of each step along the way of the construction process. Perhaps our review of the process even becomes helpful to our partners, clients, and readers! 

In this post, we review the seven phases of architectural design: Pre-Design, Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Permit, Bidding, and Construction Administration. Let’s elaborate on these phases. 


It’s good that the buildings we work, live, and play in are not built like the LEGO structures of a three-year-old. While fun, creative, and cute, the “just start building by throwing materials together” approach is, obviously, not where the actual design process begins. 

In the pre-design phase, also known as programming, the owner and architect interface with one another to learn about the needs of the future building. The architect will ask many questions and do a lot of listening; the architect must understand the owner’s desires for the project. No owner wants to invest time and money into a project that does not meet their expectations due to the pre-design phase missing the mark. 

In addition to listening to the owner’s goals for the project, the architect will review the existing conditions of the project site and explore zoning and code regulations. The architect may produce a preliminary document outlining the building spaces and approximate square footages by the end of this initial step. 

Schematic Design (SD)

schematic design construction

In the second phase, the architectural team translates what they heard from the owner during pre-design into an initial, conceptual design. The schematic phase is the meat of the general design, without a lot of detail. 

Schematic Design typically includes preliminary site plans, floor plans, sketches, 3D renderings, and basic exterior elevations. HVAC, plumbing, and electrical system designs are launched during SD. The whole purpose is to start putting on paper what the architect heard from the owner during pre-design and ensure the concept aligns with the owner’s goals. 


Design Development (DD)

Design Development construction program management


The entire project's design takes a significant jump forward during Design Development. Utilizing the SD documents and the feedback provided by the owner, the architect advances the plans with more detail, interior layout and room sizes, a structural foundation and design, material and finish selections, and further development of building systems.

A cost estimate is a critical component of Design Development. As the plans and specifications (essentially the plan in narrative format) march closer to the final design, ensuring the project remains within the owner’s budget is essential. Material and finish selections can significantly impact a budget, especially in today’s supply climate. 

Along with the near-final set of plans, many architects offer the owner a complete 3D model of the project during DD. The advancement of virtual reality in construction adds extraordinary value to an owner seeking to get a real glimpse into their future building. 


Construction Documents (CD)

All of the pre-design, schematic, and design development work takes its final shape with the Construction Documents phase, the largest phase of the design process. The architect finalizes details and technical information into a complete package of drawings and specifications. The Construction Documents serve two primary purposes: permitting and bidding. 

An updated cost estimate is typically provided during CD. 


When the architectural team completes their CDs, they submit them to the city, county, or other authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) where the project will occur. The AHJ and relevant building departments review the documents for code compliance. Depending on the nature of the project and its location, Permitting can be one of the slowest phases of the design process.



construction bidding process

The Bidding phase is precisely what it sounds like: soliciting bids from contractors to perform the scope of the Construction Documents. 

Selecting a contractor to perform the work can take on various forms. Public works projects must follow specific laws regarding contractor selection, while private owners have more flexibility. Private owners may select a familiar contractor they trust or solicit bids from multiple contractors.

The architect still plays a vital role during Bidding. As contractors put together bids, the architect answers questions about the plans and specifications. This is a critical piece to ensuring bid accuracy. 


Construction Administration (CA)

The design is complete, permits are in hand, and a contractor is selected. The contractor breaks ground and begins construction. 

The architect’s final phase of design is Construction Administration. CA involves the architect verifying that the contractor is building per the plans and specifications, answering the contractor’s questions during construction, and certifying the contractor’s billings. A smooth and efficient working relationship between the contractor and architect is vital to the project's success. 

As an experienced general contractor and construction management firm, CDO Group is keenly aware and knowledgeable of each of the seven phases of architectural design. The services we provide give our construction partners top-tier value to their projects. 

Contact us today to learn how we can assist you in developing your next project!

March 9th, 2022 |