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From Concept to Completion, What to Expect Through the Design Stages

Every building and renovation starts with an idea. All around us, from that Victorian home you may pass on an evening stroll in your neighbourhood, to the futuristic condo building you pass on your morning commute, there is architecture that inspires the question: But why…?

Why did they chose that material? How did they decide on that shape? Or even, why is there only 2 bathroom stalls (usually while impatiently waiting for one to become available)? Essentially, how the design choices were informed. In fact, exercises such as this can help identify elements that you enjoy, so if you don’t already, try to look out for elements you like or dislike and take note!

If you are thinking about starting your own construction project you may be curious about how you get from your initial concept to a well-designed piece of architecture. While many architectural projects can be inspiring, and at times mystifying, it can be overwhelming to start a project of your own.

You can access the overview of our Design Phases in an upcoming post! In this article we are focusing on the stages of our design process in more detail.

How does the design process work?

The design process for any field is an approach for breaking down a project into steps, and its pursuit is to arrive at a holistic and refined project completion. The fascinating thing about the design process is how each person may develop their own way of working through it. That being said, there are typically 3 main stages 1 Pre-Design, 2 Schematic Design, and 3 Design Development.

As we work through the stages there are also 3 elements we pay special attention to throughout the process: form, function, and construction.

But first, function?

Form and function are extremely important elements when designing a home or any other structure, and the construction elements, which includes method, technology, and economic considerations, play a crucial role as well. Each have a piece to play in the design process, but depending on the project, some elements may have more importance than others.

These 3 elements are ever present throughout the design process, and each is given appropriate consideration. It is our goal to provide a holistic approach, and our process is calibrated to align with your goals. Reflecting on which element(s) are important to your project can be beneficial to the process!

Fun fact: in the late-19th century and early-20th century, there was a belief that a building’s function or purpose should be the starting point for its design, rather than its form or aesthetic. The principle ‘form follows function’ is generally associated with modernist architects, although it is not exclusively a modern conception.

Guaranty Building, Buffalo, Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2007-2013

New York, 1894 Zaha Hadid (Form)

Louis Sullivan (Function)

Stage 1: Pre-Design

Pre-design is the first stage as it usually occurs in the first few conversations and meetings. Overall, this stage is primarily the gathering of information. We discuss the goals, needs, and requirements concerning your project, and although this information is compiled at the start, it will act as a program we can refer back to throughout the project (and can be revised at any time).

Within this stage we may also inquire about additional information you may be able to provide, including precedent or inspiration images, and any existing documents or plans such as a property survey.

A site measure is conducted in this stage to create a set of as-built drawings, and this will provide us with a base for the next stages. At this point you can expect to see as-built drawings in progress, and perhaps some sketches that convey initial concepts such as layout or basic form.

For example: A client would like to renovate the main floor of their home to move their dinning space beside a new kitchen, they would also like a large arch to be placed within the space, but are not sure where.

A common question we get asked: “what do you need from me (the homeowner) at this stage?”

Just your thoughts and ideas, and if you like, you can start to save some images of anything that inspires you, or that you would like to incorporate into the design!

Stage 2: Schematic Design

In this stage we really start to dig into the project. The concept is developed, and time is spent analyzing the relationships among spaces, and exploring the form and function graphically. Depending on the project, we may sketch, use 3D modelling software to study mass, and/or create several iterations of floor plans to investigate one or many ideas.

Example floor plan iterations

Example preliminary 3D visuals (model + layouts)

Based on our findings and with the guidance of our program requirements (discussed above), we will present a preliminary schematic design package.

For this package we select the best option(s) and present them to you as a first pass. We bring our concepts to the table, highlight opportunities not previously discussed, and use it as a platform to discuss your thoughts and/or re-visit the project requirements. It is possible that we have several schematic design meetings until a strategy is chosen to move forward with, although, it is typically confirmed within a few meetings.

At this time material options will begin to be discussed and the budget is confirmed.

Stage 3: Design Development

At this stage we are developing the confirmed design strategy! The graphics evolve and the drawings are refined as we work towards a fully coordinated and resolved design package.

Within this design package, material choices are decided, and specifications are reviewed. We may obtain information and coordinate with other consultants such as structural or mechanical engineers throughout this stage as well.

While we are conscious of all three design elements throughout the process, construction and function are a focus in this stage. Revisions made at this time are often more minor in nature and they generally do not greatly impact the overall confirmed design, but rather aid the construction requirements and techniques. We want your project to not only look good, but perform well and be efficient too!

Depending on the project, you can expect to see drawings with more detail and information graphically, more developed 3D renders depicting texture and material finishes, and/or a ‘fixtures, finishes & equipment’ schedule to organize project information (if applicable).

Example 3D render development

We would meet to discuss all of these elements along the way and make sure that each choice made is suitable for your needs and goals.

Remember: Have some fun! Material selection is a big component of this stage and can greatly impact the look of a design, what material or finishes do you love?


Thanks for reading through our brief overview of the design stages! I hope this has shed some light on how we get from an initial concept to a resolved design.

Of course by no means is the project complete, but from this point it’s some paperwork and hammers (if only it were that easy).

So be on the lookout for our next post about What to Expect from the City.


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