Building project timeline
4 Factors that Influence Building Project Timelines

If you are heading into a building project, you may be wondering how long the process will take. Beyond budgets, schedules are often the greatest concern for building owners as many projects have time-dependent considerations.  

We work on projects of every type, including commercial, mixed-use, and educational projects. With over four decades of experience, we realize that every project is unique, and timelines depend on your requirements and scope. Although we cannot provide a set-in-stone timeline for all building projects, we can explain the architectural process and why timelines differ.  

In this article, you will learn about four factors that influence a building project’s timeline, including:  

1. Project Size  

2. Project Complexity  

3. Financing  

4. Approvals and Reviews  

By the end of the article, you will understand the setbacks you might encounter, helping you better estimate how long the process will take.   

Understanding the Architectural Process  

To explain why building project timelines differ, we first need to explain the architectural process.  

Most projects follow seven phases:  

1. Pre-Design  

2. Schematic Design  

3. Design Development  

4. Construction Documents  

5. Bidding/Negotiating  

6. Contract Administration  

7. Post-Construction 

Contract Administration (Construction) is usually the longest phase. For most projects, this phase ranges from six to 18 months, though more complex projects may take even longer to construct. The Construction Documents phase is usually the second-longest. In this phase, the project team writes specifications, develops technical assemblies, and runs quality assurance checks on all documents. On most projects, this phase lasts several months.  

While Contract Administration and Construction Documents are the longest phases, Bidding/Negotiation is usually the shortest. This phase will look different depending on your project delivery method. On a Design-Bid-Build, your architect will place your project out to bid and you will select the contractor who offers the lowest responsible bid. For a design-negotiate-bid method, the contractor is already on board, but you will solicit bids from sub-contractors.  

Typically, bidding takes about a month, but it can take longer to negotiate and finalize documents.  

Lastly, the timelines for Pre-Design, Schematic Design, and Design Development differ drastically. For example, on some projects, Pre-Design is one of the longest phases, and on others, it is a short process. Some projects may need a longer Pre-Design phase for programming studies and site selections. Others may need to extend Pre-Design for rezoning or special jurisdictional requirements. 

representation of the architectural process

The seven phases of the architectural process

Main Factors that Affect Building Project Timelines  

The length of each design phase depends on several factors, including your organization, your decision-making process, and the number of options you want to explore. Four factors, however, are likely to have the biggest impact on your project timeline.  

Some of these factors, like project size and complexity, are built into the project’s requirements. Other factors, like financing and approval processes, are beyond anyone’s control.  

1. Project Size  

The size of your project will likely affect your timeline. While projects of all sizes require a high level of detail, larger projects require additional oversight, slowing the project down. 

The timeline will depend on your project delivery method, your organization’s needs, and your materials and finishes. Completing a large project on a fast schedule is possible. It simply requires additional management and planning.  

2. Complexity  

More complex projects have longer timelines. Sometimes, complexity is linked to project type. For example, a $15M parking structure will have a shorter timeline than a $15M office building, because the office building requires more detail, especially for interior finishes.  

Other times, complexity is linked to research and processes. For example, adopting a green building rating system like Living Building Challenge requires additional paperwork, research, and design exploration. To complete the project, you may need to allow for additional time in the schedule.  

Parking structures will have a shorter timeline than office buildings

3. Financing  

A project’s budget also affects the timeline. If your financing changes during the design phase, the project will have to change directions, slowing the schedule.  

Sometimes, your architect will have to change the building’s square footage to fit the new budget. If you cannot sacrifice square footage, your architect may need to find other solutions related to systems’ design or material selection. This will require additional research and exploration. 

Ideally, your architect will work to maintain quality despite the budget changes. The goal is to fulfill your original vision within the parameters of the budget. Finding the right solution takes extra time.  

4. Approvals and Reviews  

Some projects will have a longer approval or review process. For example, institutional projects often require administrative approval after every design phase. Other projects will require reviews from the city government. Depending on the project and location, this process can take weeks or months.  

Your funding method may also lead to additional reviews. For example, projects with TIF funding need a third-party review. Similarly, projects that utilize federal historic tax credits must get approval from the National Park Service before construction begins.  

Ultimately, the location, funding, and the local political climate surrounding your project will impact the number of reviews and approvals you need to undergo. The more eyes on the project, the longer it takes to complete.  

What Are Your Next Steps?  

Building projects are broken into seven broad phases. The length of each phase depends on several factors, most notably the size and complexity of the project, your budget, and the approval and review process. 

Although it is hard to estimate an exact timeline, remembering these factors will help you determine if you will face any setbacks during design or construction. Once your architect has a full picture of the project, they can provide a more accurate schedule.  

Learn About Architectural Fees  

Now that you have a better understanding of the architectural process, it is time to start thinking about your project’s budget. Learn how you can start planning for architectural services by reading our guide to basic and supplemental fees.