Work up the proposals with our client

Prepare the brief and plan the timetable: various options to ensure the most appropriate design is taken forward.
Maximise proposals: in-house expertise saves both time and money, and highlights the project in its best light.
Generate 3D fly-views and image rendering.
Prepare detail designs.

Obtain planning permission

Consultation process: pre-application meetings.
Discuss scheme with planners.

Procurement Process

Build the team: structural engineers, quantity surveyors etc.
Scope of works.
Working drawings: sections and all necessary details to show to contractors.
Detail specifications.

Contract Administration

Many Architects are hesitant to do this, but we ensure that the contractor performs and produces a quality job.

RIBA Stage #0 - Strategic definition stage for building projects

The process for completing the design and construction of a building is often divided into notional ‘stages’. This can be helpful in establishing milestones for the submission of progress reports, the preparation of information for approval, client gateways, and for making payments.

However, there is a great deal of ambiguity between the naming of stages by different organisations and the definition of what individual stages include (see Comparison of work stages) and so it is important that appointment documents make it clear specifically what activities fall within which stage, and what level of detail is required.

‘Strategic definition’ is a stage referred to in the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for their 2013 Plan of Work. This plan comprises eight work stages, and introduces new terminology, and a new stage referencing system:

0 – Strategic definition.
1 – Preparation and brief.
2 – Concept design.
3 – Developed design.
4 – Technical design.
5 – Construction.
6 – Handover and close out.
7 – In use.

The first stage, Strategic definition is a new stage, although some of the tasks involved were previously included in old first stage of the 2007 Plan of Work ‘Appraisal’.

During the strategic definition stage, the client’s business case and strategic brief are assessed to ensure they ‘…have been properly considered’ and the scope of the project is defined.

RIBA suggest that, ‘strategic considerations might include considering different sites, whether to extend, refurbish or build new and the key Project Outcomes, as well as initial considerations for the Project Programme and assembling the project team.’

The stage is followed by stage 1, ‘Preparation and brief’ which involves developing the initial project brief, carrying out feasibility studies and assembling the project team ready for concept design to commence.

It is possible that the client may need to appoint independent client advisers to assist them during this stage, prior to the appointment of the consultant team.

RIBA Stage #1 - Preparation and brief project stage

The process for completing the design and construction of a building is often divided into stages. This can be helpful in establishing milestones for the submission of progress reports, the preparation of information for approval, client gateways, and for making payments. However there is a great deal of ambiguity between the naming of stages by different organisations and the definition of what individual stages actually include (see comparison of work stages) and so it is important that appointment documents make it clear specifically what activities fall within which stage, and what level of detail is required.

‘Preparation and brief’ is a new phrase coined by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for their 2013 Plan of Work. This plan comprises eight work stages.

The preparation and brief stage involves:

• Developing an initial project brief. This may include; considering feedback from previous projects, defining overall spatial requirements, carrying out surveys and quantifying the budget.

• Carrying out feasibility studies.

• Undertaking a project risk assessment, including; planning risks, programme and procurement strategy.
Assembling the project team and defining their roles and responsibilities.

• This preparatory work enables the design process to begin in the next stage ‘concept design’.

The RIBA suggest that this new stage 1 merges the ‘residual’ tasks from the former Stage A ‘Appraisal’ and Stage B ‘Design Brief’.

RIBA Stage #2 - Concept design

Concept design generally takes place after feasibility studies and options appraisals have been carried out and a project brief has been prepared. The concept design represents the design team’s initial response to the project brief.

Some designers will differentiate between ‘concept design’ and ‘scheme design’. In this case, the ‘concept’ is the initial design idea, whereas the ‘scheme’ develops the concept, taking on board more functional and practical considerations. Most project plans have now combined these two steps into the single stage ‘concept design’, or ‘concept’.

Concept design is followed by ‘detailed design’ or ‘developed design’ during which all the main components of the building and how they fit together are described.

During the concept design stage, the consultant team will develop:

• The design concept.

• Outline specifications.

• Schedules of accommodation.

• A planning strategy.

• The cost plan.

• Procurement options.

• Programme and phasing strategy.

• “Buildability” and construction logistics.

Where building information modelling (BIM) is being used, at this stage, the built asset might be represented by massing diagrams or 2D symbols representing generic elements, with some critical elements developed in more detail. The project information model may also include drawings, reports and other structured information directly related to the built asset and its facilities, floors, spaces, zones, systems and components.

It can also be useful at this stage to generate presentation material such as photo visualisations and 3D walk-throughs that help facilitate employer assessments and consultations with user panels, champions, and other stakeholders.

