The Development Life Cycle for a Building

Originally published by the following source: SBC MagazineJune 3, 2019
by Jess Lohse with contributions from SBCA Staff


Editor’s Note: The following article is part of SBCA’s Construction Industry Workflow Initiative, which is exploring how the construction industry currently functions and the role component manufacturers play within that structure. Your feedback is encouraged to help us complete this project, email to provide your input.

Architects are a natural jumping off point for a mid- to large-scale building project. Individuals, or in many instances, committees will reach out and enlist the help of an architect to determine the feasibility of a project. From there, the architect evaluates the needs and desires of the project owner, available budget and reviews the site (if known) for the project. Once a good fit has been established between project owner and architect a formal engagement with the architect will be established and a variety of stages will be implemented to guide the owner and architect through a process:

  1. Pre-Design/Programming
  2. Schematic Design
  3. Design Development
  4. Construction Drawings
  5. Bidding (Public Bids) and Construction Administration (Optional)

Pre-Design/Programming Phase

  • Programing Space & Use
  • Site Location/Analysis
    • Zoning Analysis
    • Land Survey
  • Type of Structure
  • Concept of Use
    • Movements
    • Functions
  • Vision for Structure
    • Aesthetics
    • Functions
  • Identify Stakeholders
    • Users
    • Financiers
  • Project Time Frame
  • Budget of Project


Pre-Design, or sometimes called the Programming phase establishes many of the basic needs of a structure. The architect will hold a series of conversations with the various stakeholders to draw out what they have in mind for the structure, their tastes in design, the functions of the various areas of the structure and the movements people will take through the structure. Known as programing, the architect gathers, organizes and addresses the client’s intended use of the building. Once the architect has a feel of the owners’ desires, they will continue working on their vision for the structure, including many of the aesthetics and functions of the building. This vision will be broadened to include other stakeholders that will engage in the project. In the case of a single family home, this is fairly limited beyond the home owners, but will include additional considerations such as children and visitors, when the family hosts functions. In a commercial or public space, thought will be put towards a variety of users including employees, customers, delivery people, janitorial staff, etc. Other functions of the Pre-Design phase include site location analysis, zoning analysis, and land surveying. Time frame of the project along with a budget will be determined in this initial phase of architectural design.

Schematic Design

  • Preliminary Evaluation
    • Program
    • Schedule
    • Budget
  • Initial Design Drawings
    • Floor Plan
    • Elevations
  • Codes Selected
  • Building Systems
  • Idea of Materials Used
  • Idea of Engineering
  • Neighborhood Review Process
  • Engage Structural Engineer and GC/Builder (private project)

Schematic Design

A preliminary evaluation of program, schedule, and budget will be performed in the initial Schematic Design. A basic set of initial design drawings will be produced during this phase that includes floor plans for various levels as well as elevations, giving the client a graphical representation that accounts for the key needs and features determined in the Pre-Design/Programming Phase. Any adjustments can then be made early in the process. Building codes and various building systems will be determined during this phase and a general idea of what structure type and materials will come into focus for the architect. If there are any Neighborhood Review requirements, that process will commence during this phase to engage various stakeholders and determine if any inputs or considerations should be taken to accommodate the structure’s surrounding area. An example of this would be additional traffic considerations in a public project or the overall height of a home and any sightlines it may block. A structural engineer is typically engaged prior to the design development phase. In private projects, Schematic Design is typically the timeframe in which a general contractor will be engaged to facilitate the next steps of the project and provide feedback on the designs. 

Design Development

  • Extension of Schematic Design
  • Drawings Formalized
    • Floor Plan
    • Wall Sections
    • Building Elevations
    • Overall Dimensions
    • Detailing
    • Systems Selected
    • Materials Selected
  • Specialized Uses
    • Systems Stack
    • Storage
    • Pathways

Design Development

Design Development is typically an extension of Schematic Design where drawings are formalized to include much more detail and specific characteristics of the structure. While fewer steps are taken during this phase, a significant amount of time is required to build out the theoretical structure, floor plans, egress, elevations, bearing walls and communicate it through 2D designs and/or 3D models. Building dimensions and other details of the structure can then be established.  Additional consideration will be given to the selection of materials and the systems used for the final structure. Consideration will be given, during Design Development, to more minor aspects of the structure such as storage areas, parking and landscaping. Additionally, the architect will look to the load path and various MEP systems to ensure they stack and are efficient in their use and will consult with a structural engineer and other professionals if necessary. 

Construction Drawings

Construction Drawings

  • Detailed for Construction
  • Detailed Elevations
  • Detailed Sections
  • Permit Submittal
  • Communicate the Project
  • Products Finalized
  • Spec Book (Public Bid)

When the features and functions of the structure have been determined the A/E architect will turn to finalizing the architectural drawings for construction. At this point, they will detail the drawings for construction, including detailed elevations and section views.  These drawings are typically distributed through the general contractor to the various trades and suppliers and serve as their window to the project to provide material and labor estimates/bids. The specified products are finalized during the Construction Drawings phase and a specification book is created for public bid projects. Requests for building permits are submitted during this phase with the construction drawings. 

Bidding and Construction Administration

In projects that are bid out, either publicly or privately through a general contractor, the architect will assist in answering questions from the various suppliers and subcontractor trades. These questions range from formal requests for information (RFIs), to alternative product usage, to simple clarifications to aid in the bidding process. In public bid projects where a general contractor is yet to be selected, the architect will assist the client in the bid process, or in many instances coordinate the bid selection process themselves. Beyond the bid process and depending on owner requirements and the project budget, architects will often remain engaged in the construction process, monitoring progress of construction and confirming completion of certain sections for the client/project owner. 


Thank you to Sarah Hicks of Eley|Barkley, P.A. Engineering & Architecture for providing background information for this article