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Find an Architect to design projects of any size for residential, commercial or industrial sites. Whether you are planning a renovation or preparing for a new construction, an ideal Architect for any location across Australia will be found here. All your questions about choosing, hiring and working with Architects and the complete building process from design phase through to construction completion are answered below. +

Published by Martyn Sanjay


Preliminaries

Finding an architect

Working with an architect

Architects and the building process

Defects, disputes and redress


What is an Australian architect trained to do?

An architect is a multi-skilled professional who is trained in the art of project design and experienced in offering a full range of services that will assist in project completion. Architects can help you in formulating your brief, creating an accurate and viable budget, guiding you through the approval process, tendering the work to be completed and administrating the contract. Most architects tend to specialise in a particular field of which they will have greater expertise. It is advisable to consult an architect who is experienced in your kind of project.

How is an Australian architect accredited?

In Australia, architects must first obtain a university qualification and then pass a government examination in order to be registered with the local Board of Architects.

Continuing education and accreditation programmes also exist, such as those offered by the Royal Institute of Architects. Through accreditation architects can show they ascribe to a code of ethics and are respected industry professionals. It would be worthwhile to investigate the specifics of your architect's accreditation to find out exactly what level of expertise it details.

Do I even need an architect?

An architect is by no means a necessity in the construction process. In fact, many construction firms will offer you the opportunity to design your project yourself through selection from a standardised catalogue of options. However, this may lead to an unsatisfying result in terms of aesthetics, functionality, planning, or environmental responsibility. A non-conventional plan, or a non-conventional piece of land (steep, bendy, wooded, unstable, or remote), will often greatly benefit from an architect’s expertise.

Can I afford an architect?

Depends. They're obviously a significant short-term cost, which is why most Australian homebuilders and many commercial builders go without them. But according to the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, architects' fees rarely exceed 1% of the total cost of constructing and operating the building throughout its useful life. A better designed building - especially a greener, more efficient building - saves money in the long run, is worth more to sell or lease, and costs less to maintain or staff. Architects can identify cost savings through design, and better organise the construction process to avoid, for instance, the unnecessary attendance or recall of tradespeople.

How much should I pay for an architect?

There are no 'standard' or 'recommended' fee scales when consulting an architect, but their fees are generally estimated at between 5 and 12% of the total project cost. The fee you're charged will be dependant on the specific requirements of your project and will be influenced by the services provided by your architect and the manner, cost and complexity of your project. Fees may be time charged, affixed as a lump sum or calculated as a percentage of construction cost.

When should I bring in an architect?

Early. Now. They also might be able to help you with selecting or studying a site, carrying out a feasibility study, securing planning approval, or planning a budget.

When is an architect not enough?

Architects have a wide knowledge of building and allied technology and know the experts in these fields. During the design stage (and possibly in helping you prepare the brief) many building projects require specialist consultants in sections of the work, such as site consolidation, structural engineering, mechanical and electrical services, landscaping, cost planning, or quantity surveyors. Your architect will advise you on the need for consultants, their selection as appropriate and what roles they will play.

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Where can I find a list of architects working in Australia?

Specifier.com.au has a comprehensive database of Australian architects. You can search your local area and come out with a list of names and contact details.

How can I choose a good architect?

Ask people you know who have architect-designed houses about who they shortlisted, who they selected, and what their experience was like.

Knocking on the door of an attractive, architect-designed house, flattering the owner by telling them how lovely it is, and then asking for their architect's phone number can often work.

Call major contactors or essential material suppliers, like brick or timber yards. They've had a lot of experience preparing estimates for builders based on architects' plans, and have seen who draws detailed, considered plans and who doesn't. Well-drawn plans suggest an experienced practitioner, but also one that's not going to cause too many late changes and cost overruns.

Professional bodies like Archicentre, attached to the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, can help select an architect for you as part of a broader design service.

Magazines like Specifier, and many others available from newsagents and large bookstores, review projects on the basis that they've won an award, or have otherwise have come to public prominence. That's usually an indication of a good architect, if not necessarily an affordable one for your project (but you can always check). Many house design books, like Phaidon's very pretty Modern House series, will have only a handful of Australian architects in them, but there are plenty of smaller titles on a range of residential elements and styles.