At the end of the stage, the consultant team will prepare a concept design report for the client which records the basic design concepts for the preferred option that might be worth further investigation in the detailed design stage. The concept design report will also identify any instructions required from the client.

The project brief will continue to develop as the concept design is prepared, but is then frozen at the end of the concept design stage and change control procedures are introduced.

An application for planning permission might be made during the concept design stage. This is likely to be an outline planning application if made at the beginning of the stage or a detailed planning application if made once the concept design is complete.

RIBA Stage #3 - Developed design

The invention of term ‘developed design’ in particular, is, rather peculiarly, in the past tense (unlike any other stage names), implying that the stage is complete, and it means little to clients or to the wider industry.

The RIBA states that ‘Developed Design maps broadly to the former Stage D – Design Development – and part of Stage E – Technical Design. The strategic difference is that in the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 the Developed Design will be coordinated and aligned with the Cost Information by the end of Stage 3. This may not increase the amount of design work required, but extra time will be needed to review information and implement any changes that arise from comments made before all the outputs are coordinated prior to the Information Exchange at the end of Stage 3.’

It is not clear why the design and cost were not aligned in previous versions of the plan of work, or which elements of technical design this stage now includes.

The RIBA describe the activities carried out during the stage as preparing the ‘developed design, including co-ordinated and updated proposals for structural design, building services systems, outline specifications, cost information and project strategies in accordance with the design programme.’ Spatial coordination should be completed and change control procedures introduced, and typically landscape designs will be prepared and planning applications made. This stage may involve input from specialist sub-contractors and suppliers.

Historically, the tasks associated with ‘developed design’ would have been described as the ‘detailed design’ stage, which is perhaps a clearer and better understood description.

Where building information modelling (BIM) is being used, during this stage, the project information model is developed based upon generic representations with approximate quantities, size, shape, location, tolerances and so on. Specification properties and attributes are developed so that the selection of systems and products is possible. Where the employer has already specified that certain building products should be used, or where there are key components that have already been selected, these may be incorporated into the model. Structural information and architectural information should develop in detail, and services design may include generic information about sizes, capacity and control systems. The model may allow early contractor engagement, and an outline construction sequence may be developed. Plans, cross sections, elevations, and visualisations may be produced as well as schedules of facilities.

RIBA Stage #4 - Technical design stage for building projects

Generally the phrase ‘technical design’ refers to project activities that take place after the detailed design (or ‘developed design’ or ‘definition’) has been completed, but before the construction contract is tendered or construction begins.

Increasingly however, technical design may continue through the preparation of production information and tender documentation and even during construction itself, particularly where aspects of the technical design are undertaken by specialist subcontractors.
The lead designer co-ordinates the preparation of the technical design. As this may involve design not only by the client’s core design team but also by specialist subcontractors, it may be appropriate to organise a specialist contractors’ start-up meeting at the beginning of the stage. A design responsibility matrix can help allocate design tasks between the project team members, and on complex projects, it may be necessary to appoint a design co-ordinator responsible for co-ordination and integration of different aspects of the technical design.

There is some skill in establishing the order for undertaking technical design. For instance the ceiling tile grid has to be established so that light fittings, sprinkler heads and smoke detectors can be located centre of tiles and access provisions to services in ceiling voids can be established. Similarly, mullion positions for cladding systems dictate partition locations between cellular offices. Drainage set to falls has priority over ceiling pipe work, ductwork and electrical trunking the latter being more flexible in its routing. It is argued by some that co-ordination between the different aspects of this technical design is best carried out by the client’s design team despite the increasing tendency to transfer responsibility to contractors.

By the end of the stage the architectural, structural and mechanical services design and specifications should describe all the main components of the building and how they fit together, any performance specified work should be defined and there should be sufficient information for applications for statutory approval to be completed. Room data sheets are also likely to have been prepared along with outline technical specifications.

Regular reviews should be carried out during the stage to assess construction sequencing, buildability, the interfaces between different elements of the design, the project programme and risk. The client’s design team may be required to review design information prepared by specialists to ensure proper integration into the wider design.

It may be appropriate to arrange visits to the specialist contractors’ premises to assess samples or mock-ups and to witness tests. Some samples may require approval by the client.

Once the client is satisfied with the technical design, the lead consultant should freeze the design and specifications and introduce change control procedures and remaining statutory approvals and other approvals should be completed.

RIBA Stage #5 - Construction

The term ‘construction’ refers to the process of building something such as a house, bridge, tunnel and so on.

