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RIBA Stage 2: An architect’s guide to concept design

A deep-dive into all you need to know about RIBA Stage 2

2 February 2024
3 minutes read
Architectural rendering of a corner building with a green rooftop garden, featuring a mix of brick and modern facades, with pedestrians and a bus indicating urban street activity.

Are you ready to see your building project start to take shape? 

Welcome to RIBA Stage 2 - the 'Concept Design' stage, where your dreams and sketches begin to find their form, all within the structured approach of the RIBA Plan of Work.

Today, we'll explore how architects translate initial ideas into detailed and innovative design concepts, examine the emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendly practices, and discuss the crucial role of cost planning.

Let’s get started.

A person's hand holding open the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 guide, with a detailed view of the structured stages and tasks involved in an architectural project, displayed in an easy-to-read chart format.

What is RIBA Stage 2?

RIBA Stage 2, also named 'Concept Design', is the stage where your project's compass points towards creative realisation - what it will look like, feel like, and how it will function.

Here, initial concepts are nurtured, shaped, and refined into architectural designs that capture the essence of your aspirations. This stage is all about exploring, experimenting and expressing. It's where your aspirations and the architect's creativity meet, following the comprehensive guidelines of the RIBA Plan of Work.

RIBA Stage 2 involves producing a series of artistic drafts, detailed sketches, and scaled models, all of which serve as the first tangible representations of your project. 

By employing various design tools, from traditional sketching to advanced 3D modelling, architects offer a diverse range of visualisations that provide a glimpse into the potential outcomes of your project.

A person's hand turning a page of the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 booklet, showing detailed information on Stage 2: Concept Design, with comprehensive lists and descriptions of tasks and considerations in architectural project planning.

Feedback and refinement

Client collaboration takes centre stage during this phase. As a client, your insights, preferences, and feedback are integral to shaping the design.

Regular review sessions are scheduled, giving you the opportunity to provide input and discuss changes or concerns with the design team. These discussions are crucial for refining the concept, ensuring that the design not only meets your aesthetic and functional requirements, but also remains feasible within budgetary and regulatory constraints. 

The architect's role here is to balance creative ambition with practicality, incorporating your feedback while navigating technical and material constraints. This process often leads to design evolution, where initial ideas are honed and perfected, gradually transforming into a detailed, viable plan ready for the next stages of development.

Sustainability in design

Just like in Stage 1, we don't lose sight of sustainability in Stage 2. 

Architects assess various materials for their environmental impact, durability, and aesthetic qualities, choosing those that align with sustainable building practices. Energy efficiency is also a key consideration, with designs often incorporating features such as natural light optimisation, efficient heating and cooling systems, and renewable energy sources. Green building practices, such as water conservation measures and waste reduction are also strategies woven into the design from the outset. 

This focus on sustainability not only ensures a reduced environmental footprint, but also contributes to the long-term efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the building. By prioritising eco-friendly design elements in Stage 2, the project sets a strong foundation for a sustainable, responsible, and future-proofed building.

The nuts and bolts of RIBA Stage 2

RIBA Stage 2 isn’t just about the big picture. 

It’s where every little detail gets its due attention, ensuring that each aspect aligns with the overall project strategy. Key parts of this process are building material mood boards, nailing cost planning, and thorough risk assessment.

Here’s a closer look at each:

Material mood boards

In RIBA Stage 2, the selection of materials is a critical aspect that significantly influences the project's aesthetics, functionality, and sustainability. This is where material mood boards come into play. They are essential tools that architects use to compile and present a variety of textures, colours, and finishes. 

Each mood board serves as a curated collection reflecting different aspects of the project's design language. They can range from showcasing building materials like bricks, glass, or wood, to interior elements like paint colours, fabrics, and flooring. 

Mood boards allow both architects and clients to visualise the tactile and visual qualities of these materials in relation to each other, helping to make informed decisions that align with the project's design intent and sustainability goals.

Cost planning

A reality check on the budget ensures your dream project stays within financial bounds. This involves developing a detailed budget framework that encompasses all aspects of the project - from materials and labour to contingencies and potential changes. 

A key way you can keep your costs under control is by appointing a quantity surveyor, whose job is to forecast potential expenses and to identify where there could be budget overruns. They will keep a close eye on all expenses accrued along the way, ensuring they are accounted for and are in line with your financial parameters.

Vigilant cost planning ensures the project remains financially feasible without compromising on design quality. It also helps in identifying potential cost savings and optimises the allocation of resources, making sure you get the best value for your investment.

If you're curious about getting a ballpark figure of your construction costs before this phase, utilising a build cost calculator can be an invaluable resource.

Risk assessment

Risk assessment in RIBA Stage 2 involves a proactive approach in identifying and mitigating potential risks that could impact the project. This includes potential issues like planning delays, design challenges, budget overruns, and unforeseen site conditions. 

Architects, alongside other professionals like engineers and surveyors, conduct thorough risk evaluations, assessing factors that could affect the timeline, cost and quality, which is also sometimes referred to as the project management triangle. This assessment leads to the development of a risk management plan, which outlines strategies to mitigate identified risks. These strategies may include contingency planning, alternative design solutions, and proactive stakeholder engagement

Regular monitoring and revision of the risk management plan ensures that potential issues are addressed promptly and effectively, maintaining the project’s momentum and ensuring a smooth transition to subsequent stages.

Delving deeper into concept design

In RIBA Stage 2, the focus isn’t just on aesthetics but also on the functionality and practicality of your space. It’s about asking and answering critical questions, within the framework provided by the RIBA Plan of Work:

  • How will people interact with space?
  • What are the environmental impacts of your design?
  • How can technology enhance functionality?
  • What will be the long-term adaptability of the design?
  • How does the design address community integration and impact?
  • How will the design contribute to the wellbeing and comfort of its users?
  • What innovative design solutions can be implemented for efficiency and aesthetics?

These questions drive deeper explorations, ensuring that your project is not just beautiful but also smart and sustainable.

Professional team of architects and designers actively engaged in a project discussion with blueprints and a digital architectural model on screen, in a bright and modern office in Greenwich, London.

How Urbanist Architecture can work with you

RIBA Stage 2 is the stage where your project gains its identity and direction, all while adhering to the strategic phases of the RIBA Plan of Work. By investing time and careful thought into this stage, you help to avoid costly redesigns and revisions later. It's the cornerstone that supports a smooth transition to detailed planning in Stage 3.

As London architects, we may call London home, but we extend our expertise right across the UK. Our practice thrives on a blend of technical precision and creative thinking, tailoring our approach to meet the distinct challenges and opportunities each site presents.

Our portfolio spans the gamut from luxury residential refurbishments to ambitious residential new-builds, with a keen eye on overseeing every stage of the process within the comprehensive framework of the RIBA work stages.

Our commitment is to design environments that elevate our clients’ quality of life, infusing each space with both practicality and stunning design features. If you’re interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team today.

Robin Callister, Creative Director and Senior Architect at Urbanist Architecture
AUTHOR

Robin Callister

Robin is our creative director, guiding our architectural team with the wisdom of more than 20 years of experience. All architectural projects at our practice are overseen by Robin, so you know you’re in the safest of hands.

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