Just like any other profession, the world of architecture and construction is filled with jargon, technical and legal terminology, processes, and systems that have specific meaning, nuances, and implications. Below is an explanation of the most commonly used vocabulary that you might come across on our website or in conversations with an architect.

Architect: In the United States, one can only call and present themselves as an “architect” if he/she is licensed through a statutory body, such as a state board. That’s because the profession of architecture is regulated, with the goal of protecting public health, safety, and welfare.

The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners oversees the registration requirements and professional conduct of architects practicing in Texas.

To become licensed, one has to meet minimum educational requirements, train for a minimum of 3 years under supervision of a licensed architect, pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), and register in a state.  To practice as an architect, one has to maintain an annual registration with one or more states and meet continuing education requirements. In Texas, architects also undergo fingerprinting and criminal background checks.

Bid: A hard cost that either a contractor has submitted to an owner, or a sub-contractor has submitted to his/her general contractor. It is an exact amount that he/she asks to get paid for the work performed.

Bubble Diagram: A drawing that uses circles or rectangles representing spaces to explore sizes, adjacencies, connections and circulation between spaces in order to develop a floor plan.

Change Orders: An amendment to the construction contract signed by the owner and contractor that authorizes a change in the work and/or an adjustment in the contract sum or contract time.

Codes: Regulations, ordinances, or statutory requirements of a government unit relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare. Construction is regulated by building codes, land development codes, fire codes, energy codes, etc.

Concept or Parti: The main idea that informs all the design decisions. It’s the core principle or vision that forms the backbone of the design.

Conceptual Drawings: These are tools used to explore various ideas and options early in the design process. They can take various forms. They may be as loose as overlapping scribbles on paper to diagrams with circles or rectangles that represent spaces. They may be quick sketches to study shapes and forms. Sometimes, architects use computer programs to analyse different possibilities. Some even build physical study models.

Construction Documents: Refers to technical construction drawings and specifications issued together as a package for the purpose of bidding and construction.

Contract Documents: Construction documents become part of the construction contract between the owner and the contractor i.e. the contractor is bound by contract to execute everything that is drawn and specified. Exceptions must be documented in an addendum which become part of the contract. Also, see Change Orders.

Estimate: A cost figure that is a prediction based on historical data or unit cost. It is an approximation. It is used to establish construction cost in the early stages of a project when the design and/or specifications are unclear and/or subject to change. It is often prepared from incomplete drawings and based on assumptions.

Permit Drawings: Refers to drawings issued for the purpose of getting a building permit from a city or county office. The requirements vary based on city. Most often, the submission includes site plan, floor plans, exterior elevations, and structural engineering drawings such as foundation, framing, and wind brace design.

Program: A list of rooms or spaces that form the requirements for laying out a floor plan and designing a building. It can be pretty elaborate with a list of appliances, fixtures, furniture, amenities, etc for each space.

Schematic Design or Preliminary Design: Is the first phase in a design exercise. The goal is to nail down an overall plan that achieves the objectives laid out in the program. It is a process where conceptual ideas evolve and loose drawings develop into a winning design scheme. The focus of this phase is big-picture site design and architectural design.

Schematic Design Drawings or Design Drawings: Often include a site plan, a floor plan, and exterior elevations. They are drawn to scale using hard lines (may be drawn by hand or on the computer using a CAD or BIM program). They have notes indicating room names, room sizes, main surface materials, etc. But they do not have dimensions or exhaustive notes. Not everything is worked out –  the design is often incomplete. For that reason, they cannot be used for construction purposes.

Site: (noun) A lot – a property enclosed by legal boundaries; a smaller area of a large plot of land such as an estate or ranch with acreage.

Site: (verb) To identify a precise location for a building or use.  This is a crucial exercise on large lots when there are many viable options for siting and approaching the building.

Site Analysis: This is one of the first steps in designing a site-specific building. The goal is to analyse all the conditions that will dictate the design. It may be a formal exercise that results in a diagram. Or it may be an informal quick internal review. Regardless, it involves taking stock of the sun’s path in the sky, wind direction, topography, views (good and bad), features, soil conditions, setbacks, utilities, noise sources, traffic, etc.

Specifications: Issued as a part of the construction documents. A written document consisting of a detailed description of the requirements for construction systems, materials, equipment, as well as standards and tolerances for workmanship. It outlines allowances for items that are not specified while providing guidelines for the work.

Value Engineering: Is the process of changing a design element, construction detail, or specification item, with the goal of reducing cost but not reducing quality substantially. Reducing cost at the expense of quality is not value engineering but cost cutting.