All construction projects are unique. Each progresses from start to finish in a one-of-a-kind way. That said, there are 5 stages of construction that apply to every project, whether it’s a single family home or 50-story condo development. If you’re involved in construction, knowing these stages can help you see the big picture, yet also understand how a project evolves from someone’s vision to the Certificate of Occupancy.
This stage begins well before the various disciplines get to work at their drawing tables. It starts with the client who must determine what they can afford and understand their needs. The client should establish an unswerving budget, and work on a list of functions and features that their building must have. These can include floor areas, aesthetics, energy efficiency goals, community impact, and everything in between. Ascertaining these variables before the architect gets to work can reduce the number of design revisions and make the design phase smoother.
With a firm budget and a detailed list of design intentions, the client takes their project to the architect who will consider all these factors and issue a fee proposal. Next, the architect will work out a conceptual design based on the client’s earlier inputs and allow the client to review it and provide feedback. As the design evolves, the client will continue to collaborate with the architect to ensure that their vision is making its way onto paper.
When the architectural drawings start to take shape, it’s a good idea to engage a civil or structural engineer. These professionals will help assess the site, draft grading plans and earthquake estimates,and design the building’s structure to fit the architectural design. At this stage, the engineer may begin to coordinate the structural design with the architect, to make sure that the disciplines interface seamlessly.
The architect will base the building’s energy model on the Building Energy Efficiency Standards, and the client’s preference, should it surpass these mandatory regulations. The building’s energy performance will be greatly affected by the architectural features and the systems that will operate inside it. These considerations will play a role in steering the project’s architectural, mechanical, and electrical designs.
At this stage, other disciplines will join the collaboration too - mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineers will have to coordinate the layouts of their services with the architect and structural engineer. Together, the design team will work on finalizing a bid set - a package of drawings used to solicit bids from general contractors (GCs).
The pre-construction phase begins once the bidding process is complete and the contract is awarded to a GC. Now, the project team will be assembled and tasked with preparing the site for construction. Typically, project teams include the following individuals:
During the pre-construction stage, the project team will apply for permits and approval, and coordinate the tasks involved in securing these documents. At times, approval can crisscross from one committee to another, until all relevant parties are satisfied. Permits can also undergo several revision cycles, during which the design team will have to make changes ordered by building officials. The approved version of the drawings will then be issued for construction.
At this time, the GC will finalize a construction schedule that incorporates any last-minute design and/or time changes that arise during permitting. The GC will also coordinate submittal procedures with the rest of the project team and establish the following:
After the permits and approval are given, the site is prepared, and the construction drawings are issued, the project can move onto the procurement stage.
At this stage of the project, the GC will award contracts to their subcontractors. The process may begin with a new quantity takeoff based on the construction drawings. With the new quantities established, the GC and their subcontractors will obtain materials, labor, and equipment for their respective scopes of work. This breakdown differs between projects, as some GCs may self-perform some parts of the project while leaving the more specialized scopes to their subcontractors.
The procurement stage presents an opportunity to find savings in the project. Contractors who have a robust network of suppliers, or are working on several projects at the same time, may save thanks to their relationships and economies of scale. Depending on the type of contract, the client may or may not reap the benefits of these savings.
Before shovels hit the dirt, it’s essential to hold a pre-construction meeting. The GC’s project manager, superintendent, and field engineers, representatives of the architect and engineer, owner or the owner’s representative, as well as certain major subcontractors should be in attendance. On occasion, an official from the local jurisdiction may have to attend too. The meeting should address at least the following topics:
During construction, members of the project team continue to serve their respective functions. The GC retains control over the process, manages resources, and monitors, documents, and communicates the progress of the project. The design team will monitor the work for conformance with approved plans, review change orders, substitution requests, submittals, and respond to Requests for Information (RFIs).
When the final construction activity is complete, the project moves to its final phase - closeout, followed by owner occupancy.
Closing out a construction project consists of several tasks. The building must be inspected by the building officials. The client or the client’s representative must also verify that the work conforms to the approved drawings and specifications. Any deficiencies must be identified and remedied, systems must be tested, and in the end, the architect will certify the final payment.
Next, the GC will show the owner how the building and its systems operate. On complex projects such as hospitals, the task of training the client’s staff may take a while. Finally, the GC will hand over the building to the owner and their responsibility for the project will come to an end.