6 Phases of Architectural Design Process

The architecture design process is a fascinating journey, transforming abstract ideas into concrete realities. At its core, this process is cyclical and iterative, often described through a series of distinct yet overlapping phases. Each phase is crucial in ensuring the final structure meets aesthetic standards and adheres to functional requirements. Whether a towering skyscraper or a quaint cottage, these design principles are universally meticulous and methodical.

Knowing the architectural design process is vital for anyone involved in building development. This is especially true in hospitality architecture, where key phases help architects and designers manage and coordinate the work effectively. From the initial programming phase to the final construction administration, each step is geared towards refining the project, ensuring every detail is perfect. The structured approach streamlines project management and enhances creativity, allowing designers to explore various solutions and continuously improve their ideas.

Overview of the Architecture Design Process

Importance of Structured Phases

The architecture design process flows through structured phases, each crucial in transforming initial sketches into finalized constructions. These stages facilitate clarity, efficiency, and detailed exploration throughout the project lifecycle, ensuring that architects and stakeholders maintain a shared vision and objectives.

  1. Pre-Design Phase sets the project’s foundation through stakeholder engagement and goal setting. This stage defines the scope and requirements, setting a clear pathway for all subsequent project phases.
  2. Schematic Design Phase involves the initial translation of conceptual ideas into sketched concepts and spatial models. Architects explore various design options, offering visual representations that guide further refinements.
  3. Design Development Phase refines the schematics into plans and a 3D model that facilitates early visualizations. Here, architects and consulting engineers begin to collaborate the technical aspects and ensure compliance with regulations.
  4. Construction Documents Phase produces increasingly detailed drawings and specifications for contractor bids and the permits department’s review. These documents serve as legal instructions for building the project.
  5. Bidding and Contractor Selection allows for evaluating contractor bids and selecting the right team for construction. This phase hinges on transparency and fair pricing to match the detailed expectations outlined in the construction documents.
  6. Construction Administration involves monitoring the construction’s progress to adhere to the design intent. Architects provide oversight and make necessary adjustments, ensuring the project’s integrity.

After all these phases, a post-occupancy evaluation reviews the building’s performance concerning its intended use and occupant satisfaction, providing insights that can guide future projects.

Each phase is pivotal in the architectural journey, emphasizing meticulous attention to detail and rigorous management to achieve optimal results. This structured approach helps mitigate risks, manage costs, and enhance the overall quality of the finished structure.

Key Phases in Architecture Design Process

inside architectural design process


In the initial phase, known as Pre-Design, the groundwork for a successful architectural project is established. This phase includes extensive research and analysis, covering site evaluations, zoning laws, and a thorough understanding of the client’s needs and objectives. Architects assess the project’s feasibility by performing site analyses, surveys, and geotechnical assessments. This early stage sets the strategic direction, ensuring all subsequent design efforts align with established project goals and regulatory frameworks.

Schematic Design

The Schematic Design phase brings the client’s vision closer to reality. During this stage, architects create preliminary layouts and sketches that outline the basic concepts of the structure in situ. The focus here is on the building’s general appearance and spatial relationships. It’s a collaborative process where feedback from the client is crucial to refine the design. Typically, this phase results in sketches and rough models that clearly show the proposed building’s scale and relationship to its environment.

Design Development

Following the approval of schematic designs, the Design Development phase advances these concepts into more detailed and technical representations. Architects and design teams work to develop the 3D model with materials and structural requirements and integrate the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The specifications for building components are considered and refined, providing a comprehensive plan that serves as a blueprint for the project’s execution.

Construction Documents

In the Construction Documents phase, plans and engineered systems are finalized and translated into documents that will receive permit approval and guide the construction. These documents include detailed drawings and specifications the construction team uses to build the structure. They ensure that the architectural vision is adhered to throughout the building process. This set of documents also forms the basis for soliciting bids from contractors and serves as legal documents in construction contracts.

