Our process

How we work with you

The decision to work with an architect or designer often raises questions — about choosing your partner(s), the steps involved, and how you’ll be kept in the loop as your project progresses.

There are no single “right” answers to those questions. Different firms approach their work in different ways. Each has its own process for collaborating with clients.

This is Shelter’s.


1. Architect and/or designer selection

Picking the right fit for your project partner

When evaluating architects and/or designers, it’s important to find someone — or a firm — you feel is a good fit. If you identify Shelter as a firm whose work appeals to you, fill out this form to tell us more about your project. Then, we’ll arrange a meeting. This is where we get to know one another. We listen and ask questions to better understand your vision, goals, priorities, and challenges. We want to know what’s important to you.

We may share examples of Shelter work that applies to what we’ve heard from you. We discuss how we work together and collaborate with other partners on your project. We can also walk through our design services and fees. After this initial meeting, if you think Shelter might be the right fit, we’ll draft a proposal and kickoff your project.


2. Predesign (PD)

Establishing the project scope and evaluating your site

During the PD phase, we compile lists of your project goals and anticipated milestones, develop a budget and timeline, research zoning and code regulations specific to your location, and conduct analyses on things like daylight, terrain, views, and neighboring buildings.

Some of this evaluation work happens on-site at your property. During a site visit, we take photos, document current conditions, and measure existing buildings. We usually also arrange a site survey (if one doesn’t already exist). Then, we organize all of this gathered data into what we call “base project information” — a starting point that includes a simple set of drawings depicting your site as it exists now — what you might think of as a “before” picture.

3. Schematic design (SD)

Translating your vision into design options

In SD, the design team brings several ideas to the table — in the form of (typically) two or three preliminary Schematic Designs. We use trace paper and pens to create these designs, working to explore as many potential approaches as possible. Using the “base project information” we gathered during predesign, these initial design concepts illustrate opportunities discovered for your site and structure.

Over the course of several meetings with you, we’ll discuss initial site design and floor plans as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each. We’ll bounce ideas around, incorporate your feedback, and then dial in on a design direction. Once narrowed down, we refer to this as a Resolved Schematic Design – a critical building block for the remainder of your project.

4. General contractor (GC) selection

Gathering bids and picking the right builder fit

You can select a general contractor (GC) at almost any point in the process, but we recommend starting this step just as schematic design is wrapping up. Your general contractor will use the Resolved Schematic Design drawings to estimate preliminary pricing. During the bidding process, we answer contractor questions and assess estimates.

There are many ways to find the right builder for your project. We can recommend GCs we’ve worked with before. Because we’re familiar with them — and with your needs and expectations — we can bring them up to speed on the scope of the project and design approach. Regardless of how you choose a GC, you want one who has experience working with architects and has a demonstrated history of teamwork. Once a contractor is selected, we work with them to draft a project agreement.

5. Design development (DD)

Refining and improving the design concept

Once we have a Resolved Schematic Design, we begin turning its ideas into actual buildable architecture. In the DD phase, we use modeling software to create a virtual, three-dimensional version of the proposed building. We work on refining and improving the original concept. We nail down details about windows, building materials, roof pitch, stair railings and many, many other components of the project.

Meanwhile, we collect and coordinate building code information and findings from other consultants, such as a structural engineer. We also provide you with guidance — and ask for your feedback — as the time arrives to make decisions about interior and exterior finishes including fixtures, appliances, flooring, tile, siding, and more. All this information is then compiled into an evolving set of construction documents.

6. Construction documents (CDs)

Creating a guide for the build

We may not call them blueprints anymore, but for many people, when they think about architecture, this is what they picture: a set of plans for the construction of a building. Today, we call this comprehensive set of drawings construction documents (CDs).

These CDs are used by the general contractor to apply for permits and to build the structure itself. Construction documents can be thought of like a guide, or instruction manual, for the builder. The CDs are just as important as the work done during the SD phase since we use these drawings to describe, refine, and coordinate many details about your project with the contractor. We lay out detailed plans, elevations, sections, and schedules. Since most of the design decisions will have already been made at this stage in the project, our meetings will focus more on providing progress updates on the CDs and answering any questions you may have.

7. Construction administration (CA)

Advocating for your project during construction

After building permits are in hand and construction is underway, the bulk of the work shifts to the GC. Now the architect is your professional advocate, to ensure your project is built accordingly. Just because construction documents are in hand doesn’t mean every aspect of a project is set in stone. A custom-designed space is a one-of-a-kind undertaking. The construction process can (and should) be fertile ground for improvements and tweaks — many of which may stem from insights brought by tradespeople as they work in the field.

With your architect’s oversight and guidance, the project’s overall design vision remains intact. In this phase we conduct periodic site visits, answer questions that arise during construction, and review shop drawings and material samples to ensure they match your expectations. If any design changes occur, the architect updates the CDs. We keep a close eye on the work being done to ensure the project is executed according to plan.

8. Project completion

Wrapping up your project

Our goal throughout the process is to develop a vision that suits your needs, style, and preferences — and to keep a pulse on all the work that’s done. We’re confident this is the best route to a finished project that meets — or exceeds — your expectations.

Once your project nears completion, we conduct a final walkthrough and create a “punch-list” of finishing touches to be carried out before the project is considered complete and the contractor receives their final payment. We ensure that attention is paid to every crucial detail before giving our stamp of final approval on your project. Then, we celebrate the work we’ve done together and leave you to enjoy your new space.