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Design-Build step-by-step guide for construction projects

Designing a new home is more complex than finding a few images on Pinterest and forwarding them to a builder. There is a standard design-build process to follow.

The aim when designing a house is to make well-considered choices which will stand the test of time. You don’t want to have an outdated structure in a few years due to the influence of things that are “trending now”. Think of the “castle style houses”.

Design involves a deeper level of thinking that’s quite different from surface appearances, colour selections and other aesthetic factors. It’s the creative thinking behind solving of problems. A designer bridges the gap between your current situation and your future desired outcome. All this while taking into consideration things like budget, time, materials and so on.

Steps in the design-build process

Design and construction projects involve several steps. Typically, projects go through the following six phases. However, on some projects, several of these steps may be combined, reduced or there may be additional ones.

STAGE 1: Inception (Deciding What to Build)

In the initial stage, you as the homeowner and the architect discuss the project brief. You go through the process of testing the fit between your needs, wants, and the budget. This is why it’s important that you have a brief prepared, and have an idea of your project budget or availability of funds.  The Scope of work is determined by your brief and budget.

Key outcomes of the inception stage meetings is a project programme with all milestones identified. The project programme will outline the entire duration of the project and how long each component will take.

For example, you will have a clear idea of how and when to expect everything from your first meeting through the entire design stages right up until you get the keys to your house and everything in between.

If you’ve never worked with a professional before, this is what ensures that the project is built within the allocated timeframe. Any risks that could negatively affect the project and their level of impact is included in the programme.

 Unfortunately risks such as national lockdowns could not be anticipated, yet they negatively affected all projects.

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STAGE 2: Design Concept (Scheme Design)

In this stage, the architect prepares ideas or design concepts, known as schematic design. These show the general arrangement of rooms and the site. Some architects also prepare models to help visualize the project.

This stage is where ideas of  materiality are also included,as well as the technical, functional and aesthetic attributes of the design concept. Once this is done, the architect will review the scope, estimated total project cost (bearing in mind all materials and everything necessary to bring the project to life) and then consider your budget.

Most changes to design occur during this phase. This is sometimes because your brief may not be in line with your budget. So once a design concept has been produced and all factors considered, some changes will need to be made to stay within budget. Once changes are made, the project programme is reviewed to ensure we’re still on schedule despite changes.

You as the homeowner will approve the schematic design before proceeding to the next phase. The Architect will always work closely with you to ensure that your wishes are being addressed. In my experience, it’s beneficial for you to see the 3d models or even physical conceptual models of the design at this stage. We then start engaging other consultants such as engineers, so that there’s coordination at the early stage of design.

STAGE 3: Design Development (Refining the Design)

The architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design. Floor plans show all the rooms with the correct size and shape. Outline specifications are prepared to list the major materials and room finishes. Coordination of other consultants in the design is vital at this stage, this will avoid nasty surprises during the production of detailed construction drawings or during construction.

After collaborating with consultants, the project programme needs to be reviewed. This will determine if the collaboration will result in the project duration being extended as you wait for them to submit their works etc. Once again, reference will be made to the budget and true cost of the project to ensure there are no major deviations from the agreed budget. Documents will then be sent to you for approval. This can be in a meeting to ensure everything is explained in detail.

STAGE 4a: Preparation of Technical and Construction Documents

Once you’ve approved the design, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications. These include architectural work coordinated with the work of other consultants. All documents will be submitted to council for approval.

Most people choose to contractually end their relationship with their architect at this point. This is once they get their documentation, designs and plans. They opt to elect their own contractor and supervise the building themselves. However, there is tremendous value to continue the relationship until construction of your structure is complete.

For those who continue the contractual relationship, here’s what to expect.

The architect will work with a quantity surveyor (QS) to prepare a final Bill Of Quantities (BOQ). This will give you the most accurate construction cost of the structure. In the previous stages, the QS would have just been giving estimated costs since not all documentation of the building was complete. Once the BOQ is approved according to your budget, the QS will need written authority from you to prepare documents to get bids from contractors for the construction of the project.

The Architect will act as the project lead. The contractor will use the tender document with the unpriced bill of quantities to make his Bid.

STAGE 4B: Tender Evaluations (deciding on the Best Contractor for the Job)

The architect will then adjudicate and evaluate offers from several contractors and make recommendations on which contractor to go with. These drawings and specifications become part of the building contract that you then sign with the contractor.

It’s important to note that while the architect can make recommendations on who to hire, the final decision rests with you. We have contractors that we’ve worked with, we know their workmanship, their work ethic and their pricing. So we can work with contractors we know and have relationships with, or you can choose your own.

Keep in mind that some clients prefer to only use an architect as a designer, so our job can end at stage 4 after handing over technical and construction drawings. Other clients can use us from stage 5, they already have designs and they want us to help them source contractors and take over construction administration. Each project is different.

STAGE 5: Construction Administration

During this stage, the architect will hand over the site to the contractor whose bid was successful. The contractors’ role is to physically build the structure. Contrastingly, the architect’s main role at this stage is to assist you by making sure that the project is built according to the plans and specifications. The architect will usually make daily, weekly or fortnightly site visits depending on the stage of the works.

Their main focus is to observe construction, review and approve the contractor’s applications for payment, and generally keep the homeowner informed of the project’s progress.

The architect will be able to see that the contractor is conforming to the contract and inspect the work in terms of acceptable quality based on the building contract.

The contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules and procedures, not the architect. Clients who choose to DIY this step often find problems with their buildings long after the contractor has been paid and is long gone.

DIY is appealing and looks cheap on the surface but more often than not cheap is expensive, especially if you have to pay for corrective works. You end up paying twice for the same thing if it’s not done correctly the first time. An investment as valuable as building property should be done right the first time, otherwise, you’ll be fixing leaks or patching up cracks every few years.  

Having an architect as a construction administrator will help because they can evaluate each phase of the construction and recommend withholding payment if contractor has failed to meet quality or other requirement.

When the project is complete, the architect will then issue a practical completion certificate and assist the client to get an occupation certificate.

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Stage 6: Close out

A project closeout phase enables the architect to do the following:

-Re-engage stakeholders

-Review the relevant work requirements

-Check whether there are still pending tasks to be done,

-Sign off on completed deliverables.

You’ll receive any warranties from the contractor and their subcontractors, as well as operational and maintenance manuals for the property.

The key here is to have a collaborative relationship with your architect. This is to make sure you get the desired end result, within your budget and agreed timeframe. You only have to think or worry about the price once. But quality lasts with you forever.

What is peace of mind worth to you?

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