Three Terms Every Client Should Know

It is widely known that architects and people in the design and construction industry have somewhat of their own language. Between lofty phrases like “Built Environment” and complicated architectural processes, it’s easy to feel disoriented if you lack an architecture degree. But you shouldn’t need your master’s in order to have a conversation with an architect, construction manager, or another design professional.

For those who are unfamiliar with the industry, it’s important to know that one of the most essential aspects of any project is the design process. The methodology may vary by firm or even between projects, but there are generally three phases to the design process: schematic design, design development and construction documentation.

The following is a breakdown of each of these phases, so the next time your architect refers to CD’s, you’ll know exactly what they mean.

Schematic Design (SD)

The schematic design phase, or SD for short, happens well before a single nail is hammered. It is essentially the first step in the design process. The purpose of the SD phase is to translate ideas, thoughts and opinions into a digital model of the building–in other words, it’s a 3-dimensional outline!

In this phase, the creative juices really flow. All ideas are welcome, and it’s up to everyone, including the owner, architect and construction team, to ensure the plan meets the needs of the client.

The project architects, designers and consultants will commonly develop the SD design in the presence and with the help of the project’s owner. By the end of this phase, you should expect to see various deliverables, including basic floor plans and site plans, building sections and elevations, exterior perspectives and more. This phase is the foundation of the project as a whole.

Design Development (DD)

After the schematic design is complete and approved by the owner, the team will move into design development (DD). In this phase, designers, architects, and engineers come together to plan and determine many of the project’s more technical details, such as material selections, system integration and building assemblies.

At its core, the design development phase is the process of taking what you and your team agreed to in the SD phase and developing those ideas into a detailed and coherent architectural solution. Cost estimates also become more detailed during this stage in the design process as more and more decisions are made.

Once finalized, you can expect to see a detailed digital model and drawings of the building with interior finishes and casework, including the integration of structural and mechanical systems and a well-developed site plan.

Construction Documents (CD)

After the owner and the architect team agree on the selections and development of the building from the DD phase, they finally move on to the construction documentation (CD). In this stage, the project team produces its most detailed drawings yet, which include specifications for construction details and materials.

Before the project is finalized, the owner should see a comprehensive set of design and technical drawings. This complete set of drawings is used for final pricing, building permit applications and the actual construction of the building.

And that, in a nutshell, is the complete architectural design process. Once all phases are complete, with documentation approved by all of the necessary parties, construction begins.

By understanding the process, the next time you are in need of an architect’s services, you will know what to expect and when to expect it. However, if you need clarification on what an architect, engineer, or designer has said, please feel free to ask!