An In-Depth Look At The Architectural Design Process


Given the rate at which some commercial, residential and educational developments seem to be constructed these days, you may be forgiven for thinking that it was a short and easy process. However, in reality, there are various stages to go through before beginning to think about the construction of the project. As is to be expected, the bigger the scheme, the more complex the corresponding design must be in terms of detail and number of people involved. The team here at Munday + Cramer offers architectural design services following RIBA’s eight-stage framework. This blog will focus mainly on the start point of the project’s journey, through to when planning permissions are granted.

The Pre-Planning Stage

At a project’s inception, the first steps taken are always investigative. Smaller, simpler schemes don’t require a formal feasibility study, as such, however these initial findings offer a good informal alternative. Taking a simple domestic scheme as an example, an architectural design team would be looking for anything that could conceivably crop up as a problem later on. This could be anything from oversight concerns from neighbours to issues stemming from shared land and property boundaries. Essentially, it’s a risk management stage in order to mitigate potential problems.

For larger schemes, where the feasibility study undertakes a greater formality and importance, the investigations would be pertaining to the provision of local facilities, transport links and the surrounding area’s infrastructure. On larger projects, research will also be conducted into local planning policies. This is done to unearth any historical precedents that may help (or hinder) the project’s development in any way. For both smaller and larger projects, alike, we virtually always bring in a land surveyor to carry out a topographical survey, again, to highlight anything that may cause extra unwanted costs later on. Identifying risks before they become tangible problems is one of the primary factors which drives the pre-planning stage.

Within the planning process, the local authorities have roughly 50 different reports which they can request at any time. We always advocate as a practice, therefore, that a client undertakes pre-planning advice. This process helps identify reports that planning officers may potentially request. If left unconsidered, costs can easily ramp up and wipe out the viability of a project before it’s even got started.

Design Development

If the pre-planning processes are garnering positive feedback, our practice will then begin to develop the project design, itself, getting it ready for submission. The design will fall into two stages:

Function

The main aim is to produce a functional layout that meets the needs of the client. This focus has to come before any aesthetic ideas for the project that the client may have in mind. The layout will help set out how the rooms function and relate to one another. This then develops progressively from simple bubble diagrams, to floorplans. The floorplans are then converted into models and finally to 3D visualisation and walkthroughs. These grant the client the chance to be in the space, as it were. It takes an incredibly abstract mind to be able to properly visualise a plan even with the help of a model, that’s why our visualisations and walkthroughs make such a difference to our clients.

Form

Only when the above criteria have been satisfied will an architectural design team move onto the visual side of things. When people think of architecture their heads first leap to the thought of beautiful structures and ingenious buildings. The reality is, however, that this component – at least in today’s architecture – comprises a relatively small part of the entire architectural process. The aesthetic element of the design will bear in mind the client’s particular desires regarding styling as well as bearing budgetary considerations in mind, as well. It’s important to think about the financials at this stage; you need to be upfront with the client as to the realism of their expectations. If you’re on a tight budget, then everything from the design complexity to the materials used must be carefully considered.

Planning Application

Architects are by no means one-trick-ponies, and whilst they’re undertaking the design work, they’ll also be drafting up the extensive supporting documentation needed for a planning permission application. Alongside this, once submitted they’ll monitor the progress of applications, keep an open channel of communication with planning officers and negotiate any changes that do need to be made in the most efficient manner possible. For larger schemes, it’s sometimes worth employing a planning consultant; these professionals are valuable assets should the need to go to a planning committee arise. Usually, applications are completed without this being necessary, but it’s nice to have that backup there should it happen.

Post-Planning Permission

As you can see, then, getting to a stage whereby planning permission is likely to be granted, is an immensely complex process. One which requires rigorous attention to detail and, more importantly, time. Having planning permission granted, therefore, is half the battle won! For larger schemes, where our practice is more likely to continue working on a project, the next steps would be likely to involve structural engineers, M&E engineers, thermal consultants and BREEAM consultants. Quantity surveyors are also utilised to further develop the project’s costings. Each and every one of these specialists will produce their own specific reports, all of which need compiling together and collating to provide the architects, themselves, with the requisite materials to draw up even more detailed designs, subsequently used for building regulation submissions.

Other Key Notes

With something as multi-faceted as architectural design, the need for communication between the client and the practice is paramount. Open channels of communication ensure that designs can be refined and re-touched at an early juncture in the process. After all, it’s crucial that the client understands not only what will work, but also what won’t. Our CAD modelling software is a fantastic tool in helping demonstrate this. This, in turn, then saves the client time and money further down the line.

The need for accuracy and having all bases covered is essential when it comes to the architectural process. Seemingly innocuous oversights may end up leading to project-crippling ramifications down the line. This is why it’s so important to go with a practice with a proven track record for delivering successful results. If you’d like to find out more about our practice’s architectural design process, then get in touch! Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200.