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How the Design Process Works in Commercial Construction

Engineers collaborating during the design phase of a commercial construction project.

Designing a new commercial building or renovation project involves multiple stages and requires input from numerous professionals

Key Takeaways

  • The commercial building design process is necessary before shovels hit the ground
  • This phase produces architectural drawings, costs, and timelines
  • Engineers and other professionals participate in the building’s design
  • Hiring a full-service construction contractor delivers a seamless project

The commercial construction industry generates more than $220 billion annually and produces remarkable outcomes. After all, every project begins as a concept in an entrepreneur’s or executive’s mind. Still, the result can transform a once empty plot of land into a massive residence tower, five-star hotel, state-of-the-art office building, or trendy restaurant.

This transformation doesn’t happen overnight, though, as making it to opening day involves years of preparation and work from the initial planning stages to the construction phase to completion. The building design is vital to the project as a whole because it confirms that the structure meets the owner’s needs and is compliant with local regulations. It also ensures that the design is possible from a safety and engineering standpoint.

A building’s design helps bring an idea to life before the construction stage begins. Here’s an in-depth look at how the design phase works in the commercial construction industry.

Pre-design comes first

Before the design process can begin, there’s a pre-design phase that outlines the project’s goals and establishes a reasonably accurate cost framework. The architect and contractor should start their collaboration at this point, although hiring a full-service contractor with a design team eliminates the need to bring the two parties together.

The pre-design process involves determining the project’s cost by identifying the building’s size, orientation, function, and amenities. This stage is also when you’ll begin selecting design products and figuring out the equipment the project will require. This is the time to consider the importance of sustainability and alternate materials for green building, and how paying more up front for these materials will compare to the savings over time.

You’ll create contract documents that establish a timeline and set the costs for each construction phase. From these, you will put a construction document package together that includes your code-compliant designs during this stage. The entire concept should be ready during the pre-design stage because the design phase will finalize these ideas and create the actual layout.

What the design phase requires

Next, your project’s design phase will begin. At this stage, it is crucial to have a solid conceptualization of the design and an innovative, realistic, and strategic project plan to see it through with the ultimate goal in mind. 

The design phase involves producing a complete set of drawings containing timelines and costs for each construction stage. Your building contractors will use these drawings and specs to complete the building. Keep in mind that multiple professionals will be necessary as you move through the design process.

For instance, you’ll need a structural engineer to oversee the structural design. Your building must be structurally sound, of course, so bringing in an engineer to look at the design and ensure the structure is safe to continue with is an essential part of the process. 

A mechanical engineer will also be necessary to inspect and oversee your air conditioning and plumbing plans. These plans must fit with the building’s design, and there are many aspects to consider, including ductwork, pipes, fixtures, HVAC units, and access to power and city utilities. 

You’ll also need an electrical engineer to create and evaluate the project’s electrical layout and design. This engineer will ensure that all electrical wiring sits in sound locations and that no fire hazards or other issues will arise due to the placement and configuration of your electrical system.

A civil engineer will be necessary to design your drainage systems and parking areas. This individual will also ensure the building remains connected to surrounding infrastructure, including roads and sidewalks. Failing to include civil engineering could cut the final project off from the rest of the area and make life challenging for staff and customers. 

More substantial buildings with three or more stories will need a threshold inspector to assist with the design. This individual will also have to check on the building multiple times during construction to ensure it can adequately support itself. 

All of these design elements must come together before beginning the construction phase. Failing to design the building safely and functionally using industry professionals will leave you scrambling to make adjustments during the construction stage that will escalate your costs and delay your project’s completion.

How a renovation project is different

Renovating a commercial building is slightly different because you aren’t creating the structure from scratch. You’ll still need the pre-design and design stages, but you can likely streamline some of the processes, depending on the scale of the project. 

For instance, if you won’t be moving your plumbing, HVAC, or electrical, and the changes you’ll be making are primarily superficial, you might not require the services of a mechanical or electrical engineer. However, a structural engineer will still be necessary if you remove walls or replace any load-bearing elements inside the building. 

Therefore, the work necessary during a renovation project’s pre-design and design stages comes down to the project’s size and scope. Speaking with your building contractor ensures you understand what will be needed to finish the job and the costs you can expect.

Your one-stop building contractor

Because there are so many elements involved with commercial construction design, hiring all the right people could take time and effort. It can also be confusing if you’ve never worked on a similar project. It’s important to understand how material and labor shortages and hiring inexperienced contractors can impact your project. 

RPC General Contractors can guide you through the process, starting with directing you to the best building designers and seeing the project through to the end when the design is complete.

At RPC General Contractors, we provide a comprehensive solution that helps independent owners bring buildings to life. We are a family, and what sets us apart is our pride in who we are and what we do, which includes supporting our people in their personal and professional growth. 

This company culture and pride have helped us raise expectations through every stage of construction once the design is complete, from restaurants and retail sites to condos and country clubs, for over 35 years. Our talented team is ready to help you, too. Just contact us to receive a free estimate on your commercial construction project.


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