Residential Architecture Process

Starting a new home or renovation is a unique combination of excitement and uncertainty. Most concerns are informed and resolved through a clear design and construction process that is both productive and rewarding.

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I call this process 4D»2B ("forty-to-be") which stands for:

Dream › Define › Design › Document   »   Bid › Build

This is shorthand for the six phases to establish goals, gather information, begin and advance design, develop details and specifications, select a contractor, and accomplish construction. Being methodical ensures a satisfying conclusion.


Dream First

Vision drives every endeavor from beginning to end. I refer to the Dream which implies a bit of open-ended exploration. These can be related to memories or lifestyle, in reaction to a current space need, a passion for quiet sanctuary or a welcome social gathering place.

Other questions touch on recent changes or expected ones to come, such as a growing family or aging in place. Both technical and intuitive responses are useful here to condense a clear vision on which to build.

Selecting the site of land is also part of the Dream. Many beginnings start with a property in mind, but a search can also follow the vision. Or the dream may begin at an existing location to be enlarged, renovated, or adapted.

The site guides the design in its orientation to the sun, wind, topography, neighbors, views, open spaces, detractions, and passive energy considerations. A land survey will be required for any new construction. An architectural field survey is needed prior the renovation or addition to an existing home.


Define Objectives

Upon the vision, a foundation of more concrete measures is established to Define the project. The industry uses the terms scope, schedule, and budget for the three classic parameters of size, time, and money.

In reality, scope is more than a measurement of scale. The expected level of quality will have a larger impact on cost than size. Other important qualitative, material, and character distinctions will define the way spaces are used and arranged. Sketching tools can help define a vision against more technical metrics for scale, cost, energy performance, and site organization.

The definition will also include a strategy to select how and who will construct the home, known as delivery. This varies depending on the quality, budget, technology, materials, site, and scale of the project. The delivery method will dictate the form of the construction documents, the contract, the pricing method, and the review process by the local authorities.



The Design phase is exciting because it is the first time the idea takes form. Architects spend more time in school focused on this skill than anything else, but it is here that earlier homework to define the project pays dividends. Done well, analysis of the site and project definition will begin to shape formal and spacial ideas.

As the form takes shape, it begins to take on a life of its own. Influences will be as varied as the owner, and might lead to priorities for a particular material, shape, space, or character. As the relationship of space and materials becomes clearer, still more questions will arise about how they interact and relate to the site. Architects use an iterative process in design to explore possibilities, visualize alternative solutions, and evaluate trade-offs between the options. Sketches, drawings, renderings, materials, and models are common design tools.


Document the Design

The next step after resolving space, form, and materials is to Document it for the constructor. Details and specifications stipulate clear requirements for a contractor to dimension and form, but also the quality and installation.

The method for selecting a contractor influences the documnetation in the way they delegate cecisions and responsibilities between the owner and contractor. Properly done, this ensures pricing is a reasonable reflection of the work required but without loopholes for quality or feature expectations of the home owner.

This phase includes a myriad technical decisions, seemingly overwhelming. But the 4D»2B process clarifies these logical steps. It coordinates decision making along a timeline that keeps all the dependent activities organized along the way.



The phase traditionally called Bid, is more accurately called procurement because residential construction rarely seeks multiple contractors to compete for the work solely based on price. Most often, one is directly selected to negotiate the final scope and price.

Bidding requires a higher quality of documents to ensure all the parties have included the same scope of work in their bids. Otherwise, discrepancies will account for large variation and invalidate the process. Unscrupulous contractors may also use these as opportunities to exploit loopholes for lucrative change orders far beyond the initial lowball price.

Unambiguous documents legally obligate the contractor and his subcontractors to provide the quality materials, products, and craftsmanship specified. Good builders prefer this as insurance against less ethical competitors as well as expedited decision making and product selection.



The final step is for the contractor to Build the project. After agreeing to the price, the homeowner and contractor both sign the contract and construction begins according to all the requirements bound to it in the drawings and specifications.

The architect is often engaged to assist the owner by administering this process as a clerk of the works. The contractor submits confirming shop drawings, product information, schedules, coordination drawings, and other information for the architect to review. This acts as a quality control for consistency. Regular meetings are also scheduled to observe, answer questions, make decisions, and confirm progress against requests for pay. Final walk-throughs ensure the contract requirements are complete and in working order prior to move in and final payment.


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Residential Background

My first experiences in construction were more than 30 years ago in 18th century crafts. White oak shingle splitting, tinsmithing sheet metal, timber framing structures, furniture joinery, and blacksmithing nails and door hardware were unusual but advantageous introductions to design and materials related to architecture and construction.

Since then, I've worked in residential framing, HVAC installation, plumbing, electrical and lighting, tile, windows and doors, deck building, insulation, painting, drywall, and roofing. SteveHallArchitecture has now become the logical path of this passion with software tools and physical models to analyze, model, and render designs, with dozens of residential clients to date.