A Guide to the Design Development Team

Any development project requires a large team of experts to bring the project vision to life. Architects, landscape architects, engineers, and environmental consultants are just a few of the professionals you’ll need to consult during the design development process. This guide provides an overview of the design development team, and an explanation of what each of their roles in the project will be.

The architect – or, as is generally assumed, an architectural firm involving several individuals – is the lead consultant on the job providing a comprehensive list of design and coordination services. With the approval of the developer, the architect assembles and manages all of the sub-consultants, convenes design meetings, ensures that the appropriate sub-consultants attend them, coordinates the information, plans and specifications from the sub-consultants and assembles them for a series of progressively more complete construction documents leading to the permit set. After construction begins the architect moves to the contract administration phase of their work, ensuring that the construction work is done and that the building is built according to the plans and specifications they have created. They also play an integral role in ensuring that the construction manager is submitting accurate and legitimate progress draw invoices to their client.

Depending on the complexity, size, scope, and future uses of the facility, and the way it relates to the surrounding community and the local provincial or national zoning and building codes, you will need to work with some or all of the following sub-consultants:

Site Surveyor: Whether you are buying or leasing a property to renovate an existing building or building new, you will require a survey of the property as part of the zoning process, site plan approval and/or building permit. Often, one or more parties may share or have overlapping interests within the same boundaries. In that case, the specific authorization for use, as well as responsibilities for maintenance for vertical and horizontal areas by each party, is spelled out in an addendum to the survey plan. An example might be that a fire exit in your building may lead out onto an adjacent property where you will be granted an easement to occupy that space in the event of a fire.

Landscape Architect: The landscape architect is the member of the consultant team that develops the design of the property outside the building perimeter, including both hard (paving, walkways, irrigation systems) and soft (trees, shrubs, grass) elements.

Transportation Consultant: A transportation consultant may be required to design a plan that addresses vehicular movement, type and quantity both on and around the site. This could include approaches to loading, garbage pick-up, dropping and picking up passengers and parking. A report from the transportation consultant will take into consideration the opportunity and potential use of alternate forms of transportation such as pedestrian, transit, bicycle, shuttle service and alternative fuel vehicles by future users of the project. Such a report may be also required for rezoning, site plan approval, and/or an application for LEED certification.

Quantity Surveyor: A quantity surveyor (QS) is often called in early during the conceptual design stage or prior to purchasing or leasing a property to determine a rough per-square-foot cost for renovating or new building a project based on its intended use. In some cases, a QS can be retained through the design phase and the construction phase as another pair of eyes on construction costs.

Cost Consultant: Sometimes the terms cost consultant and quantity surveyor are used interchangeably. However, the former is generally applied to the individual or firm that reviews and monitors the property and construction documents, capital budget, accounting and schedule. They are retained and paid by the client or developer from a list of companies acceptable to the lender, but audit the process to maintain the lender’s “comfort level” to continue the release of funds.

Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: These are of course different jobs, but generally they work as a team and for the same company. The mechanical engineer designs and specifies the HVAC and plumbing systems, while the electrical engineer designs the electrical and lighting systems. In a large project a lighting design specialist may be brought on to the team.

Security Consultant: As the name implies, the security consultant addresses security systems, which may be limited to a card entry system, but for most buildings today will also include a camera monitoring system, among other devices. The security consultant works with the electrical engineer or may be the same individual.


Communication Consultant: The ever-changing digital world we live in often requires the most up-to-date communication infrastructure to make a building attractive to renters and purchasers. The communication consultant will develop a design that integrates internet connectivity, phone, cable and satellite services.

Civil Engineer: The civil engineer works with the local service provider, for example, the local municipality, on the interface between drains and water supply.

Arborist: When there are a lot of trees on or adjacent to the property, you may require an arborist. Often these specialists work on landscapes for architectural firms. An arborist’s report will detail the species type and health of the local trees, identify ones that may need to be removed or protected for construction and recommend new trees for the landscape design.

