Commercial design entails the act of designing a new commercial facility from start to finish. This includes architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing design, and civil engineering. It typically also includes interior design and finish selection.


There are usually three phases with an optional fourth phase, depending on the owner’s requirements. The first phase goes by several different names including scoping, feasibility, programming, or preliminary design; the second is design development, and the third would be construction administration. The optional fourth phase would be supplying as-constructed drawings.

What I am going to leave out of this blog is the requirements of Building Information Modeling (BIM) because that could be an entry in and of itself. What is BIM? BIM is where the facility is loaded in as a 3D model including all components and the owner can use this model, post-construction, as a way to plan out all facility maintenance and future modifications. It’s gathering steam in the industry but still is used mostly on larger projects with more complex owners.

Phase One – Scoping (aka Feasibility/Programming/Preliminary Design)
Cambridge uses the scoping term to describe this first phase of the commercial design process. Several things typically occur during the scoping phase. One of the core tasks is a design firm working with the client to develop the parameters for the proposed facility. Now, I say design firm because this could be an architect, a design-build construction firm, or a combination of both. As a design-build firm with an in-house architectural staff, we handle this phase for all our clients. Cambridge takes a deep dive into the owner’s business to help them determine exactly what it is they need so the facility can be designed to accommodate their current needs as well as any future growth that needs to be projected for the facility. Once we get the facility use information (people, parking, space requirements, employee gathering spaces, open areas, wellness room requirements, required growth, access, visitors, equipment, etc.,), we document the various space needs and memorialize them. We then move on to creating conceptual floor plans and site plans that meet the requirements set forth. Typically, there are a few iterations of this before finalization and then we move on to conceptual budgeting and schedules for the facility. Cambridge provides the owner with an overall project schedule (design/permitting/construction) and a conceptual budget for the facility. This serves as a benchmark for the owner and what we typically consider a “do not exceed” budget for their internal use…so yes, it is conservative, but NO ONE wants to go back and ask for more money for a project. As long as the scope remains consistent with the requirements identified during the scoping phase, the budget should be adequate for the proposed project.

Phase Two – Design Development
The second phase is design development. The drawings are developed by the architects and engineering consultants based on the information gathered during the scoping phase. Cambridge, the design team, and the owners typically go through periodic reviews of the design development documents to ensure the drawings are meeting the needs of the end-user. Upon completion of the drawing generation and review process, permit and bidding documents are finalized and submitted to all applicable governing authorities as well as to bidding subcontractors and vendors. Permitting and bidding are run concurrently to save the owner time. Once permit comments and subcontractor feedback is received, we update the drawings and issue a “for construction” set which will be used in the field.

Phase Three – Construction Administration
The third phase is construction administration, which occurs during the construction phase of the project lifecycle. This entails site visits to verify construction quality control/quality assurance, submittal (shop drawings and product data) reviews and processing, request for information (RFI) responses as well as answering constructability questions, providing sketches and supplemental direction to the construction staff, paying application reviews and assisting with any owner requested modifications during construction.

Phase Four – Record Drawings
The last phase is not always required of the design firm, but sometimes the owner desires a set of as-designed or as-constructed record documents. In this case, we will supply record drawings consisting of all design changes that occurred as well as field modifications made during the construction process for the owner to keep on file.

Commercial Design covers all aspects of any project, from concept to owner occupancy. At Cambridge, our philosophy is to partner with the owner and manage the project with them from start to finish so they can have the ability to be involved as much or as little as they desire. One of our goals is to “Handle the Day-to-Day to Make Our Client’s Life Easy” and by being there for them from start to finish, locking in budgets, designing to that budget, and finishing on time, we feel we are the perfect partner for any design/build project that falls within our area of expertise.

Jeff Eriks – President