Architecture awards are a very good indicator of quality - but do keep in mind who funds and runs the award, and why. The RAIA Awards are the largest and most respected Australian prizes, and they are a bountiful source of good names because they are awarded at both state and national levels, with a long list of commendations. Architects' Registration Boards in some states have Client Service Excellence Awards. There are Interior Design Awards; awards by material suppliers, like the respected Dulux Colour Awards; and by material promotional bodies, like the Australian Timber Design Awards and the Brick Awards. The HIA Awards are essentially for builders, and not architects.

How do I narrow down a shortlist of architects?

Narrow a list of possibles with a few phone calls. Ask some easy preliminary questions: if they're available, or if they're interested in a project of that size. Have some idea of what it is you want, and try to sum it up in a couple of sentences.

Should I investigate more than one firm?

Yes, unless you have had a previous association with an architect that worked well. Don't feel embarrassed about checking a number of options. It's expected.

How many firms should I consider in depth?

It's generally recommended to look at three to five in depth.

How can I learn more about an architect?

Architects who do small-time residential work are often, but not always, just starting out. Don't expect too much of them in terms of elaborate websites. The best way to get information is to call.

What you are looking for are some indicators of solid experience. Find out, of course, about the architect's qualifications and registration. Look at past projects of theirs that are similar to the one you have in mind, or that address similar issues (such as siting). Ask what percentage of their work is residential and see if they've been published or have won any awards.

Ask for references or testimonials that you're able to follow up. If you're bold, you could follow up other projects on your own. Chances are if they aren't listed referees that the experience wasn't perfect, so they'll be able to offer you a different perspective - but remember, a bad experience may be a client's as much as an architect's fault. Tread carefully.

You could also organise a face-to-face interview.

Why are interviews important?

It is important to have a good personal rapport with an architect. You may well be ringing each other at all times of day and night about door handles and gyprock.

What should I ask an architect in a preliminary interview?

You can learn how the architect's team will approach your project by talking to key members. Ask how the architect will gather information, establish priorities, and make decisions. Ask what the architect sees as the important issues for consideration in the project. Evaluate the firm's style, personality, priorities, and approach: are they compatible with yours?

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How do I formulate a brief for an architect?

A brief is an outline that you must formulate with your architect. It will allow the architect to understand your needs from the project and create a suitable design.

Begin with highlighting the broad principles behind your project and defining objectives or features to be worked towards. For example, is functionality the most important consideration for you, or is aesthetic appeal decisive?

Collect images and ideas from books and magazines, so that you will be able to show your architect what you like and describe the look and feel you are after. Think about the needs of your project. If it's a family home, list everyone who will live in it, and everyone's particular needs, like study or play space, or disabled access. List how many bedrooms are required and their ideal relation to each other; think about collective spaces, and how the house is to be entered and exited. You might have particular materials or features in mind, like timber floorboards or large windows. Think about the project over time: who will use it in five, ten, or twenty years. Be flexible, discuss your ideas with your architect and be prepared to listen to what they say.

 

Be clear about the scope of your project. At this stage discuss costing estimates with your architect and think about how much you are willing to spend. The amount of money you choose to spend will directly affect the extent of your project.

Remember that your architect is a professional and will be able to practically implement your ideas. Of all people, your architect is best placed to understand what can and can't be done.

How do I make my agreement with an architect secure?

To secure your agreement with your architect, it is necessary to enter into a written architect-client agreement. In NSW a written contract is a requisite element of the NSW Architects Code of Professional Conduct. Similar provisions apply in most jurisdictions. If you are concerned about entering into a contractual relationship with an architect, it would be wise to consult the advice of a legal professional.

Who manages the approval process?

Your architect will manage the approval process, ensuring that all the necessary documents and information are provided to your local council. It is important that you work with your architect closely during this period, to ensure that the lengthy delays often associated with the approval process are kept to a minimum.

What are schematic designs?

