Quick Guide to the Architecture Design Process


Have you ever wondered what happens when you hire an architect? A lot! These are the steps NANO LLC takes when we start your project. Keep in mind that not all of these steps are necessary for all projects. Some are more tailored to residential clients, and others are more for commercial clients, and depending on the type and size of the project even some additional steps not listed here could be needed. On any project, we ALWAYS customize these steps to reflect exactly what the client’s specific needs are!


An initial meeting/consultation/conversation with the client to discuss site selection and the design strategy based upon the target audience the client is marketing to. Market research and a client’s business plan comes into play at this very early stage of the design process to help make a decision on which direction the design should take. Client goals, needs and requirements are discussed. If the client decides to move forward and hire NANO, a contract is then signed and a deposit is collected.


NANO will visit the site, review the existing conditions and take as-built measurements of what is there (existing building/property). A set of as-built plans are created. These are simple floor plans and exterior elevations – a minimal set showing what currently exists on site and nothing more. A surveyor is typically contacted at this stage and scheduled to produce a site survey – this survey is eventually incorporated into the as-built documents. NANO will visit the city/county building department to review applicable records which may include as-built drawings of an existing building; previous surveys; public records such as previous liens on the property. NANO will gather information from state and city agencies regarding specific land use and building code requirements as well as pre-submittal and pre-permit procedures. NANO will also create a schedule to outline what will be done and by when.


NANO will generate 2-3 preliminary designs incorporating the information from step two. At this stage NANO is also bringing design concepts to the table (the stuff architects learned in school). Maybe there was a specific site feature that could be enhanced with the new architecture or opportunities within the project not previously discussed. NANO will explore the sequence of how you approach the building and move through the space. How the building is experienced is a focus of this stage. The general locations of the functions within the building are considered and graphically represented in diagram form. The graphics, illustrations and sketches are just diagrams at this stage. Features like windows may be added schematically or not at all. Simple plans and elevations are produced to represent relationships among spaces and the basic envelope shape (think about it like carving a simple, basic model out of a block of clay). Material options start to become part of the discussion and a target budget is established/confirmed for the overall project. There are typically 2-4 client meetings involved with this step. The client makes decisions with help from NANO regarding the various schematic options. An overall design strategy is chosen. For fast-track projects, a contractor is brought in at this stage to speed up the design and budget.


As decisions continue to be made, NANO further develops the schematic drawings. The graphics evolve from diagrams to actual architecture at this step. The drawings are refined in regards to details and methods. Materials are decided on and NANO figures out how everything fits together (how does the floor meet the wall: base trim, flush trim, no trim). Window openings are further defined with mullions and opening locations. Information from other consultants, like the structural engineer, is developed and coordinated with the design drawings. Specifications for materials, fixtures/appliances, assembly details, and relevant code information are incorporated into the project. Recommendations from trades, suppliers, and manufacturers are added to the drawing set. The client continues to make decisions at a more specific level of detail (four or six burner gas range, which direction do the windows open?)


A full set of construction documents provides graphic documentation for bidding and execution of construction services. These documents provide all information necessary to construct the project and are legal documents. After final approval from Authorities Having Jurisdiction, NANO will proceed to construction documents, entailing a complete set for permitting and construction. NANO will also handle all documents and exchanges with the city/local permitting office, as well as other authorities associated with the project.


The construction documents are sent out to several contractors and they are asked to review them and submit a bid for how much they would charge to do the construction. Then negotiations on the pricing occur. For fast-track projects, this stage is negated since a contractor was brought in at stage 3.


The documents and drawings for the project are now complete and construction begins. As construction administrator, NANO is responsible for coordinating the work of contractors/subcontractors and overseeing quality control on the construction of the project. Typically with a project of any complexity NANO is retained to answer questions, deal with clarifications and administer revisions if necessary. In most instances, it is mandatory that code required field inspections and quality control during construction is overseen by a licensed architect. NANO also protects the interests of the client and the integrity of the design. NANO will review the invoices, overall costs and scheduling and provide purchasing of finishes and fixtures, if needed.