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The Architectural Design Process: Your Path to a Dream Space

Updated: Jun 13

Embarking on an architectural project can be an exciting yet daunting journey. As a prospective client, it is crucial to understand the design process to ensure a smooth and successful collaboration with your chosen architect. At Holmes Architects, we follow the RIBA Plan of Work which sets out key tasks and services that should be considered at each stage of the project. In this article, we will guide you through the stages of our design process, empowering you with knowledge to make informed decisions and embark on a transformative architectural adventure.

Stage 0: Strategic Definition

Your journey begins with a conversation to understand your aspirations, requirements, and budget. We collaborate closely to define the project's strategic objectives, assess the feasibility, and outline the overall project brief. If you would like any specialist services such as Passivhaus design, it is best to discuss this early on, as this will make for a more efficient design process.


The strategic definition stage lays the foundation for a shared vision and paves the way for a successful partnership. The strategy for the project requires an open mind, as a building may not always be the best solution. The consultations at this stage are provided without charge, so there is no obligation on yourself to pursue the project.

Stage 1: Preparation and Brief

In this stage, we work together to develop a comprehensive brief that encapsulates your unique needs and desires. The brief will finalise your budget, and aspirations for the project, and a programme will be prepared for your project.

Surveys will be required, and the nature of these will vary depending upon the project. Most projects will require a measured survey, and depending upon the complexity of the project, this can either be carried out by ourselves, or by hiring a third-party surveyor. It is our preference to undertake the survey ourselves on smaller projects as this is our chance to get to know the building intimately. On larger projects, or where any complex geometry is involved, we would advise on the appointment of a third-party surveyor.

We will advise on how much time we believe is needed to survey the property in our fee proposal. We will then prepare the existing drawings based upon the survey. When a third-party surveyor is hired, there will still be some drawing work to do at our end to add sufficient detail to get the drawings to a standard suitable for use in a planning application.

We will advise on the appointment of any other specialists that are needed to help realise your dream space, and their appointment will be yourself directly. Through intensive research and understanding, we craft a detailed brief that sets the project's direction, encompassing both functional and aesthetic considerations.

Stage 2: Concept Design

With a solid brief in hand, we begin the creative process. We develop initial design concepts, exploring various options that align with your vision and requirements. Every project is unique, and we may use sketches, 3D visualisations, and mood boards, to present our ideas.

We can also offer virtual reality services to illustrate scale and massing which can be used to assist as a design tool. If a presentation quality virtual reality experience is required, we would advise pursuing this after planning permission has been achieved via a third-party visualisation company.

The collaborative nature of the concept design phase allows us to refine and evolve the design until it encapsulates your dreams.

Stage 3: Developed Design

Building upon the chosen concept, we delve deeper into the details during the developed design stage. We work meticulously to transform the concept into a comprehensive scheme. We develop drawings and renderings that bring the design to life, enabling you to visualise the project.

If planning permission is required, we will prepare the application forms, drawings and submit the required surveys and documents. Every local planning authority has a slightly different set of requirements, and we will review the local planning policies and validation requirements to help ensure a smooth planning process. We recognise how important planning permission is to your project, so we will ensure every proposed drawing is in colour, and of a high standard to best illustrate the design.

When the planning documents and drawings are ready, we will submit these to the local authority via an online website called the planning portal.

If you are undertaking work via Permitted Development, we would usually advise applying for an optional Lawful Development Certificate. This is because there are many instances where permitted development rights can be removed, for example if a planning condition has been placed on the home, or if the property is within a conservation area. The Lawful Development Certificate is designed to give you peace of mind that the works you are undertaking are in accordance with Permitted Development rights, and having possession of the certificate may affect the value of your home should you decide to sell it.

We will act as the agent for your planning application, monitor the planning comments and respond to any planning queries. Occasionally the planners may ask for additional surveys, documents, or design changes and we will endeavour to respond to these queries up until the determination of the planning application.

