The Design Process-old


Architecture is an ancient practice. Architects have created a standard timeworn process for projects. At our firm we understand the ancient principles and embrace the modern ones too. We have a rigorous, thorough, proven process, developed over the many fresh spaces we’ve created that brighten lives every day. And we get better at it every time. Refinements to our process happen with new technology, laws, and over our many years of experience in the business – but the foundation remains unchanged. Just like every process, your building will take some amount of time to design and build. Decisions are not made all at the beginning, but throughout the length of your project.

Speaking with our architects, Graham Smith and Cathy Garrido of Altius Architecture, I inquired about their overall design process. “Some clients have a really good eye and are very involved in the decision-making process, while others admit they have no taste and place all their trust in us to make the decisions,” Mr. Smith says. Ms. Garrido adds: “It takes an investment in time to work through a problem to achieve a resolution that aims for some ideal target.



What do you really want?

At our first meeting, we discuss your hopes for your new home or workplace, including priorities and parameters.

  • We will discuss your program or “wish list”, focusing on your needs and dreams.
  • We begin to discuss values and goals such as desired aesthetics and materials, and sustainability (Passive House or energy efficiency, etc.).
  • Discuss cost, so as to align design and budget (you may already have a budget; you may want to see a design with possible costs first), and whether that budget is enough for what you’d like to build.
  • Establish priorities going forward.

Information gathering:

  • We assist you in obtaining an updated topographic survey. We then research property restrictions (zoning, conservation, and so on) to determine which approvals will be required, along with the associated timeframes.
  • Are we within zoning laws? Where will we need to revise or apply for relief? Do you have Ravine restrictions or trees that need to be removed? Is your building a Heritage property? We analyze what is permitted on your site.
  • We review your property on foot, identifying opportunities/restrictions on your site, such as nice views, noisy traffic and sun direction. We get a feel for nuance.
  • Advise if you will require any specialty consultants, such as a surveyor, geotechnical engineer, or environmental consultant.
  • In the case of a renovation, we document the existing building and, if possible, obtain copies of existing drawings. We then measure and model the building and its immediate context in order to create an as-built drawing set.


Once we know what is allowed on your site, we explore the potential of your property.

  • Over several meetings, we discuss how you want to live or work, present ideas, and ultimately integrate your goals with the potential of your space.
  • Focus on identifying environmental and spatial relationships (if you would like to breakfast in the sun everyday, for example, you will need a breakfast room with an East window), which we develop.
  • In initial sketches, floor plans begin to emerge and spaces begin to take shape. We lay out indoor and outdoor spaces, ensuring the pieces fit together well.
  • We begin to work through the design in 3D computer models.
  • Deliverables include floor plans, exterior elevations and 3D walkthrough models.

Are we within zoning laws? Where will we need to revise or apply for relief? Do you have Raving restrictions or trees that need to be removed? Is your building a Heritage property?

Once layout and scope is determined, Altius will:

  • Conduct preliminary meetings with local authorities.
  • Submit drawings to the city and ensure your proposal meets applicable laws.
  • Apply to Committee of Adjustment when necessary for relief from city zoning by-law restrictions.
  • Prepare any necessary applications to the local conservation authority, heritage authority, or any other jurisdictional authority.
  • Prepare preliminary budget to ensure feasibility.


At this point we have a basic layout, scope and budget. We continue to develop the design. We add feel, materials and depth:

  • Over the course of several meetings we further develop the feel of the spaces, and spend time refining, adding materials to different surfaces.
  • Decide on construction methods & materials.
  • Illustrate design concepts using 3D modelling and images. Computer models, and (in certain cases) physical models, will ensure you have a thorough understanding of your new space.
  • We bring structural and mechanical consultants on board to ensure maximum design efficiency.
  • Budget is refined and expanded to ensure your project is achievable within the agreed financial parameters.


We will complete and develop the drawings and details you require to communicate your design to the constructor:

  • Specify materials, systems equipment, finishes.
  • Coordinate with any consultants (e.g. structural, mechanical, electrical, energy, etc.).
  • Prepare detailed set of drawings and specifications.
  • Ensure your building meets or exceeds building code and energy-efficiency requirements. Update budget to ensure we are still on target.
  • Assist you in applying for building permit.

Bringing the interior design to life while construction documents are being completed, we can begin selecting materials. We’ll guide you through:

  • Custom cabinetry & millwork drawings for kitchen & bathrooms, closets, built-ins.
  • Plumbing fixtures such as sinks, faucets, baths and showers.
  • Lightning – often an underestimated category! You can tell an Altius space by the lighting.
  • Interior finishes, tile patterns, paint colours, special trim.

To add value to your project, we can also assist you in furnishing, by helping you chose window dressings, light fixtures, lamps, artwork, rugs and other accessories.

We work with our network of trusted suppliers, ensuring you get what you want.


For your construction partner:

  • You may have already chosen your own contractor, or…
  • You may ask us to help you find a contractor, or construction management professional to lead your project.
  • We assist in tendering.
  • We also assist in negotiating a contract with the successful bidder. Whatever route you choose, we’ve got your back.
  • We assist to ensure construction goes smoothly. Integrated, end-to-end project review is one of the greatest benefits we offer.


You’ll hear from us often.

During construction:

  • We work closely with you and your chosen construction professional.
  • We resolve any issues that arrive, answer questions and evaluate alternatives proposed.
  • We administer the construction contract, whether your project is completed under a construction management contract or a stipulated price (or other) standard contract.
  • We review shop drawings from fabricators to ensure design intent is achieved.
  • We ensure your contractor builds in accordance with the drawings and specifications, that the design intent of the drawings is executed and remains clear throughout the process, and that your design goals are met.
  • We ensure your project doesn’t take an unexpected diversion off track.

We make move-in day and every day afterwards rewarding and trouble-free. We will:

  • Teach you how to use your new heating/cooling system, lighting control, security, AV system, etc.
  • Assemble and present the instructions for all your equipment, appliances; maintenance instructions for the materials used in your home, as well as copies of all warranties for materials, systems, appliances, etc.
  • Provide copies of the drawings and photographs of critical points during construction (so you know where things are located within your floors and walls).
  • Arrange delivery of any furnishings ordered for you and assist you when moving in and setting up your home.
  • Have professional photos taken.

*Note that most residential projects take between 1-3 years from beginning to completion.


Over the course of the first year of living in your new space, if you find something not performing as expected, we’ll assist you to make the necessary warranty claims.

We will also ask for your feedback on the building and process, now that you have a year of living/working experience behind you. We aim to learn and grow from every project and we appreciate your help in achieving that goal.