Pre-Design Architecture – Why Is It Important?

The first phase in home design is not actually a design phase at all but rather a series of planning exercises to prepare you for the design. We call this phase “pre-design.” Pre-design has one primary objective; to gather and understand the project parameters and make sure that you have all the data about the project before starting a design. In this post we dig into the specifics of pre-design and why it is one of the most important steps most folks miss.

Example of Rural Area Pre-design in Architecture


Perhaps homeowners and some architects skip this step because they are simply excited to get started on the design. Perhaps they don’t realize the importance of planning. Pre-design is one of the most important phases and at CW we require every project to go through some level of pre-design. Pre-designs vary project by project but typically include 7 major steps.

Step 1: Zoning Review

Zoning regulations can regulate building height, building position, building area, and much more. It is important to know these regulations before moving into the next phase. I know a few horror stories where folks have built projects either too tall or without considering building position resulting in their municipality forcing them to remove the structure or create severe modifications to the project. Performing a zoning code review can make or break a project and shouldn’t be taken lightly. For more information about zoning codes, check out this post. Click here.

Step 2: Building Code Review

Another major form of regulation is the building code. Our pre-design level building code review helps answer broad questions like size and construction type. Building code can, like zoning, influence the size of your building, and what materials should be used. Depending on the number of occupants in the structure will control large-scale decisions such as structural material. Knowing if the project can be built with wood versus concrete can drastically influence decisions moving forward. Combine this with a budget and you could have a real mess on your hands without knowing the code and jumping too quickly into the design. For more information about build code, check out this post. Click here

Step 3: Program Analysis

Aside from regulations, your needs also influence the design and represent the entire reason for the design in the first place. The program analysis is a review of your needs and how they compare to the size and the cost of the project. We begin the review by looking at your needs and creating a list similar to the one below. This begins to combine size and function so we can diagram solutions later.


architectural pre-design

Listing the number of bedrooms and bathrooms is not going to cut it. If you are looking to build your own home it is important to perform a series of self-reflection exercises that can uncover missed design opportunities. Evaluating your lifestyle to match your architecture can truly separate a house from a home. Here are a few questions straight out of our project intake questionnaire to get you started.

  1. If you plan on living in the home for a long period of time, have you considered ADA accessibility? Is this something you would be interested in? 
  2. Are there any special spaces you are looking to create such as a reading nook or sauna?
  3. Does your living space need to have a strong connection to the outdoors?
  4. Is there a need to easily move between the kitchen and outdoor space for grilling?
  5. Do the living spaces need to have a strong connection to the street or backyard?
  6. How do you see yourself entertaining guests both indoors and out? 
  7. Is there a view that you are trying to capitalize on? If so, from what space is the view most important?
  8. Do you have privacy concerns from the street or neighbors?
  9. Do you have any noise concerns related to a laundry room, busy road, etc?
  10. What is it like to come home from work? Do you see yourself entering the home from the garage or front door? If the garage is the primary entry do you prefer a laundry room near the garage or near the bedrooms? 


Step 4: Sustainability Review

For those looking for a more efficient and energy-conscious design, you should consider a sustainability review. From the sun angle evaluations to common wind direction, it is important to consider the environmental elements that will influence the design. Knowing this information can influence window positions and even building orientation. For Example: Say you have a need for an outdoor space and want to extend its seasonal use. It’s important to know the common wind direction in your area. Knowing this can influence you to plant evergreen trees between the wind and the outdoor space to help reduce wind chill during cool autumn days. This is a simple way to spend more time outdoors.

pre-design in architecture

This image above is an example of a Sun Study for a Project we did on 15th Ave.  The red indicates the harsh sunlight which in this case is the sunlight facing south and west during the summer months. Knowing this allows us to control natural light, solar heat gain, and even the glare on a TV wall.


Step 5: Planning and Diagramming

Step 5 is the largest step. The planning and diagramming is where all the information comes together. From the survey and zoning to programming and building code, this step is an exploration of potential solutions to the layout of the home. This phase needs to stay in diagram form to maintain design flexibility when moving forward into schematics design. The image below shows a “massing study” (study of home shape) indicated in blue where we wanted to connect the “public space” (Living, Dining, Kitchen) to the street and the pool. Eventually, this space will serve as a transitional space that invites guests to come hang out by the pool. The other image below shows a 3 story plan diagram that begins to organize the spaces and works through the spatial functionality of an urban home.


pre-design phases architecture

pre-designed architectural plans


Step 6: Construction Cost Review

Budgets are always important and every design phase needs a cost evaluation. Typically we work with the owner’s cost consultant to think through what to expect when it comes to construction costs. Even though we are in the diagramming phase we still know a lot of information. The build code told us what we may have to use for the structure. The sun study or view gives us a hint into how many windows we will use, and the program gives us an idea of size. Pre-design cost evaluation is very crude, but maintaining an understanding of the budget will help you make decisions moving forward.

Step 7: Design Budgets

Most projects need more than just architectural services. Once we have a clear understanding of the project we know how much the design will cost. Design costs oftentimes include not only architecture but any engineering and interior design services too. We provide those services and can subcontract any other design professional needed to get your project done.


Why Have Pre-designed Architectural Plans?

Pre-design is one of the most important steps because it is the most broad. In architecture, we are always evaluating the largest scale decisions first before moving into detail. Think of the design process as the layering of decisions. We are responding to the current information with design decisions and therefore must have as much information as possible before starting the design.


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