Design Glossary

Accessible Design

Buildings that are designed to be accessible to disabled people where everything is able to be reached or entered by people in wheelchairs and where specialized features are provided such as nonslip floors and automated entrances.

Alternate Bid Proposal

A stated amount of money that is added or deleted from the base bid if the potential change(s) in the project scope, materials and/or construction methods are accepted.

As-Built Drawings

Completed project documents showing all work changes as marked up by the General Contractor.


Once construction drawings and specifications are completed and approved, interested contractors with the resources and experience to build the structure submit written estimates covering the total cost of labor, subcontractors, materials, expenses, overhead, and fee to construct the structure. Often, the contractor that submits the lowest bid is awarded the project provided the firm meets minimum qualifications.

Certificate of Occupancy

Issued to owner by the public building officials after their inspection is complete and the project is deemed to comply with the building, fire, and other applicable code provisions.

Change Order

The client’s written order to the contractor, which authorizes modifications to the contract documents after the project begins. Commonly changes can occur in the construction work, contract time and/or payment amount. Typically, the design professional also signs the change order and then issues it to the contractor.

Concept Development

The process of coming up with an imaginative overall design scheme that will guide and/or influence all of the design decisions surrounding a project. A well defined concept is often abstract and/or curious, but helps to inspire creativity and to unify the various elements of a design leading to a very cohesive result. Examples of design concepts might be something like “chocolate covered cherries” or “eensy, weensy, teeny, weeny, yellow, polka dot bikini”.

Conceptual Design

The first phase of design, in which preliminary sketches and drawings are the dominant tool and product.


Relating to buildings of historical significance, it is the preservation of their cultural heritage for the future.

Constructability Analysis

A process that studies project plans to determine how efficiently, effectively, and safely the plan can be built.

Construction Documents

The written and drawn materials which are the result of a design team’s efforts. They include working drawings, specifications, and other construction documents. They detail all information needed to construct the project and all legal requirements of the project.

Design Coaching

Instructions, guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, given by the designer to client’s typically interested in doing the majority of design work themselves. This type of minimal guidance gives the client maximum confidence to proceed on their own.

Design Development

The period following the schematic design stage, during which detailed scale drawings, specifications, and construction materials lists are produced. This includes detailing floor plans, elevations, and sections and producing drawings that show all building elements including staircases, windows, doors, structural plans, lighting, electrical outlets, electronics, plumbing, and mechanical systems.


Separate organizations with separate contracts with an owner wherein design plans and specifications are first prepared by a licensed architect/engineer and then awarded through a competitive bid process to select a contractor to complete the construction. This delivery method proceeds in a linear or sequential fashion; design is completed before bidding, and bidding is completed before construction.


The entity contractually responsible for delivering project design and construction. The Design-Builder can assume several organizational structures, the four most common being a firm that possesses both design and construction resources in-house; a joint venture between designer and contractor; a contractor-led team with the designer in a subcontractor role; and a design-led team with the contractor in a subcontractor role.

Project Evaluation

Occurs post-construction and involves the evaluation of all aspects of the project to make certain that all of the designed objectives were achieved. All systems should be operating according to their specified performance levels, determinations occur as to why the actual project progression did, or did not, align with its planned implementation schedule, and the satisfaction levels of the client/occupants/users are assessed, among other things.


Sequencing construction activities so that some portions of the project enter construction before design is completed on other portions.

Feasibility Studies

A detailed investigation and analysis of factors influencing the project to determine if the project is viable, such as type of structure, the location of the proposed project, the sources and availability of funding, and availability of utilities are examined and weighed against the financial return expected.

General Contractor

Main contractor responsible for the physical construction of the project.

General Liability Insurance

Protects the contract from claims resulting from the contractor’s construction operations that result in bodily injury or property damage to a third party.

Installations & De-Installations

This is a major coordination effort that occurs when a large quantity of items need to be disassembled, packed up, moved, relocated, unpacked, reassembled and/or reconfigured in some particular fashion.

Lean Construction

A design and construction administration process based on Japanese “lean manufacturing principles” which is designed to promote efficiency and eliminate waste.

LEED Certification

LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system,  providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all of the environmental metrics that matter the most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

Master Planning

An overall scheme for phased work or construction. It combines forecasts of future activities, services and strategic planning with the organized development of physical facilities to meet user and space needs projections, typically for a period of 10 to 20 years.

Owner’s Representation

Acting as an owner’s single source of responsibility for all project related needs and leading the planning, design, and construction phases of the project.


To keep or maintain in unaltered condition, and to keep in safety and protect from harm, decay, loss, or destruction.

Programming & Research

The early stages of a project, during which the architect and owner discuss and research the goals, needs, and functions of the project; design expectations and available budget; and pertinent building code and zoning regulations. Then, a written statement is prepared setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for the project, including special requirements and systems and site requirements.

Project Management

A contractual arrangement in which an agent (construction manager) is hired to coordinate, integrate and communicate during the planning, design, and construction phases of a project. They use their skill and knowledge of design and construction to provide feasibility studies, cost estimating, value engineering, scheduling, and coordination of all activities. The project owner’s objective in utilizing construction management is to minimize project time and cost while maintaining quality, function, and aesthetics.

Project Schedule

A schedule wherein activities are assigned a duration and sequenced in a logical order.

Punch List

A list of incomplete or unacceptable items, which ideally is compiled when the project is 99 percent complete. These items are found during the final inspection and must be corrected or completed before the project is finalized.


The process of sourcing materials, products and services for clients. This includes negotiating the terms of purchase, availability, and time tables for delivery and installation, as well as the responsibilities of providing specifications, placing orders, checking order status, handling disruptions, and inspecting the purchased elements upon receipt.


Returning a damaged building to a known earlier state by the introduction of new materials.


Making interior spaces more attractive by adding ornament, accessories, colour, or anything intended to increase beauty and/or distinction. 


To change the appearance, layout, function, or furnishings of a space. Often done to improve the value or desirability of a property.


Pictorial drawings that illustrate a design’s details. They are usually colored or painted to suggest what the finished product will look like.


The process of bringing back a structure or landscape to its original state while staying true to the original materials, look, and feel.


A set of ongoing activities which are greater than year-to-year maintenance that prevent buildings from falling into disrepair as a result of the ravages of time and use. The scope can include building cleaning (interior and exterior) due to pollutants, major repair due to weather or decay, and rebuilding due to theft or vandalism.


The addition of new technology or features to older structures. This involves installing parts, devices, or equipment that were not available, or in use, at the time of original construction. This process serves to upgrade and modernize the space and/or building.

Schematic Design

Scaled floor plans, building sections, elevations, and site plans. Schematic designs almost always include outline specifications indicating the types of engineering systems, glazing (glass), and doors and may include three-dimensional perspectives of the exterior as well as models of the entire building or portions of it.

Site Plan

Drawings that provide an overhead perspective on how buildings, parking areas, and other facilities would appear on a site. A site plan might also show service routes, landscaping, site zoning, sidewalks, expansion forecasts, neighboring streets, and other buildings.

Space Planning

The process of deciding how a space can be most efficiently and effectively used based on the client’s operational and aesthetic requirements, and financial limitations. It involves the creation of floor plans where fixtures, furnishings and equipment are arranged within a given space taking into account traffic flow, scale, use of occupants, code requirements, and more.


Detailed written descriptions of building systems, materials, furniture, fixtures, and equipment to supplement and add specificity to the architects’ and/or engineers’ drawings.


Staging is the act of preparing a property for sale in the real estate marketplace. The goal of staging is to make the space appealing to the highest number of potential buyers, thereby selling the property more swiftly, and preferably, for more money.

Sustainable (Green) Design & Construction

An organized effort to design and build buildings using processes and materials which promote environmental sustainability.

Turnkey Design

Involves the preparation and outfitting of an entire space for immediate use, and is usually commissioned by an absentee client who intends to occupy the space only upon completion.

Universal Design

Buildings that are designed to be adjustable to or appropriate for all users regardless of their physical stature, ability, and/or health and that are not limiting. This type of design is often employed in combination with elements of Accessible Design.

Value Management

The process in which the design is analyzed to reduce the project cost without sacrificing the needs of the owner.