Bidding and Negotiation

During the Bidding and Negotiation phase, contractors submit their bids based on the construction documents provided. The architect assists the client in comparing bids, assessing the contractors’ qualifications, and negotiating the contract terms. This phase is critical for maintaining the project within the financial boundaries and ensuring that the build quality matches the expectations set out in the design phases.

Construction Administration

The final phase, Construction Administration, involves observing the construction to ensure compliance with plans and specifications. While architects do not supervise construction, they make periodic site visits to monitor progress and address any issues. Modifications and adjustments often occur, requiring the architect’s involvement to manage changes and ensure they align with the client’s vision and project requirements. This phase is vital for translating design intentions into a complete structure meeting all defined objectives and standards.

Challenges and Considerations in the Design Process

process of the architectural design

The architecture design process involves multiple stages, each with unique challenges and considerations. Effectively addressing these enhances project success and client satisfaction.

Managing Client Expectations

Managing client expectations is an essential part of the architectural design process. Architects must clearly communicate with clients about a project’s feasibility, design possibilities, and constraints. Initial discussions must set realistic timelines and budgets, often using visual aids like 3D renderings and diagrams to help clients visualize the final product. Effective communication prevents misunderstandings and ensures clients remain informed throughout the project lifecycle. Regular updates allow clients to understand necessary adjustments or changes, reducing surprises and maintaining trust.

Integrating Sustainable Practices

Integrating sustainable practices into architectural design addresses environmental concerns and enhances building efficiency and long-term economic benefits. Architects face the challenge of staying updated with green technologies and sustainable materials, which continuously evolve. They need to assess the impact of these systems on the overall design and lifecycle of the building. Additionally, certifications like LEED require meticulous planning and adherence to stringent guidelines. Architects must creatively incorporate these practices without compromising aesthetic or functional objectives. This integration starts from the pre-design phase and extends through construction, influencing energy use, material selection, and waste management decisions. That’s why it’s crucial to consult with an architect.


Navigating the architecture design process requires more than just technical skills and creativity. It demands a strategic approach to research, client engagement, and integrating sustainable practices from the outset. As architects embrace these complexities, they not only meet but often exceed client expectations, ensuring the functionality and sustainability of their projects. The journey from pre-design to construction administration is intricate and filled with opportunities for innovation, making every phase crucial to the ultimate success of the building. By prioritizing clear communication and staying abreast of the latest in green technology, architects are setting new standards in the design world that resonate well beyond the completion of their projects.



Emily Warren, AIA, NCARB

Emily is celebrated for her insightful commentary and technical expertise. As a licensed architect with over a decade of professional experience, Emily boasts a rich background that spans high-end design, historic documentation, and sustainable development. She honed her skills with the National Park Service’s Historic Documentation Programs, mastering complex projects completed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

Emily’s work is distinguished by meticulous attention to detail and a passion for advancing architectural knowledge. Her leadership and teaching capabilities, demonstrated by her guidance of interns and management of multimillion-dollar projects, underscore her commitment to fostering growth and excellence within the architectural community. Emily’s compelling narratives and technical prowess make her an invaluable voice in the field as she continues to inspire readers with her dedication and vision.

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Charlotte R. DeChant



As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.

Douglas M. DeChant

Founding Partner/Principal


Architecture is more than a profession for Doug, our principal designer; it is a calling, understood since childhood. While a modernist at heart, his work reflects the necessary context of each setting and the voice of each client. He trained in the program of modernist and former Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, at Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in Chicago. After working throughout the nation and overseas, Doug settled in Vail in 1985, where he met his wife, Charlotte. Together they founded the practice in 1989 and have enjoyed raising four amazing children.

