Five Stages of Planning that All Architects Have Been Through

Five Stages of Planning that All Architects Have Been Through

Creativity can be an unpredictable driving force, but when it comes to the creative experience of an architecture project, there are some elements that are almost universal. There are different stages of creativity for every profession and task, but these five are likely to be recognizable to architects in a variety of industries.

Stage 1: Idea Flood

When you first start thinking about a new project, the ideas and concepts come thick and fast. From the whimsical and avant-garde to the efficient and utilitarian, the ideas that come down the creative pipeline at this point aren’t bound by reality, convention or even the realm of possibility. Everything that comes to mind is valid. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming, right?

Stage 2: Reality Check

After the creative deluge…reality. Can you really build something that runs so blatantly counter to the laws of physics? Will the client really want to see something so unusual in on suburban lot? Mopping up after the Idea Flood usually means doing some strict reality checks that might even take the wind out of your sails a bit. You had so many ideas just one stage earlier…what happened?

Stage 3: Cautious Optimism

Adjusting to reality can sting, but by the time you reach stage 3, you’re left with a small handful of viable ideas that give you a clear way forward. At this point, you’re still in the conceptualization phase, though you’re slowly making your way toward specific planning. This is a sort of creative honeymoon period where minutiae haven’t yet had their chance to come in and crash your celebratory optimism. Enjoy Stage 3 while it lasts.

Stage 4: Cautious Pessimism

As the realities of planning set in, you start to realize that, like every job, this one has its fair share of challenges. Sure, your basic concept is solid, but can you really pull it off given the parameters of the project? Getting the full picture of the equipment you need on the jobsite, the planning research this job is going to take, the client’s expectations and all those other little details can be quite intimidating, and there are fleeting moments in this stage where it seems like the job is impossible.

Stage 5: Confidence

After all the ups and downs, you find your center and realize that the now-moderated ideas in front of you are genuinely good. You have the experience and skills necessary to pull this project off, and you know how to provide the services required of you. Stage 5 is the best step in the creative process. It’s that magical time when everything clicks into place and you realize that you can see this project through to a successful end.


No one ever promised that architectural work would be easy. The creative process can be challenging at times, especially when it takes you on a rollercoaster of inspiration, self-doubt and realistic planning for forward momentum. If you’re like most architects, though, you wouldn’t have it any other way.