Structural Engineer: The structural engineer will evaluate and test the structure in an existing building and design the plans and specifications for changes in use or design, or for additions when renovating. They may also create the structural design for a new building and test the structural elements of the architect’s design.


Sustainability (LEED/Energy Conservation) Consultant: Environmental sustainability has become a priority for developers who want to save energy and the planet while providing a healthy environment for everyone using the facility. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), with chapters in over 40 countries worldwide, is the largest of many local and international rating systems that certify buildings based on energy conservation and other sustainable benchmarks. It is imperative to have a specialist in this field to design the best approach to conservation and coordinate that approach with the various consultants designing the building. Their services are also invaluable in representing the project to the local green building council for LEED certification. Developing a “green” project can also provide opportunities for low- or no-interest financing, as well as grants from public and private sources.

For example, Artscape Wychwood Barns has several LEED components that met prerequisites and credits. To read a full copy of this report click here.

Building Science Consultant: This is a materials and methods expert with a focus on the building skin or envelope with the aim of reducing energy use and enhancing building warranties and longevity.

Code Consultant: The code consultant has a strong working knowledge of building code requirements as they relate to fire and life safety. They answer architects’ design questions about occupancy loads, exiting, fire separation and alarm and sprinkler systems.

Commissioning Consultant: Even if your building has been well designed, it is important to have a good commissioning agent to make sure everything is set up and working properly when it is finished and that you as the operator have a clear understanding of how everything works. Modern building infrastructure that is driven by green standards and automated systems is becoming increasingly complicated. It is not enough to have a quick walk around with separate contractors who show you a few switches and valves and leave you with the – often poorly written – manual for one piece of equipment. The commissioning consultant is an engineer who has studied the design and understands the synergy between all its parts.


Environmental Consultant: The services of an environmental consultant (EC) are critical for the early stages of a project, site selection and remediation. Every site has a past, and in Canada, the EC may be called upon to review an existing or undertake a new Phase I or Phase II environmental site assessment (ESA). These reports concern the land around and underneath a building.

The Phase I ESA is usually based on observation and the recorded history of the site. It speculates what environmental hazards may be present. The Phase II ESA physically tests the soil to a certain depth, usually by drilling a series of bore holes and sending the material to a lab. In the case of old buildings, the EC will conduct a designated substance survey (DSS) by taking samples of various materials and analyzing them in a lab.

The reports from a Phase II ESA and a DSS will include recommendations and regulations pertaining to the remediation of harmful substances. An EC can also conduct soil tests that are required for structural elements, like footings, foundations, elevator shafts, ramps, etc.

Click here to learn more about specific procedures and regulations regarding Ontario’s Environmental Assessment processes.

Heritage Consultant: The heritage consultant is a specialized architect dedicated to the preservation of old or heritage buildings. If a building is listed or designated by the local municipality, state or province or federal government as having heritage significance, you will need a heritage consultant to design an approach to renovation that respects that significance and to work with the heritage authority to ensure that your site plan agreement, heritage easement and/or building permit is approved.

Acoustic Consultant: Unfortunately, building acoustics are often ignored, leading to unhappy residents, tenants or employees and potentially expensive retrofits. Attention must be paid to sound abatement between spaces, sound integrity within spaces, both abatement and integrity as they relate to the environment/outdoors, and noise and vibration from building equipment infrastructure. If your building will have a variety of diverse uses and programming, special attention will have to be paid to particular spaces and adjacencies. A good primer on STC (Sound Transmission Class), NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) and IIC (Impact Insulation Class) can be read here.

Other Sub-Consultants and Services (for a variety of testing that may be required):

  • Engineering firms that locate below-grade or buried drains and services on site
  • Materials engineers that test the strength of structural assemblies, concrete slabs, etc.
  • Measuring services for existing buildings with old drawings that are difficult to scale or for which there are no drawings at all.
  • Shoring consultants for below-grade levels or any digging, such as on the property line where shoring may be necessary to protect someone else’s property. This design work can be done by civil engineers.