Grand Designs Australia

Guide to Working with an Architect– The Stages

Stage 1: Schematic Design

• Your Architect considers orientation, massing, circulation, energy efficiency, furnishing and siting. Once these things are decided, you will be able to prepare a preliminary building budget.
• In this stage, the Architect will aim to improve on loose designs and original concepts. They often try to combine all that’s required into a smaller, more effective space to save on unnecessary building costs. Even the reduction of around 10m2 of space will result in several thousands of dollars savings.

Stage 2: Design Development

• "Should we have a concrete or timber floor? What areas do we tile? Will timber-lined ceilings in the family room be worth the extra expense? What are the best systems for heating our house, or keeping it cool?" are the types of questions answered in this stage.
• Unexpected cost-savings may be made at this stage, as your Architect may be able to offer attractive but less expensive alternatives to the building materials you originally thought you would have.
• Your Architect is well-informed on building material suppliers but isn’t allowed to accept any commissions from them so they are completely impartial and can freely advise you as to your best options. This may not be the case with other design consultants or building companies.

Stage 3: Contract Negotiation

The stages of an Architect’s thorough contract documentation are:
a) Working Drawings
b) Specifications
c) Liasing with Authorities

a) Working drawings. These drawings spell out in precise detail exactly what you are ‘buying’ from the builder. They cover the standard of materials, workmanship required, finer construction details, set-out dimensions, set backs, window and door locations as well as structural details and mechanical installations if relevant. The benefits are:
The drawings create more certainty about the building contract. In the case of vaguer working drawings, the builder may claim, for example, that the standard of materials you expected are not shown on the drawings, and what you are now asking for are "variations" which will cost more. Or worse, he may be halfway through building the wrong way and charge for undoing the work already begun, as well as for the cost of constructing to your (now) more precise requirements.
The drawings enable you to ‘shop around'. These detailed drawings will help you obtain accurate price comparisons and quality comparisons from a number of builders. If you have committed yourself to a design-and-construct company, you do not have the option of "shopping around" for a better price or quality, because you are locked-in to using the building company that provided you with your free design. It is not uncommon for the highest tenderer (who may have been the one you were originally going to select) to be 50% higher than the lowest tenderer in the case of home renovations. Or you may obtain better quality for a similar price. Many clients find that their Architect has managed to save them several times the architectural fee on this stage alone.
The drawings can also help owner builders. If you intend to select your own tradespeople and oversee their work (to save the cost of the builder's markup) then the architectural drawings will help you direct the tradespeople's work more confidently. Similarly if you are building or finishing off the work yourself, the detailed drawings will help you construct in line with good building practice.

b) Specifications. These set out the materials to be used and the standard of workmanship required of each trade. The headings in a typical specification set out the stages of building and the tasks of each tradesperson such as what is required of the excavator, bricklayer, carpenter and so on.

c) Liaises with Authorities. The local building authority will require a number of sets of your drawings and specifications, which will be checked against regulations before you are issued with approval to build. Your Architect liaises with the building surveyor to provide any additional information that may be required. Your Architect is familiar with their procedures and, as a consequence, can usually expedite the granting of approval.

Stage 4: Contract Administration

Your Architect can suggest a number of builders whose work of is of a good standard so that you can be more confident that the work will be carried out in a professional manner.

The areas that the Architect can help you with in this stage are:
The Contract – It’s recommended you choose a contract recognised by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA). Many other types are heavily loaded in the builders’ favour. Also make sure that the contract defines the responsibility of your Architect in the building process.
Starting on Site – Set aside time for regular contact with your Architect to discuss the progress of the works – whether or not the builder is on schedule and whether he is entitled to any time extensions.
Progress Payments – Many building contracts stipulate that the builder is paid progressively throughout the contract works. In some states, this is required by law. Your Architect will assess the progress of the work against the builder’s claims and advise you on the payments to be made. Make sure you only pay for the value of the work done and materials on site.
Variations - A variation is any deviation from the original contract. Your Architect's work up until now will have avoided many areas of confusion that normally lead to these however a few may still exist. Your Architect can mediate between you and the builder on variations, reducing on-site friction. They can also help you negotiate a reasonable variation amount, if any is reasonable.
Completion - Your Architect protects your interests during the final stages by issuing a 'Notice of Practical Completion'. This notice defines the date the building is handed over to you for your use and defines the start of the 'defects liability period' where an amount of money is retained by you to provide safeguards against defects arising after the building work is completed. It also defines the date that the builder ceases to have responsibillity of the works for insurance purposes.
Defects Liability Period - During the 'Practical Completion Inspection', which may take many hours, your Architect notes any defects (such as jamming doors and windows, structural cracks in concrete and plaster, gutters incorrectly levelled and so on) and may also discover faults that you weren't aware of. The builder remains liable for fixing these changes until your Architect issues a 'Final Certificate' which states that the works under the contract have been satisfactorily completed. This is where your Architect's services will be complete - often they will want to stay in touch to ensure your project was a long-term success.

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