Doug’s service has included the Eagle County, Colorado, Planning Commission; the faculty of the Byron Fellowship, an annual sustainable communities conference; panelist at the Summit for Creativity in La Jolla sponsored by The Design Futures Council; participation in local design review boards; youth sports coaching; and various lay-leadership positions in his church. In 2004, he conceived ‘Benevolent Architecture’, a proprietary service offering low-cost or no-cost architecture and consulting to worthy ministries and non-profits.  In 2005, Doug began to develop an intimate, artistic retreat and conference venue, Wellspring Ranch, LLC, relocating and restoring several historic Colorado structures upon a remarkable property outside of Buena Vista, Colorado.

He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and has been licensed in numerous states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania. He finds balance in guitar, sculpture, hiking, snowshoeing, golf and crafting various elements of his retreat venue. 

Tom Bashford


Tom, one of our most valued, gifted leaders, passed away unexpectedly in March 2017. Together with his joyful spirit and hilarious dry wit, he enhanced our studio with a wealth of design and management experience. Tom will never be replaced. He was the type of person, father, leader, and mentor to which we all aspire, and the fruit of his efforts will live on, in his son, in us, and in our projects.

Pam, Peraya Mongkolwongrojn


Peraya, Pam, is originally from Bangkok, Thailand, where she first became interested in Architecture from the rich spatial environment.  She explored Canada before moving to the States to pursue her passion for architecture. Pam went to the University of Arizona to earn a Bachelor of Architecture professional degree. During school, she energized a passion for the arts and drawing. 

In her free time, Pam enjoys exploring the great outdoors, hiking through Colorado’s scenic landscapes, and finding inspiration for her designs in nature. With a keen eye for detail and a creative approach to problem-solving, Pam has been involved in many of our custom residential homes. Her passion for the arts and drawing has influenced her design style, which incorporates elements of beauty and functionality. Pam’s commitment to excellence and her love for architecture make her a dedicated professional who strives to make a difference through her work.

As she continues to grow and learn in her field, Pam remains devoted to creating innovative spaces that enrich people’s lives and leave a positive legacy for future generations.

Brett Lehr

Project Manager

Brett is a designer with a unique blend of expertise, holding an undergraduate degree in Media Arts from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and an M.Arch degree from the University of Nebraska. His diverse educational background has ignited a passion for utilizing realistic virtual environments to enhance the efficiency, enjoyment, and overall success of architectural design processes.

Beyond his professional pursuits, Brett finds joy in a variety of hobbies, including snow skiing, biking, fly fishing, golf, and hiking. Embracing the scenic wonders of the Vail Valley, he has found the perfect lifestyle fit, drawing creative inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty.

Laurie Baggott


Our studio is fortunate to have Laurie bring her considerable experience in business and finance to our daily operations. Among her many administrative responsibilities, she manages accounting, payroll and invoicing for us. When not busy here or as a private chef, she avidly hikes in our beautiful summers and snowshoes in the winter.

Patricia Marcine


Earning her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Houston in 2016 was just the beginning. From there, Trish headed to Europe, to study at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and work at the Aedes Architekturforum. Then she determined it was time to return to the Rocky Mountains. We became beneficiaries of her delightful, collaborative spirit when she joined our studio in early 2018. Her savvy technical support and inspired design voice enhance each project, while her design comprehension and growth demonstrate that she has a future with much to offer the profession. As a lifelong artist, Trish’s search for a practical art form and meaningful profession has been fulfilled by custom residential architecture, where “…not a day truly feels like work.”

Trish grew up in Northern New Jersey, playing club and varsity soccer, enjoying ski club with friends, and learning to snowboard at a young age. As a teen, she competed in various equestrian events, highlighted by working for Frank and Mary Chapot to train Olympic-level show jumpers. Eventually, faster hobbies were necessary, and Trish became a driving instructor for the SCCA and track-day rider on her CBR600RR. She’s also been an enthusiastic racer on our company’s ‘ski team’. When a new project surfaces, she’s pleased to slow down enough to collaborate with the team.

Emily Warren


Emily joined us from the DC area, lured by the mountains, our core values and our creative environment. She earned a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Architecture degrees from SUNY Buffalo’s School of Architecture & Planning, with a minor in Earth System Science.