Schematic designs describe the stage in the design process where concepts and ideas begin to be physically realised. Your architect will create rough drawings to explore considerations such as scale and appearance. Gradually, your project will begin to take shape!

This is perhaps the most interactive part of the design process, where you will meet frequently with your architect. On these occasions, your architect will present to you the practical application of all the ideas which you outlined earlier, including room location and sizes, elevations and sections and placement of doors and windows. It is important to communicate your thoughts effectively during these meetings and critique the schematic designs - after all, this is what your project is actually going to look like.

Am I obliged to accept schematic designs?

You are in no way obliged to accept any schematic designs that you're not happy with. However, a series of unacceptable schematic designs may be a sign that you have not been communicating effectively with your architect. If you decide to commission more schematic designs, don't forget that it is likely to cost you more money.

When are materials and finishes agreed on?

During and after the schematic design process, your architect will discuss the pros and cons of using different materials and finishes. Your selection will then be incorporated into a series of construction documents which consist of the working drawings and written documentation called "the specification." These are the culmination of the design process and will be presented to council in your approval submission.

Provisional sums may be included by your architect within the specifications in order to cover the estimated cost of features and fittings. By including provisional sums, you will have a reasonable estimate for material - useful for getting a handle on overall costing estimates.

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How does an architect select a builder?

An architect will often select a builder due to pre-existing relationships within the industry. Your architect will provide you with a list of builders whom they feel would be suitable for completing your project. Remember, your architect has pre-existing relationships within the industry and may have worked with a builder before, or may be familiar with their work. Of course it is not up to the architect to hire a builder on their own: any selection will be subject to your approval.

Can I select my preferred builder?

You can select your own preferred builder, if you are not comfortable with those suggested by your architect.

What is an architect's role during construction?

The architect's role during construction is essentially a supervisory one. They will act as your eyes and ears on the project, utilising their professional experience to ensure that the builder is completing the work according to specification. Your architect will visit the site at regular intervals and review the work that been done - proceeding only if it meets appropriate standards.

A builder cannot make alterations to the specifications set down by an architect without your consent. However, it is important to make sure that you consult your architect concerning any substitutions or alterations you feel need to be made. If you need to take cost-cutting measures, speak to your architect and they can tell you whether or not this will take your design off course.

Does my architect have a contractual relationship with the suppliers and subcontractors?

No, your architect does not have any contractual relationship with suppliers or subcontractors. The only person that your architect has a contractual relationship with is you and your builder.

What is practical completion?

Practical completion is achieved when your architect issues a Notice of Practical Completion, deeming work to be complete. From this point onwards, the builder no longer bears responsibility for insurance of the works. Dependant on your construction contract, however, a Defects Liability Period may commence which will allow for the remedy of defects not apparent before completion.

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What are an architect's "moral rights"?

A new Moral Rights Amendment to the Copyright Act protects the "moral rights" of artists, including architects. It is designed to protect their reputation, and the integrity of their work.

An architect has the right be attributed as the designer of a project when it is constructed, and when work it is publicised or represented in print. They also have the right to be informed if their project is to be altered or demolished. Any alteration or demolition of a structure may, therefore, amount to derogatory conduct. If derogatory conduct is established the architect can require that their name no longer be associated with the project. This can significantly affect the value of a project designed by a well-known architect.

The Act does allow architects to consent to acts that infringe their moral rights.

What can I do if an architect has treated me unfairly?

If you feel you have been unfairly treated by an architect the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) may be helpful. The ACCC can offer advice to you about your rights under the Trade Practices Act, and assist by directing you towards methods of dispute resolution.

The ACCC is represented in each state and territory by a local department, which enforces industry regulations.

In New South Wales, the Architects Registration Board polices complaints made against architects, under the regulations of the Architects Act 2003. Architects who breach the Act through unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct are liable to fines of up to $20,000 and suspension and cancellation of registration.

Can I take an architect to court?

Legal action is available, as a last resort, if you feel your architect has not fulfilled the terms of your contract. Pursuing a claim through the courts is a serious matter, so make sure you consult legal advice before making any decisions.

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