How To start an Architectural Design

by | Last updated Jul 10, 2020 | Architectural Design Process, General Architecture

When starting an architectural design I begin with identifying 5 key pieces of information. These 5 points are the: Program, Site, Constraints, Concept, and Goals of the project. By identifying these main points an architect will have enough information to begin an architectural design project.

Before beginning an architectural design an architect should first identify 5 key points.

  1. Program
  2. Site
  3. Constraints
  4. Concept
  5. Goals


Starting an Architectural Design



What is the building Program?

The first step to any design project would be to identify the building program. A Program is an architectural term for what type of building is it and what goes into the building. So the Program is the use and general outline of spaces. If we were going to design an apartment building the program may be a residential building with at least 50 units for example. If we were designing a school we would want to know the age group, how many students they plan to accommodate, how many classrooms and types of special room the want auditorium , gymnasium etc…

Everything that goes into a building is called The Program, this is the first key point to identify before beginning a building design. you can’t design a building without know what it will be used for and how it should be used.

If you wanted me to design a building for you and I could only ask one question that question would be: What is the Building Program?


Site Analysis

The second step in gathering information before beginning an architectural design is to identify the site. The site for a new building is extremely critical and will greatly affect the design. You cannot build a building without a site and nor should you design one. I actually have had many people call me who want me to design a building for them without a site. I find this very problematic. The site will inform the design if the building. There are countless ways a site can affect an architectural design. Site analysis should be performed before beginning an architectural design. Here are a few points about a site that can affect a building design.

  • Natural Elements
  • Views
  • Inspiration
  • Shape and Size of the Site
  • Solar Orientation
  • Access
  • Topography
  • Weather Patterns
  • Local Regulations
  • Utility Access



Architecture is built in the physical world and has many constraints. Identifying constraints early on are critical to a building design. Knowing a projects limitations is as important as knowing its potential. There are many constraints you can have on a project but I will list a few common ones.

  • Zoning Codes
  • Building Codes
  • Budget
  • Local Labor
  • Material Availability



What is the idea? Is there an overriding architectural concept for the building? I would try to identify a concept for the design before beginning any actual design.



An architect and their client must establish a set of goals before beginning a project. There are many different goals for a project and they should be outlined as early as possible in the process.

One example of a goal for someone building a house may be to Design a Sustainable House. Another goal for a developer building an apartment building may be to maximize profit. A school may have a goal to design for improved learning and security. A museum might want to design with a goal for building a creative and innovative work of architecture. A corporate headquarters might have a goal of branding and image.


What to Know Before Beginning an Architectural Design

As an architect, I study the process of design and development, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article, we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to Starting an Architectural Design . This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.

If you want to learn more about the architectural design process we have another post explaining the basics of architectural drawings: Plan, Section, & Elevation.


Thank you for reading our blog post on Beginning an Architectural Design.

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect, you can contact us directly.


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Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.