The importance of RIBA Stage 1

While it’s tempting to race directly into concept design, don’t underestimate the need to develop and agree a clear brief during Stage 1. 

Stage 1 includes preparing the initial project brief, assembling the project team, and drawing up the design responsibility matrix. 

Whatever the design brief, it needs to be rigorously interrogated through targeted feasibility studies and regular engagement with the client. It can be tempting to bypass this process, either to try to shorten the programme or because of the architect’s enthusiasm for an exciting design. However, this risks discovering later in stage 2 that key elements of the brief contradict one another. Worse, it may be that the budget falls drastically short of the client’s ambitions.

Stage 1 aligns the client's brief, budget and aspirations.

  • This is the time for an in-depth review of construction alternatives, avoiding frustrating delays later.

  • Fundamental changes are far easier and cheaper to make now than later, when a much larger professional team will be involved

  • Client and design team will proceed into stage 2 with a clearer understanding of opportunities, risks and constraints that determine the scheme’s feasibility, before developing the design.


It’s even more important to get these points right if the client’s budget is particularly tight, and also on large or complex projects which involve multiple stakeholders and funders.

How to undertake a successful Stage 1

  • The key deliverable for this stage is the initial project brief. Break it down into components, and determine who in the client organisation needs to engage with each component, and how. Decide what feasibility studies are required. Agree key risks for analysis and resolution. And confirm the governance processes and sign-off procedures.

  • Ensure that clear sustainability aspirations are included.

  • Define the area schedule – in as much detail as possible.

  • Align the budget and the brief. Produce an order of cost based on benchmark rates. (The quantity surveyor or cost consultant will explain the basis of the rates and comparable benchmark projects.)

  • Allow enough time to complete the stage. This will depend on the project’s complexity and the client structure- which will determine the amount and frequency of engagement.

  • Make sure the right members of the design team are appointed, to validate the feasibility studies. The viability of a scheme can hinge on several design elements – ensure they are all covered.

  • Set up appropriate project procedures (working methods, team culture, etc) ready for stage 2. It is helpful if the team can meet socially. They can learn a lot about the project and each other away from the day-to-day project environment.

  • The architect should avoid the temptation to design during this stage!

At the end of stage one, the project will have

  • An initial project brief

  • Collated feasibility studies

  • Site information

  • Agreed project budget

  • Project programme and responsibility matrix

  • The procurement strategy

  • Agreed information and communication protocols

By Associate Director David Palmeri


Plan A can set up project procedures and help architects to identify and plan the key tasks for a successful stage 1. 

Get in touch to talk about appointing us at the start of your project, to enable the best possible start to designing at stage 2.