The local authority has an 8-13 week period in which they are required to determine your planning application depending on the size of the development. The statutory time limits are set in article 34 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 as amended. Most of the projects we undertake should be assigned a target planning determination date 8-weeks after a valid planning submission. In practice we are finding many of the local authority planning departments are overworked and it is common for some applications to extend beyond their determination dates.

As the agent for the application, we will chase up the local authority after the public consultation period, and the days running up to the target determination date in order to ensure the planners have everything they need to reach a decision on the application.

Stage 4: Technical Design

In this stage, we focus on the technical intricacies, producing detailed drawings, specifications, and schedules. A structural engineer, and other consultants may need to be appointed on your project, and we will liaise with them to prepare the design. The technical design is an involved process as many key decisions on the choices of materials and appliances are best determined before the project is priced by a contractor.

When a contractor has not been selected, we would advise tendering the project. We will provide tendering services at this stage, and on complex projects we may advise on the appointment of a quantity surveyor.

If tendering is required for the project, we will prepare the tender documents and select three or four contractors that would be a good fit for your project. Four contractors are usually a good number to tender for a project, as it allows for one dropping out, another being too expensive, and allowing for a good comparison between the remaining two.


Holmes Architects have a policy of fairness towards the tendering contractors, as we recognise that they are investing their time and effort into pricing a design that they may not be selected for. Some of the contractors may wish to visit your property during the tender period. The tender period is usually three or four weeks, and we will assist in comparing the tenders upon their return, and highlight any areas where we may wish to make queries. We can organise a meeting with your preferred contractor to finalise any further queries that you may have.

Once a contractor is chosen, we will prepare and administer a standard form of building contract between yourself and the contractor. We typically administer the Joint Contract Tribunal’s (JCT) suite of contracts as they are well recognised and established within the construction industry, however other standard forms of contract are available including from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The contract selected will be chosen at the tender stage and will be noted in the Preliminaries and Provisional Sums documents that are prepared for the tender.

You will need to appoint building control for your project to ensure building regulations compliance, and we can make a recommendation regarding whether to appoint a local authority or private building control company depending upon the nature of your project.

Stage 5: Manufacturing and Construction

As the project transitions from the design phase to reality, our team continues to offer support and expertise. We provide contract administration services, for the contact between yourself and the builder.


This involves inspecting the project to establish the value of the works completed in accordance with the contract by the contractor. We will then issue an interim certificate confirming the value of the works, and the amount of money due to the contractor. This allows the contractor to issue you with an invoice for the amount shown on the interim certificate. Depending upon the contract, 5% of the value of the works completed is typically held back from your payments to the contractor in what is called retention. Retention is an amount of money held back in case any defects emerge in the project.

When the architect acting as contract administrator issues a practical completion certificate, (effectively saying that the project is ready to be occupied) half of the retention money is released to the contractor.

Although each project is different, we would typically advise that we undertake weekly site visits, and monthly meetings to discuss the progress of your project.

Stage 6: Handover and Closeout

The practical completion certificate signals that your home is ready to be occupied, and the project transitions to RIBA stage 6. Whilst half of the retention money will have been released to the contractor at the end of stage 5, the remaining half of the retention money is held back for the duration of what is known (in the JCT suite of contracts) as the defects rectification period. The defects rectification period is an amount of time after practical completion (listed in the contract) in which latent defects can emerge that were not apparent when you first occupied it. For example, a leaking roof may only become apparent after heavy rain. The defects rectification period is usually 6-12 months depending upon the project, and it is designed to encompass different seasons of weather.


At the end of the 6-12 month defects rectification period we will visit the property again to check that any defects have been rectified. We will then issue the Final Certificate, which approves the payment of the remaining retention money to the contractor.

Stage 7: In Use

Establishing how a building performs whilst it is in use, compared to how it is designed on paper is essential for delivering great design, as the two should be closely aligned. We will ask you for your feedback on the building, which will enable us to provide a quality service to our clients.

Embarking on an architectural project is a transformative experience that requires trust, vision, and expertise. At Holmes Architects, we are passionate about turning your dreams into a reality. Why not look through our list of services, or try out our fee calculator. Contact us today to discuss your project and embark on an architectural journey that will exceed your expectations.

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