Design Phase 1: What is Schematic Design?

Once you have your survey, have gone through the pre-design, and purchased your land, it’s finally time to start the first part of the design process. The design process takes place in five phases, schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding, and construction administration. Here’s what the first phase, schematic design, is all about.

General to Specific

As architects, we always work from general and broad to specific and detailed. We need to answer broad questions, such as the shape and layout of the future home, before figuring out how the building is built or what the finishes will be. This overall, broad level design, is what we call schematic design.

Why general to specific?

Think of the design process as an evolution of information. A layering of data and solutions as more questions are answered. We must start broad because those broad decisions always help answer the more detailed ones. For example, knowing the overall shape and layout of the floorplan gives us insight into where load-bearing walls can be. This then helps answer engineering questions such as span and floor depth. The floor depth will impact building height which is regulated by zoning, which is of course a broader consideration from pre-design. The tricky part is the back and forth between broad and more detailed considerations. The point is, not having broad decisions answered first, can waste time, solving details that may be irrelevant.

Un-realistic Design (at first)

To a certain degree, the schematic design can be un-realistic. This is due to the lack of engineering and constructability considerations this early in the process. The only constructability considerations are based upon intuition and assumptions made by the architect. This is because the true design of the project’s constructability starts to take place during the next phase of design (design development). A good way to think about it is that the schematic design is a goal to be achieved rather than an un-realistic building.

Schematic Team Members

The team members present during this phase of design are mainly your architect, and towards the end of the schematic, the interior designer. The majority of the team members such as the engineers and contractors come in during the more pragmatic design development phase. Again, broad to detailed. Think of the architect as the conductor focused on broad aspects such as beat and rhythm while the engineers are focused on specific notes.

What to Expect

The final product of the schematic design process offers more to look at than any other step in the process. At the end of the schematic phase, you will know how the building will work (in terms of layout) and what the building is going to look like. Expect 3D views, floorplans, and elevations of your building as well as a basic snapshot of the intended specifications.

What’s Next?

Phase two in the design process is design development, check back with us for a future post that lays out what design development is all about.

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