Pre-Design Phase


During the Pre-design phase, the architect and client map the project, including long-term goals and anticipated obstacles, for the overall design process. We research all applicable codes and try to anticipate problems that may influence budgets and schedules during the course of the design. In this phase, potentially the most important part of design will occur. We work with you, our client, to define the project program. The architectural program defines the scope of work, identifies desired functions of spaces and their probable sizes, and describes the relationships of the spaces to each other. A clearly defined program serves as a roadmap to the entire process and helps bridge between theories, ideas, drawings and built forms.

Important Pre-Design Considerations:

Research the project type: One needs to become familiar with the type of building that will be designed and is more important if it is the first time the team is designing and building that type of structure. Research should include:Pre-Design Phase

  • The types of spaces frequently included in the building type,
  • The space criteria (number of square feet per person or unit) for those spaces,
  • Typical relationships of spaces for these functions,
  • Typical ratios of net assignable square footage (NASF—areas that are assigned to a function) to gross square footage (GSF—total area to the outside walls) for this building type,
  • Typical costs per square foot for this building type,
  • Typical site requirements for the project type,
  • Regional issues that might alter the accuracy of the data above in the case of this project, and
  • Technical, mechanical, electrical, security, or other issues unique to the project type.

Your goals/design intentions:

What are you trying to accomplish with this project? What is your vision for the completed project? What are your needs?  What are your wants?

Project criteria/program:

How will the building be used and how can architecture and design support that use now and in the future? Building size, room size, adjacency, lifestyle considerations, family size, business needs, design preferences, site access, views and many other issues are discussed and noted. These considerations can be listed by you, or the architect may ask you several questions, noting your responses.


What is your budget? Have you considered all of the costs involved? Hard project costs include construction materials, labor and contractor’s profit and overhead. Soft project costs include design fees (architecture, structural engineering, civil engineering, site surveying) and permit fees. Depending upon the complexity of the project, you may consider other consultant services such as lighting design, landscape design, acoustical design or mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineering, and possibly fire protection.


Timing is a critical component of the building process. Some schedule items are within the bounds of an Architect’s control, such as time required to provide schematic design options for client review. However, other items, such as duration of Building Department review, are not. Developing a mutually agreed upon schedule will keep both the client and the architect moving forward towards the ultimate goal of finishing the project.


A building’s site may be the single most important factor influencing built form. Views, building access, landscape, and indeed overall cost are greatly affected by the site topography. A thorough site analysis is often an essential part of any successful project. We can perform an architectural survey of existing structures to initiate the design process, but we must rely on a licensed Land Surveyor to provide an accurate survey of the site and a Geo-technical investigation to understand the soil conditions. Often the site has already been selected and purchased prior to contacting an architect. We strongly suggest you employ the services of an architect prior to selecting the site.

Building Codes/Zoning Ordinances/other Regulations:

Local, state, and national codes have an immense impact on design, influencing decisions as important as the size of your building and as trivial as the space between your guardrail pickets. For most projects, a minimum of two submissions for agency review, planning/zoning department and building plan review, are required. Building codes provide the framework and parameters which define the design. Without them, the health, safety, and welfare of the public may be at risk. To simply design to the ‘code minimum’ does not require an architect. An architect’s skills can help you determine where exceeding the minimum creates more functionality, and adds value to the project.

Community concerns:

Depending on the scale of the project, pre-design public workshops, meetings with community activists and/or public hearings may be required. A land use Attorney will often lead a team including the Architect and site engineer in testifying at these meetings. This is not common for single family residential projects unless they require variances from zoning regulations.

Building technology:

Sustainable building practices and other technologies are now readily available. These now common building practices were designed to save money over the life-span of the building. While some “green” building practices cost more initially, others can have significant savings in the up-front cost of the building. Usually, a sustainable building technology will cost a little more in design, but will have the potential to save thousands both in initial costs, and life-cycle costs. We welcome the opportunity to help you push your project toward sustainability, cutting edge technology or high-concept design. If appropriate, we will perform the necessary research during this phase.

Go on to the Schematic Design Phase —->

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