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How to choose a building designer

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Do you need an architect?

For designing houses you usually do not need an architect. All that is strictly required is having an engineer sign off on the structure and council approval. You can design and draft up the whole thing yourself, but don't go there because it is unlikely that your design will be approved without at least some professional input.

In Australia an architect is (legally) someone who is accredited with the Architect’s Registration Board of each state. For residential projects you do not legally require an architect, so many architecture graduates simply do not bother getting official accreditation and use the generic title "Building Designer" instead. There are other building designers who have lesser qualifications, and they may well be just as good at designing houses (e.g. experienced draftsman), but there are also some designers who really do not know what they are doing.

How to find an architect or building designer

  • Use the Internet - this website, for example, has an online directory of building designers. Try it, just enter your postcode:  
  • Word of mouth: If you have friends or family who recently built or extended their house, ask them how it went and whether they’d recommend that designer.
  • Houses around you: Go for a bike ride and have a look at what’s being built around you. If there’s anything you particularly fancy, contact the owners and ask them who designed their house.
  • Old fashioned methods: classifieds ads, notice boards, etc.

Choosing the right architect or building designer:

Your building designer needs to be on the same page as you with a lot of things. This includes:

  • Budget: Make sure you let them know how much you can afford to spend. Be specific and give a dollar value. Allow the conversation to move on, describe all the things you want and brainstorm ideas together. Then, ask how much they anticipate you will need to spend. Did they remember that you already told them how much you could afford? If not, that’s a massive red light.
  • Scope of the project: What do you need? What is the building going to be used for and how do you plan to use it? What kind of activities do you plan to undertake? Do you paint? Sew? Read a lot in bed? These can all influence the design.
  • Your ideas: What you want. What kind of materials and finishes are you into? This is your vision. The designer should not be trying to "own the idea" or impose a design on you because it will look good in a design magazine.

Your building designer also has to be capable. There are many instance where an architect or building designer draws up plans for a house that are subsequently rejected by council.

  • Ask what will be delivered. Will they be fully dimensioned and complete plans, sections and elevationsor will you end up with a pretty pencil drawing? Make sure this information is included in any contract you sign. If the designer is vague about it, ask to see an example of a finished project. If you aren’t sure if its build-able, find a builder who can verify the usefulness of the end drawings.
  • Find other buildings that have been designed by the same building designer and find out if they had any problems with the drawings. Other important things to find out are whether the builders had any other issues working with the designer, whether they are happy with the end result (did they get what they want) and does the building have any issues? The biggest problem with funky designs is generally leaking windows and rooves (this can be the builder’s fault as much as the designer’s).
  • Ask local builders. This is especially important if you live in a small town with only a few building designers. They know which designer is the best and will be able to give you hundreds of examples of designer’s mistakes (that said, your local architect will be able to provide that same information about builders)!
  • Don’t assume anything. Some older designers haven’t learnt from their mistakes and continue to make mistakes right through their careers. Many don’t keep up with professional development and have outdated techniques. Older building designers who still use pen and paper instead of a computer to draft up their designs are a great example of this. Some young designers have a surprising amount of experience behind them. You can never tell just on looks!
  • Ask lots of questions. Even silly ones. You should get an answer for every question you ask. If they don’t know something they should admit it and at least know where to go in order to find the answer for you.
  • Trust your instincts! If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!

Article written & provided by Architecture Republic