How to choose an architect
If the beginning of a New Year has inspired you to kick-start some major renovations, or you’re ready to start designing your dream home, engaging the services of an architect is a wise investment. Design and build projects can be extraordinarily complex and it pays to be organised right from the outset. But finding the right architect to assist you through your design and build process isn’t always easy.
We spoke to Vanessa Bird, president of the Australian Institute of Architects Victoria and principal of award-winning Bird de la Coeur Architects in Melbourne about where to start, the differences between architects and building designers, and how you can make sure you choose the right architect for you.
If you’re looking for an architect to design a major new addition or new home, what tips would you give?
Few people appreciate how difficult designing and building your own additions or new home can be. So yes, choosing an architect is a wise investment. They will help you arrive at the right design, navigate the town planning process, set a realistic budget, select materials, find the right builder, and manage the building contract.
The client-architect relationship is very personal and involves understanding you and your family, your daily patterns of life, your preferences, your activities, and what works or doesn’t work in your current house. Architects are problem solvers and they do this through design. You need to give them the information they need to perform this task for you. And you need to find the architect that’s right for your budget, your situation and you.
There are several ways to do this:
Many architects get work by word of mouth. Ask friends, colleagues or find out who designed the houses you like.
· Australian Institute of Architects (AIA)
The best place to start is with an AIA member. The AIA in your state offers an easy-to-use ‘Find an Architect’ service.
Look at magazines and make a note of the names of the architects who’ve designed the houses you like. Also look out for the AIA awards program winners in your state. There’s always a variety of scales of work and sizes of companies represented. Look at the website of the architects you like.
Why should I choose an architect rather than a draftsman or building designer?
Architects are problem solvers and the outcomes are not just about the building appearance. It’s about how it feels and fits your needs. Architects see the big picture and have the qualifications, professional training, vision and experience to manage the entire design and construction process.
Architects and building designers may at first glance appear to offer similar services, however there are significant differences. The key distinction between the two lies in the education, training and registration process. Architects are rigorously trained, completing an accredited five-year degree and two years of work experience before going through an onerous registration process with a statutory authority.
Importantly, the most successfully run projects retain the architect as the contract administrator during the construction phase. Architect administered contracts offer you an avenue to ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for. The architect is appointed as your agent for giving instructions to the contractor as well an independent assessor, valuer and certifier for the contract. The completed building is subject to the architect’s certification and not when the construction team says it is.
What are the benefits of an architect-designed home?
Architect-designed buildings are more desirable and sought after by an increasingly sophisticated, design-conscious market that understand the benefits derived from living with quality design.
Architect-designed buildings are generally healthier places; places that are better for you; and flexible, so that your building can grow and change as your needs change. Architect-designed buildings are more energy efficient, cheaper to operate and easier to maintain and adapt throughout their lifespan than traditional structures.
In a world crying out for answers to issues of energy efficiency, global warming and climate change, an architect can show you how to integrate best practice sustainability features with leading edge design.
How many architects should you talk to before deciding who to work with?
There’s no set rule to this, but three is a common number. You may meet one and be convinced that they’re right for you, and this is fine too. Once you’ve established your shortlist it’s time to start a conversation. Make an appointment to meet at the architect’s office or out on your site. Generally, there’s no charge for an initial consultation to meet and discuss your project.
What are the general steps involved after meeting an architect? Will they put together a proposal?
Yes. An architect will prepare a fee letter that will outline an understanding of the project, the services that they’ll provide, a schedule of fees and the general timing for the project. The work produced from one architect to another will vary so it’s a good idea to understand what their fees allow for.
An architect will help you put together your brief which is both a list of the accommodation you require, but also how you would like the house to work or feel. They will give you a fee proposal based on your brief and will help establish a budget around this. They will evaluate the opportunities and constraints of your site and then put together a sketch design. This is a process that occurs in discussion with you.
How do architects generally charge for their services? Are there big differences in price between architects?
The cost of an architect’s services depends on a number of factors, some of which relate to the architect’s experience, reputation or method of operation. Time charges, for example, will vary considerably.
Clearly the rate for a recent graduate will be considerably less than that of a very experienced practitioner. Likewise, a well known architect will most probably be able to command higher fees than an unknown architect. An architect who operates a small practice from home will have lower overheads than a large city practice and may therefore be able to charge less.
A percentage fee is very common. The architect charges a percentage of the cost of the building (usually the cost on completion). The advantage of a percentage fee basis is that a fee agreement can be reached at the earliest possible time, even before the value or extent of the building work is known.
Lump sum fees are also common. The architect agrees on a fixed sum of money for an agreed scope of work. Normally the fee will not change if the cost of the building changes, however if the scope of work increases the fees will be reviewed.
For more information, please visit the Australian Institute of Architects website: www.architecture.com.au