Through her wonderfully infectious spirit, Emily eagerly contributes diverse knowledge and experience, having worked on historic National Park Service documentation, and urban high-density residential projects facing strict constraints. She is a productive and dedicated team player who thrives through learning and contributing to the growth of others. Her detail, project management and organizational skills are exceptional. Emily is licensed in Maryland, and nationally accredited by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Emily is passionate about youth empowerment, with considerable experience teaching and mentoring in schools and camps. She’s an ardent weightlifter, hiker and nature enthusiast, embracing the Vail Valley’s active, outdoor lifestyle.

Cam Frey


Cam was introduced to Colorado’s rivers and mountains at an early age, returning annually from Michigan with his family to fly-fish and hike near the small mining town of Creede. His interest in design and architecture was ignited by his high school drafting teacher, who instilled a balanced approach to design through technology and craft. Cam received his BA from UNC, Chapel Hill, followed by a few years of medical research before heading West to earn his Master of Architecture from the University of Oregon. There he became interested in the interdisciplinary study of Biomimicry; an approach to solving design problems by looking to nature. Not coincidentally, this interest, the stunning landscapes, wildlife, and outdoor lifestyle led Cam back to Colorado in 2014. He joined us in 2017, quickly becoming a central piece of our culture and project management structure.

Cam serves on the Design Review Committee of the Arrowhead at Vail community, is a certified Biomimicry Specialist and licensed Architect in the state of Colorado.

His other pursuits include fly-fishing, skiing, hiking, and a good game of euchre…, and the list continues to grow. He is married to a wonderfully talented children’s book illustrator, and dotes on his young son.

Ben Marion


From an early age, Ben had a pen in hand and a curiosity for exploring both natural and built environments. Much of his adolescence was spent drawing what he observed, balanced with his passions for cross-country skiing the New England forests and playing soccer as far away as Europe. Like many of us, Ben arrived in Colorado as an adult, following a lifelong passion to further pursue the resort lifestyle. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he practiced with some of the finest architects and builders in the region, creating fine homes and other structures. His broad experience includes California mountain resort homes, as well as mixed-use and commercial structures, peppered with an interesting mix of furniture building and construction. In our studio, Ben is a strong design voice and outstanding project manager, leading by quiet example as he mentors our emerging leaders.

Ben remains passionate about skiing and soccer, coaching both youth sports locally. Travel remains in his blood as he and his family explore the west in their vintage 1967 camper.

Bert Willemse


Bert found a home away from home in the Vail Valley while exploring North America’s most beautiful landscapes on a post-graduation road trip…, from his hometown of Bellvale, New York to Wasilla, Alaska. He had completed his studies at SUNY Buffalo and apprenticed with two well-known firms in New York’s Hudson Valley area before joining our studio. As the son of a general contractor Bert gained practical construction knowledge with hands-on experience in the field. His many professional attributes are exceeded only by his wonderful, collaborative spirit.

Naturally, Bert is an active individual who embraces hiking, biking and skiing in our amazing Colorado mountains.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principal


After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in 1994 and working as an intern for three years at Fujikawa Johnson and Associates in Chicago, Adam packed his van and toured America to determine where he might settle; he found Vail and Shepherd Resources in September of 1997. After growing from intern to project manager to associate, Adam began transitioning into ownership in 2017 and became a principal owner in early 2020. As a dedicated designer, Adam loves collaborating with his fellow architects and interns while managing a busy studio.

His priorities are rooted in sustainability, strong leadership skills, and staff mentoring to uphold the core values of the practice. He is licensed in Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina and serves as the chairman of the Red Sky Ranch Design Review Board. Adam enjoys golf, mountain biking, skiing, music, and any activity involving his daughter Bellalee. Adam has been practicing for a quarter century and looks forward to designing and collaborating for another quarter century; the opportunity to doodle a quick sketch, with the future opportunity of walking through such a doodle fuels his creativity and passion for design.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principle


As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.