The RIBA Plan of Work is a document that outlines all stages in a building project, from conception to realisation in built form. The plan is written for, and used by architects. As a consequence, it may not be easily digestible for all clients.

This introductory guide to the stages of work will help you navigate the document. It aims to explain the involvement of the architect and describe their interaction with the client at each stage.

Stages of the RIBA Plan of Work

  • 0 – Strategic Definition
  • 1 – Preparation and Brief
  • 2 – Concept Design
  • 3 – Developed Design
  • 4 – Technical Design
  • 5 – Construction
  • 6 – Handover and Close Out
  • 7 – In use

Each stage is set up according to 8 task categories, providing guidance on project management and an overall structure. This adapts to the project’s specific needs and varies according to scope, budget, procurement method etc.

Stage 0

The first stage of the RIBA Plan of Work loosely outlines a project brief and identifies the defining criteria of your project, your personal priorities and your design ambition.

This stage is often pre-appointment, so it provides an opportunity for the client to get a sense of what the architect has to offer. This includes assessing their experience and portfolio.

Stage 0 is particularly important for you to set the tone of the project and for us together to:

Define the project scope, design issues and desired project outcome:

  • Are you looking for external work, interior design, landscaping or a combination? What are your priorities in terms of cost, size, quality and time?

Make an initial design assessment: what intervention is appropriate for the site and scope?

  • Is the project best suited for refurbishment, new-build or a combination? These judgments include taking into account sustainability, living comfort, budget limitations, local planning policy and site context.

Establish a project programme:

  • What is the time frame for the project? More specifically, how is this period broken down into briefing, design, construction and handover? Are there any important milestones or foreseeable breaks along the timeline?

Stage 1

Preparation and Brief, as the name suggests, uses the information gathered at the previous stage to draft an initial project brief:

  • What are the Project Objectives?
  • What is the client’s Business Case?

Usually, this will also include any relevant feasibility studies, site/building surveys and an initial risk assessment. An appraisal of the project cost is also outlined, along with forming a procurement strategy. Both of these will be informed by experience from previous similar projects.

Sustainability checkpoints are incorporated into every stage of the RIBA Plan of Work. It is also particularly important to include a sustainability strategy from the start of a project.

Another important part of Stage 1 is the assembly of the project team; defining the structure, team roles and responsibilities.

Stage 2

Concept Design is likely the stage at which the client receives visualisations or drawings of the design ideas developed from the project brief. There may be meetings, workshops or general correspondence to discuss iterations of the concept design.

On the administrative side, the initial brief is reviewed to form the Final Project Brief. This includes defining how the Project Strategies will affect the design process, with regards to:

  • Construction
  • Maintenance and Operation
  • Health & Safety
  • Sustainability
  • Handover

The concept design also often includes an initial proposal for structural design, building services and specifications. These can be used for the Cost Information (defining all the costs associated with the project).

When the design reaches a more determinable stage, a programme review may be useful. Depending on the nature of the design, third-party consultants may be approached.

This is also a stage at which it could be of interest to consider relevant Research & Development. For example, there may be advancements made in project-related fields, interesting materials or new solutions that may improve the design.

Stage 3

The Developed Design stage is where a coordinated design really takes form. Continuing on from a settled concept design, the project is drawn up more clearly in CAD and developed alongside structural design, building services and a cost exercise. Cost information is usually finalised at the end of the stage.

As a result of this coordination, the design may change in details throughout stage 3, but always referring back to the Project Brief and Project Objectives.

Due to the adaptability of the RIBA Plan of Work, submission time for planning consent may vary between the stages, but it usually occurs during or at the end of stage 3.

A planning application requires a degree of detail in drawings and information that is dependent on your type of project. In general, it will include:

  • A standard application form
  • Location plan, showing the site and context
  • Site plan or block plan, showing the proposal in greater detail
  • An ownership certificate
  • Agricultural holdings certificate
  • Application fee

If your building is listed or in a conservation area, a Design and Access Statement will be required. This document is usually prepared by the Architect, explaining the need for the development and how it takes its surroundings into account.

Stage 4

Technical Design is a refinement of the existing design, essentially preparing the necessary drawings and documentation for tendering. It often involves approaching relevant specialist subcontractors, such as a glazing manufacturer, or joinery firm.

The level of detail required may vary according to the type of procurement and the nature of the project: will the drawings be used for actual construction on site? Is this being provided directly by the subcontractors?

As with planning, the stage at which the tender process occurs may vary; traditionally, however, it is done at the end of stage 4. This is mainly due to the level of detail needed by contractors to price their works correctly.

The Architect’s services, to submit for tendering, include:

  • Detailed drawings
  • Schedule of work
  • Specifications (essentially a document that specifies how to build according to the agreed-upon design)
  • Submission of Building Regulations to either Building Control or an Approved Inspector

The Contractor is generally selected and employed by the client. One of the benefits of working with an experienced architect such as Architecture for London is that we are able to put forward names of suitable contractors, sub-contractors, and consultants.

Stage 5

At the start of the Construction stage, the design is generally considered as completed. The Architect is on hand to deal with any Design Queries. Our role at this stage will vary. In some cases, stage 4 and 5 will overlap or progress simultaneously.

Construction effectively means that the Contractor will take possession of the site and carry out the works as listed in the Schedule of Work and the building contract. This includes both manufacturing off-site and construction on-site.

Architecture for London can advise on the nature of the contract, or act as Contract Administrator.

Contract Administrator duties include:

  • Tendering
  • Preparing contract documents
  • Requesting instructions from the client, as well as issuing them
  • Regular site visits and co-ordinating with site inspectors to ensure work is carried out as specified
  • Issuing construction progress reports
  • Settling on procedures for the issuing of certificates, commissioning and testing, reporting defects and more
  • Issuing interim certificates (detailing payments to be made by the client to the contractor)
  • Documenting defects and issuing making good certificates of said defects
  • Issuing the final certificate

An Architect’s Instruction (Or a Contract Administrator’s Instruction) can, among other things, be issued when it is required to:

  • Vary the work (variation)
  • Postpone the work
  • Correct any defects (making good)
  • Request inspections or testing

Stage 6

The Handover phase concludes all aspects of the Building Contract, including rectifying any defects on the Contractor’s part and producing the final certificate on the Contract Administrator’s part. In some situations, it may include commissioning, to ensure the building functions properly.

After the building has been handed over, the Defects Liability Period begins, normally lasting between 6 months and a year. Any defects found within this period must be reported and remedied by the Contractor.

A retention sum may be held from the Contractor, repayable at the conclusion of the Defects Liability Period.

Stage 7

The in-use stage of the RIBA Plan of Work exists as a form of after care service for the Client. This may include any requests for as-built drawings, any discussions regarding future alterations or additional work, or general advice with regards to:

  • Maintenance
  • Energy certificates or consumption
  • Letting or tenants queries
  • General management of facilities

These services, if required, should be outlined in the initial appointment agreement.

As architects, we are always interested in hearing how the building performs. There may be a feedback workshop and we are happy to take comments from the client on board as these are valuable for future projects as well.


The RIBA Plan of Work is intended as a guiding document; ultimately, its strength lies in its adaptability and the architect’s ability to make it work for you – and your project. Architecture for London usually compile the work stages into three main segments:

  • 0-3: Concept & Design
  • 4: Technical Design & Tendering
  • 5-7: Construction & Conclusion

Please see our portfolio if you’d like to find out more about our work, or contact us on 020 3637 4236.

The RIBA Plan of Work and additional useful information can be found online: