RIBA Work Stages: The 7 (8) stages explained

The RIBA stages comprises of eight separate work stages that each address a required phase of a construction projects progression...
RIBA Work Stages

In the realm of building procurement, the journey from a mere concept to a fully realized structure is intricate and multi-faceted. Central to navigating this complex process in the United Kingdom is the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Work. Established as a definitive framework, it meticulously outlines the project lifecycle into eight distinct stages.

This structure not only guides architects and designers but also serves as a crucial roadmap for clients, contractors, and other stakeholders involved in the creation of built environments.

The RIBA Work Stages, ranging from 0 to 7, represent a comprehensive journey through the lifecycle of a building project – starting from the very inception of an idea to the practical aspects of construction, and finally, to the ongoing use of the building.

Each stage is meticulously crafted to ensure thorough preparation, creative exploration, diligent execution, and sustainable operation. This helps to ensure that work is carried out and completed to the high professional standard that is expected and described here.

Whilst an architect is not obligated to use this plan, it has become a sort of unofficial industry standard. 

What is a RIBA plan of work?

Designing a building can vary greatly between countries and often lacks a formal process. Informal procedures are typically passed down from one generation of professionals to the next. However, regardless of location, the fundamental tasks remain the same:

Agreeing on appointments with the professional team, developing a brief with the client, creating concept designs, coordinating the design, preparing planning applications, obtaining planning consent, developing construction information, preparing a tender, obtaining consents required before construction, awarding a building contract, constructing the building, inspecting the construction as it progresses, and finally, handing over the building.

This informal approach can work when using repeatable, consistent, and intuitive processes. However, when the design process becomes more complex, the lack of a process map can lead to different team members having varying opinions on how to proceed, leading to inefficiencies.

Several design process maps or plans of work exist worldwide, created by professional institutes or sector bodies to guide clients through the briefing, design, and construction process, and beyond. Some plans include pre-design stages, while others do not. Some plans incorporate tendering stages, while others focus solely on design rather than procurement.

Key differences between plans of work include the number of design stages and the consideration of the building’s life beyond construction. Although each plan is unique, they all share the same goal of providing a roadmap for consistency between each stage and guidance for clients undertaking their first building project.

Some plans are beginning to address the importance of good briefing and the impact of the design and handover processes on a building’s performance.

What are the RIBA work stages?

It’s worth noting that since 2013 the plan of work has been significantly amended, and now:

  • Permits for more than just the traditional method of procurement.
  • Allows for more diverse roles and teams.
  • Has introduced a new stage both before design and after construction.

The work stages have also been renamed and restructured from the 2007 alphabetised version to the now numerical system shown below:

0 – Strategic definition. (New addition)

1 – Preparation and brief.

2 – Concept design.

3 – Developed design.

4 – Technical design.

5 – Construction.

6 – Handover and close out.

7 – In use. (New addition)

It is worth noting that although this updated version now supersedes the 2007 edition, many architects and construction professionals still prefer to use the old system as it is felt that it still better reflects the terminology that is used within the industry.

So to allow for an easy comparison, the below diagram shows how both the new and the old systems relate to each other, followed by a description of each stage.

Using the RIBA stages

The RIBA Plan of Work is made up of eight stages, designed to work together to guide the briefing, design, construction, handover, and use of a building. The plan can be used by a client at the beginning of a project to help set it up or by any member of the project team as a reference point to remind them of the essential tasks to be completed at each stage.

It’s crucial to understand how the plan facilitates the progression of Project Strategies through the stages and not just the outcomes of each stage.

While the stages can work independently, successful outcomes at one stage rely on achieving success in the stage before. It’s unrealistic to think that poor outcomes in one stage can be recovered in the next. For example, a poor project brief will likely lead to poor design outcomes, and poor design will not achieve exemplary project outcomes.

Designs that aren’t spatially coordinated in Stage 3 will result in unnecessary iterations in Stage 4, and poor information in Stage 4 will create an unnecessary volume of site queries. Lack of foresight on maintenance in the early stages will make maintenance difficult.

There may be cross-cutting issues that flow from one stage to another, and information produced by one party may be crucial to another in the next stage. Therefore, while each stage acts independently, the RIBA Plan of Work is a whole, and caution should be exercised in changing the strategic tasks in any stage, as it may impact the outcomes of the following stages.

To break these stages down…

What are the 8 stages of RIBA?

RIBA stage 0 – Strategic definition project strategies tasks

This is the first of the two new stages introduced into the 2013 edition.

Stage 0 of the construction project focuses on making strategic decisions to determine if a construction project is the best way to achieve the client’s requirements. It involves considering various options and analyzing the Project Risks and Project Budget for each option. Stage 0 is not about design or practical details, but it is about making the right strategic decisions and capturing them in a Business Case.

The high-level Spatial Requirements may need to be determined, and feedback from previous projects and insight from Project Stakeholders are essential. Stage 0 is not only a first step but also the logical next step after Stage 7 in the circular RIBA Plan of Work process. The detailed tasks for Stage 0 should align with the complexity of the challenge and the diversity and demands of the options being considered for the Business Case.

RIBA Stage 1 (old stages A and B) – Preparation and briefing

During Stage 1 of the RIBA Plan of Work, the client team begins the briefing process and considers the Client Requirements in more detail for the project, which will be recorded in the Project Brief. The Project Brief includes guidance on Project Outcomes, Sustainability Outcomes, and Quality Aspirations.

Feasibility Studies may be required to determine and shape the brief, but these studies are not part of the design process. The design team with appropriate knowledge and skills to deliver Project Outcomes needs to be selected at this stage. Information Requirements, a Responsibility Matrix, and a Digital Execution Plan should also be prepared.

Additionally, a comprehensive set of Site Information needs to be sourced, including Site Surveys, ready for Stage 2 to commence.

RIBA stage 2 /(old stage C) – Concept design

During Stage 2 of a project, the Architectural Concept is set and proposals aligned with site information and the project brief are prepared. The design is reviewed regularly and iterated in response to comments from the client and other stakeholders.

The proposals must also be coordinated with the project strategies and captured in a stage report, and the cost plan should demonstrate that they are aligned with the project budget. Detailed tasks required during this stage may vary based on the robustness of the Architectural Concept.

The proposals must also be reviewed against quality aspirations, local context and environment, and the route to building regulations compliance. A stage 2 design program must be prepared and Information Requirements included in the Stage Report signed off by the client.

RIBA stage 3 (old stage D and E (in part)) – Spatial coordination

Stage 3 focuses on testing and validating the architectural concept, ensuring spatial coordination before producing detailed information for construction in Stage 4. Detailed design studies and engineering analysis are carried out, and changes to the architectural concept should be agreed upon through the Change Control Procedure.

Design studies must align with cost exercises and the development of the outline specification. The project strategies must be updated, and a building regulations review undertaken. A stage 3 design program is created, and a planning application can be submitted once the client has signed off on a stage report.

Employer’s requirements may be issued at the end of stage 3, requiring some elements of the design to be drawn in higher detail or schedules and specifications to be produced to minimize procurement risk.

RIBA stage 4 (stage E (in part) and F) – Technical design

Stage 4 is the stage where the necessary information required to manufacture and construct a building is prepared. The Responsibility Matrix, Information Requirements, and Stage 4 Design Program are crucial documents that influence the stage heavily. The Procurement Strategy affects the structure of the project team, the time when the building systems will be designed, and how the stage will be structured.

Cost control measures will vary from project to project, and a Building Regulations Application should be made during this stage. It’s essential to agree and sign the Building Contract during this stage to proceed with Stage 5.

Most Project Strategies developed by the design team will be embedded in the Manufacturing Information and/or Construction Information, and producing a Stage Report is not usually necessary.

RIBA Stage 4 (in part) (old stages G, H and J) – Technical design

Once the tenders are received, the quotations will be assessed and analysed before one is chosen ready to start the construction work stage.

RIBA Stage 5 (old stages J and K) – Manufacturing and construction

Stage 5 of the RIBA Plan of Work involves the manufacturing and construction of building systems as per the agreed construction program. The use of digital technologies has increased the speed and safety of construction activities, especially with the greater uptake of offsite manufacturing.

During this stage, it’s important to clarify who is responsible for tasks such as responding to site queries, reporting on construction quality, inspecting works, and producing the defects list.

Stage 5 ends with the issuance of a Practical Completion certificate, which allows for the handover of the building. The Plan for Use Strategy requires several tasks to be undertaken before and after Practical Completion, including preparing for handover, compiling the Building Manual, and completing Verified Construction Information.

The Building Manual is essential for even the simplest projects and should provide information on how to operate appliances and systems effectively. It’s essential to consider the requirements for using and operating the building at each stage of the project to ensure that the client team receives the best possible information for managing their asset effectively.

RIBA Stage 6 (old stage L) – Handover

Stage 6 of the building design and construction process involves the handover of the completed building to the client and initiating Aftercare, including rectifying any defects. This stage also involves the issuance of the Final Certificate to conclude the contractual involvement of the design and construction teams.

Some tasks, such as training users on building systems, may need to begin during Stage 5 to ensure an efficient handover. Other tasks in Stage 6 include facilitating a Project Performance session for future project benefit, initiating initial Aftercare tasks, and conducting a Post Occupancy Evaluation to understand building performance and identify trends for future repeat building types.

RIBA Stage 7 – Use

This is the second of the two new stages introduced in 2013 to the program of works and involves a post-occupancy evaluation, covering the projects performance, outcomes and development …it is essentially an aftercare service.

The design team and construction team typically have no duties during Stage 7 of a project, but ongoing feedback is useful for future projects. Post Occupancy Evaluation services help fine-tune a building and inform future projects.

Some client teams remain involved in the building’s lifetime, updating Asset Information, the Building Manual, and implementing facilities or asset management strategies. Maintenance obligations might extend beyond Stage 6, requiring Asset Information to be kept live and relevant.

At the end of a building’s life, refurbishment or deconstruction might occur, following circular economy principles and moving the site towards its next use. The RIBA Plan of Work’s circular process enables this movement.

…To sum up

Despite this detialed breakdown of tasks, criticism of the RIBA plan of work includes changing the names and definitions of project stages, a lack of coordination with other industry project plans, and a focus on the architect’s role rather than the crucial planning stages that happen before their appointment.

This can leave clients and stakeholders confused about the terminology used and its meaning, as well as insufficient information on setting up and defining the project.

The above descriptions have of course be simplified and for a full detailed breakdown of each stage, RIBA have a 146 (!) page document here


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