The Importance of Stage 1

The importance of developing and agreeing a clear and robust brief during RIBA Stage 1 should not be underestimated.

We often experience a desire from clients, project managers and design teams to race directly into concept design, either because it’s deemed to be financially advantageous to reduce the programme duration or owing to the design team’s enthusiasm to start designing. However, more often than not this proves to be a false economy.

Whether provided during a competition or via a direct commission, design briefs need to be rigorously interrogated through targeted feasibility studies and regular engagement with the client. The projects that bypass this fundamental stage often discover later in Stage 2 key elements of the brief that contradict or conflict with one another or worse that the budget is drastically misaligned with the client’s aspirations.

The inevitable delay to the programme to re-align brief, budget and aspirations advocates the need to educate key project team members on the benefits of getting it right first time.

Why is it important to ensure that the client’s brief, budget and aspirations are aligned during Stage 1?

  • Allows both client and design teams to proceed into Stage 2 with a clearer understanding of aspirations, opportunities, risks, and constraints that determine the feasibility of the scheme before developing the design.
  • Fundamental changes are far easier to implement during Stage 1 and with reduced financial impact for the client as the professional team is typically smaller at this stage.
  • If not completed effectively, the design team will very likely be required to undertake more optioneering in Stage 2 which impacts team resources.

These points are of elevated importance on large or complex projects, where there are often multiple stakeholders / funders involved, and when a client’s budget is particularly tight.

How to undertake a successful Stage 1?

  • The design team should resist the temptation to design during the stage.
  • Break down the key deliverable of the stage (the Initial Project Brief) and determine who within the client organisation to engage with for each component and how, the feasibility studies required, any key risks that need to be analysed/resolved, and the governance/sign-off duration.
  • A key section of the brief that must be defined is the area schedule (the more detailed the better).
  • The brief should be aligned to the budget. An Order of Cost should be produced (based on benchmark rates) as there is no design at this point. The QS/Cost Consultant should explain the basis of the rates and benchmark projects should be relevant.
  • Allow sufficient time to complete the stage. The duration will depend on the complexity of the project and the client structure, determining the amount and frequency of engagement.
  • Ensure that the right members of the Design Team are appointed to validate the feasibility studies that are undertaken. All too often it is only the Architect that is appointed whereas the potential viability of a scheme could hinge on other design elements.
  • Set up clear and appropriate project procedures (including working methods, team culture, etc.) so that the team can hit the ground running in Stage 2.
  • It’s always beneficial if the team have the opportunity to meet socially. Much can be learnt about the project and each other away from the day-to-day project environment.

When appointed at the outset of a project, Plan A will set up the project procedures and assist the Architect to identify and plan out the key tasks to complete a successful Stage 1 to enable the best possible start to designing at Stage 2.

Projects Practice