Design Process

Ziese Architecture is a full service architecture firm. We provide planning, design services and construction administration on various projects. We are able to accommodate public agencies, private developers or private citizens on their projects.

On this page, Ziese Architecture will outline our distinctive approach to the architectural design process. It summarizes how ZA works with you, the client, from the start of a project, through the different design phases, until the building completion and post occupancy evaluation.

While some of the design phases presented on this website may not be relevant for all client projects be rest assured ZA walks clients through each design phase to educate them about the entire process. We believe educating the client about the design process and how our services benefit any project, results in a better project, a successful client-architect relationship and satisfied end users.




During the pre-design phase all relevant information is gathered and compiled in a report in order to define the project’s design parameters. A site analysis is performed to identify the physical characteristics (prevailing winds, solar orientation, topography, etc.) for the project location. Research is conducted to identify restrictions and/or requirements made by local government departments and to discover any issues that would have a major impact on the cost or timing of the project.

It is also during this phase that the architect consults with the owner(s) to determine project goals and requirements. This information defines the architectural program which lists the required functions of the project. It includes estimated square footage of each usage type and any other elements that achieve the project goals.

Conceptual Design

It is during this phase that we take the lessons learned from pre-design to initiate a project vision/ strategy. This is where we take the program, explore synergies, user needs and other elements described in the pre-design phase, to synthesize what will eventually drive the final design.

For public/community projects, part of this process may require public input. In order to garner support for the project by the community, public workshops are conducted to discuss the project’s vision, goals, and requirements in an open forum. This process empowers community members by involving them in the design process which enables them to take ownership of the project.

Space adjacency diagrams, conceptual sketches, rough physical models and/or 3D digital models maybe employed to communicate the ideas and forms that start to emerge during this phase.

Schematic Design

Schematic design is where the approved conceptual designs become architecture. It is during this process that the conceptual drawings are used to establish the scale of the building, relationship to the site and the architectural language. The strongest conceptual design scheme is used to generate building plans, elevations, sections and site plans to communicate the      design intent.

There is close interaction between the client and architect as the design progresses. Surveys and soil reports would be provided by the client at this stage. We prefer to involve building/ planning officials early in this process by introducing them to the project with short meetings. It identifies special concerns early and enables us to prepare and design    for them.

In some cases, schematic design is marked by submissions to planning commissions and presentations before design review boards. This enables the different agencies to review the design and to ensure it conforms to their zoning and planning requirements and/or design requirements. There may be public hearings where concerned neighbors may voice their opinions. This is normal and we as your architect will help you navigate these waters. On public and commercial projects we recommend obtaining a schematic cost estimate.

On residential projects, having a contractor on board early to evaluate the budget could help keep the project on budget and schedule. Some contractors require a fee for cost evaluation but using a contractor for such services does not bind you to using them as your contractor. You should still be able to conduct a competitive bid if this is what you prefer.

Once the schematic design is approved by the client, the project moves forward to the design      development phase.

Design Development

At this point, the design of the building has been finalized and it is now a process of refinement of the approved schematic design. The drawings that have been generated to date are now further refined. Wall sections, interior elevations, preliminary schedules for finishes, materials, doors & windows, reflected ceiling plans, preliminary details and specifications are created.

Our drawings and designs are further refined and coordinated with our team of consultants. At this point specialty consultants for acoustics, pools, media, theater and other unique disciplines are integrating their input with the design team. Structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems are selected. This is also when sustainable design strategies are further integrated into the design.

On public projects, another round of cost estimation is recommending to keep the project on budget and on schedule. On private developments, bringing in a contractor at this juncture is a good way to further define the overall project budget, schedule and allows for development of a collaborative working relationship between the contractor and the design team.

Construction Documents

The start of Construction Documents or drawings indicates the end of the design process. Now that the design of the building has been finalized it is time to proceed with documenting the entire building and the site. The drawings that were generated during the prior phases are transformed from renderings to technical drawings. It is during this phase the installed work is quantified and the quality of the installed work is defined. Specifications listing the types and manufacturers for the different types of building components are generated. Details are created to define the building in greater detail.

At approximately 80%-90% completion, a permit set will be generated for review by relevant building officials. These include multiple copies of the drawings, structural calculations, title 24 requirements, specifications and permit review fees. Note that these drawings are not for construction and only for permitting. On residential projects, the submittals will not be as comprehensive and will depend on the size and scope of the project. Fees can vary and are normally based on a percentage of estimated construction costs. Once the drawings have been reviewed, either they will be approved or request for revisions will be made. At this point, we will push to finalized CDs (construction documents as they are referred to within the field), pick up any building official comments and resubmit. This process may be repeated again but most likely, the drawing set will be approved and the building permit will be made available to the owner or contractor.

Bidding Services

The first step of this phase is preparation of the bid documents to go out to potential contractors for pricing. The bid document set often includes an advertisement for bids, instructions to bidders, the bid form, bid documents, the owner-contractor agreement, labor and material payment bond, and any other sections necessary for successful price bids. For some projects that have unique aspects or complex requirements, the architect and owner elect to have a prebid meeting for potential contractors.

After bid sets are distributed, both the owner and architect wait for bids to come in. The owner with the help of the architect, evaluate the bids and select a winning bid. Any negotiation with the bidder of price or project scope, if necessary, should be done before the contract for construction is signed. The final step is to award the contract to the selected bidder with a formal letter of intent to allow construction to begin.

Construction Observation

Contract observation (CO) services are rendered at the owner’s discretion and are outlined in the owner-architect construction agreement. Different owner-architect-contractor agreements require different levels of services on the architect’s part. CO services begin with the initial contract for construction and terminate when the final certificate of payment is issued.

The architect’s core responsibility during this phase is to help the contractor to build the project as specified in the CDs as approved by the owner. Questions may arise on site that requires the architect to develop architectural sketches: drawings issued after construction documents have been released that offer additional clarification to finish the project properly. Different situations may require the architect to issue a Change in Services to complete the project.

Post Occupancy

A post occupancy evaluation is conducted on any buildings that have been completed and occupied. Prior to one year from substantial completion, we will conduct our own post occupancy survey. This can be done by simple e-mail or fillable PDFs and only with the permission of the client. It isn’t meant to disrupt day to day operations and is purely voluntary. This process is a good way for the client to actually do a walk thru of the building and maybe re-evaluate how things are working. It’s also an opportunity to catch remedial work that still falls within the contractor’s warranty period. It works for both client and architect because we will better understand how our design is functioning and gives us an opportunity to improve our services and to continually innovate. This is in addition to our own in house review of projects completed.