What Is Architectural Design? Design concepts you need to know when building or renovating your home


Architectural design is exactly what it sounds like: a design method that centers on the features and components of a structure. An architect, a person who designs buildings, handles the design and generally oversees the construction to make sure the vision of the project is elegantly and expertly executed.

Having trouble calling to mind an example of architectural design? It’s likely you’ve encountered countless examples, but here are a few famous cases that you may have seen, or even visited: The Louvre Museum in Paris, France, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy, and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia.

Architectural design can, at first, seem like a complicated aspect of building or remodeling a home; the various stages and terminologies can be overwhelming. Here’s a complete overview of each stage, what that stage’s goal is and what you need to know as a homeowner to make the best decision for your design goals.

Reviewing the standard design phases of a home build project

The building phases vary depending on if you’re working with a more traditional Design-Build-Bid firm (which involves hiring an architect/designer who hires contractors, including a bidding stage), or with a more efficient and streamlined Design/Build firm (which involves one company handling everything under one umbrella, no bidding stage). Here are the general, universally accepted stages you should be prepared for:

1. Scoping/programming (Pre-design)

The initial stage where you and your architect work together to establish a clear vision (and scope) of the project. You will cover budget and scheduling/timeline needs and expectations, as well as all the nitty gritty details and fine print. Do you want to highlight a feature of the land your custom home or remodel will be built on? What do you want the house to “feel” like? Are you drawing heavy inspiration from a certain style, period, texture, or aesthetic? Do you want airy, spacious rooms, or a snug, cabin-like home? How does your lifestyle inform the way you exist in a space and how you want it to inform this new space?

This is a crucial stage for you and your architect to get crystal clear about the end goal, and to make sure everyone is on the same page about what it will cost, how long it will take to create, and exactly what you want it to be. This can be a fun, creative part of the process for all involved. It is your responsibility to know what you’re looking for, but don’t worry: it’s the architect’s responsibility to guide and help you make the big decisions.

Duration: 2-4 weeks

2. Schematic design

Once the project is clearly established, the design process begins. The architect will provide you with schematic drawings of the structure, as well as a budget and timeline schedule. These preliminary illustrations give more of an idea about the features, layout and feel of the project. It is essential to be honest and transparent with your architect throughout the entire process, but especially at this point. This is the stage everything else builds upon.

Duration: 4-8 weeks

3. Design Development

This stage takes the established schematics and develops them into a more complex and detailed working model. Team members add their expertise as more details are layered onto the schematics: materials, systems, and preliminary structures. This stage sees the vision starting to take shape and provides the client an opportunity to provide feedback and make tweaks. This stage will require you to make decisions and will give you the opportunity to really start envisioning the new space. This is the time to ask all your questions, weigh all your options, and spend time considering the model; once the design process is over and construction begins, it can be difficult and expensive to make changes.

Duration: 8-12 weeks

4. Construction documentation

Now that the design is set and ready to go, the architect translates it into drawings suitable for permitting and construction, adding the elements that the construction team needs to build. The architect will make sure all elevations and basic structures are squared away before consulting with the team of experts—engineers, designers, electricians—who will help bring the vision to life in the construction phase.

Duration: 8-12 weeks

5. Build

Everything is ready, permits are secured, the building begins!

What should you look for in a quality design architect?

Qualifications: you want a registered, certified design professional with experience and talent

Communication skills: the client-architect relationship is key to the success of the project. You want to work with someone who listens well and truly cares about honoring your vision.

Portfolio: do you like the projects the architect has worked on? Do they align with your preferences and taste?

Timeliness: the last thing you want is to be living with a gutted kitchen for weeks longer than you anticipated. Make sure you choose someone with a reputation for excellent time management, who provides clear expectations.


Landis is a Design-Build firm with a full team of certified residential architects, designers and building experts, serving the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.