27 May 2020

When can I break ground?

When receiving an inquiry regarding design works for a building, the earliest possible date of design delivery and actual construction commencement are always among the very first questions. Below, we sought to provide a summary on the design process and time requirements of an average new stand-alone house built after simple notification. While the article is centred around the design requirements in compliance with relevant law*, and the time frame for producing the technical documentation, the actual starting point of construction works may be influenced by several factors unrelated to the design process (such as the contractor’s capacities, the pre-existence or installation of utility connections, and weather conditions – just to name a few).

Apart from signing a contract, the design process begins with compiling a design programme that gives a rundown of the major parameters, dimensions, spaces, as well as technical properties (e.g. walling materials, types of joisting, roof structure) and MEP systems (e.g. heating, renewable systems) considered important by the client (including materials, colours, and the orientation of rooms).

Starting out from the design programme, we draw up the concept designs, which present both the floor plan and a visual concept of the building. In practice, this is a multi-stage process, which includes several in-person consultations with the client. Going forward, we gradually fine-tune the concept until reaching a permanent floor plan, external form and visual features – this is the so-called validation design. Based on past experience, this phase of the design process takes approximately 4-6 weeks in case of average stand-alone houses. This is also the point when it’s worth – if required by law, particularly the given settlement’s townscape regulations – consulting the chief architect, who will check whether the designs comply with townscape guidelines. The corresponding rules define a maximum deadline of 8 days for the consultation, which can also be conducted on request even if not required by local regulations.

Next in line is the preparation of the complete design documentation with the content and format stipulated by law. This includes the architectural construction designs, support structure construction designs, building electric specifications and MEP system specifications (including energy calculations and alternative energy use options) necessary for simple notification. Coming up with this complete, final design documentation usually takes 40-50 calendar days.

Once the design documentation has been finalised, drawings are to be uploaded to the ÉTDR system (Electronic Documentation System Supporting Construction Authority Permit Procedures) in a digital format (pdf). Subsequently, the simple notification procedure may be launched. (At this point, the construction authority will check whether the content of the simple notification complies with the relevant regulation*. In case the notification is deficient, the authority is obligated to inform the client or its representative within 8 days.) The simple notification must precede the start of actual works by 15 days – consequently, the works may go ahead after this 15-day period, unless the authority rejects the notification due to a potential deficiency.

As we have seen, the overall design process – from the signature of the contract to the earliest date of breaking ground – takes roughly three and a half months in case of an average stand-alone house. Nevertheless, this period may be shorter (simple building, more conventional solutions), but also longer (large, multi-storey homes with highly-customised structures and MEP systems, where the preparation of a complete construction documentation is desirable in addition to the designs required by law, and preparing interior architectural designs is also advisable).

Consequently, it is worth planning well ahead as a client. After all, providing adequate time for the design process is highly recommended, as a thorough and far-sited design job will enable the building to be realised cost-effectively and in line with the client’s desires.

Tamás Péter Berkes

* according to the regulations in force when writing this article
** E-construction portal, ÉTDR
*** Govt. Decree 155/2016. (VI. 13.) on the Simple Notification of the Construction of Residential Buildings