The CDM regulations suggest that ‘construction works’ means ‘…the carrying out of any building, civil engineering or engineering construction work…’ More specifically, Civil engineering procedure, 7th edition, published by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), defines construction works as: ‘What a contractor has undertaken to provide or do for a promoter (client) – consisting of the work to be carried out, goods, materials and services to be supplied, and the liabilities, obligations and risks to be taken by that contractor. It may not be all of the project, depending on what is specified in a contract.’

Construction may also be considered to include:

• Demolition.

• Rebuilding.

• Alterations of or additions to buildings.

• Others normally undertaken by a person carrying on business as a builder or contractor.

Builders, contractors and subcontractors

In very broad terms, contractors are the organisations appointed by clients to carry out construction works. However, this apparently simple relationship is complicated by the fact that contractors tend not to have all the trades required to construct a building in their direct employment. And so construction works themselves tend to be subcontracted to specialist trades.

The word ‘builder’ is typically used to refer to an organisation that employs workers that undertake all of the roles necessary to undertake construction works, they do not have to contract trades. Typically ‘builders’ are associated with domestic construction, as housebuilding is a relatively repetitive process, for which the workforce required is predictable and so direct employment of the workforce does not limit the builders capability.


The carrying out of construction works in the UK may require planning permission and Building Regulations approval, as well as other approvals depending on the nature of the works.

Planning permission is the legal process of determining whether proposed developments should be permitted. Responsibility for planning lies with local planning authorities (usually the planning department of the district or borough council). The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) decides national planning policy for England and this is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
The Building Regulations set out requirements for specific aspects of building design and construction, such as accessibility, energy use, drainage and so on.
See What approvals are needed before construction begins for more information.

The UK construction industry

The construction industry in the UK accounts for approximately 3 million jobs, 10% of total UK employment and includes both manufacturing and services.

There are three main sectors:

• Commercial and social (approximately 45%)

• Residential (approximately 40%).

• Infrastructure (approximately 15%)

• Approximately 60% of construction output is new build, whilst 40% is refurbishment and maintenance.


Typically, a construction project will involve a funder, a client, consultants, a contractor, sub-contractors and suppliers. They will generally be procured following one of the five main procurement routes:

• Traditional contract.

• Design and build.

• Construction management.

• Management contract.

• Public procurement.

• For more possibilities see: Procurement routes

Generally, the client will work with consultants to define what they require, then a tender process will be undertaken to identify a contractor to construct the works.

A typical project might follow stages such as:

Stage 1: Business justification.

Stage 2: Feasibility studies.

Stage 3: Project brief.

Stage 4: Concept design.

Stage 5: Detailed design.

Stage 6: Production information.

Stage 7: Tender.

Stage 8: Mobilisation.

Stage 9: Construction.

Stage 10: Occupation and defects liability period.

Stage 11: Post occupancy evaluation.

RIBA Stage #6 - Handover and close out

The RIBA states that Stage 6, Handover and Close Out maps broadly to the former Stage L: Post Practical Completion.

They describe the activities carried out during the stage as, ‘handover of building and conclusion of building contract’ including updating ‘as constructed’ information, commissioning, training and perhaps post-occupancy evaluation following the ‘soft landings’ process. Presumably the stage also includes tasks associated with the defects liability period and issuing the final certificate, although these are not described.

Previously, this stage might have been described as the ‘defects liability period’, the period which begins on certification of practical completion at the end of the construction stage and typically lasts six to twelve months, during which the client takes possession of the site, defects are rectified and then the final certificate issued. This is perhaps a better description of the stage and in the Designing Buildings Wiki project plans, we describe this stage as the ‘occupation and defects liability period’

RIBA Stage #7 - In use

‘In Use’ is described by the RIBA as a new stage within the Plan of Work which includes post-occupancy evaluation and post-project review as well as ‘…new duties that can be undertaken during the In Use period of a building.’

In fact, some of these services were previously included in the stages L2: Initial Occupation Services and L3: Post Occupancy Evaluation Services.

It is not clear what ‘new duties’ the RIBA is referring to, however consultants might provide advice to the client post construction in relation to:

• Letting.

• Rating.

• Maintenance.

• Energy consumption and energy certificates.

• Insurance.

• Tenants queries.

• Facilities management.

The preparation of tender documents for maintenance and operation contracts.
Where additional services are required after completion of the construction contract, these need to be identified in appointment agreements, or new appointments made.

The RIBA suggest that whilst the building’s ‘end of life’ might be considered during this stage, it is more likely to be part of Stage 0 for a new project.