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Working with your architect

Find an architect

When you use an architect you know that the person you are working with is highly qualified and has the skills in design, documentation and project delivery you need to help you realise your project.

Completing a successful architectural project will happen partly because you have a good working relationship with your architect. This guide describes what architects do for their clients and provides general advice about how to work best with your architect.

Your architect's role and obligations

Your architect is legally required to have a written agreement in place with you before they start providing architectural services. The NSW ARB has developed a free Short Form Architect Client Contract to assist architects and their clients.

Your architect is also obliged to abide by the NSW Architects Code of Professional Conduct. The Code details the ethics and standards expected of architects in their professional practice, including expectations for their dealings with clients, dealings with the public, and professional relationships with other architects, as well as requirements for them to carry professional indemnity insurance and undertake continuing professional development to maintain their knowledge and skills.

Depending on your client architect agreement, your architect will have a number of services to provide. Your architect will: 

  • Provide written terms of engagement (known as the client architect agreement) before any work is done for you and will give you a copy of the NSW Architects Code of Professional Conduct.
  • Develop a design solution appropriate to your needs and budget.
  • Communicate with you to ensure you understand the important steps in the project and important decisions to be taken, including any approvals required from your local Council.
  • Work with you to develop a detailed project specification that records your material selections, finishes and fittings to ensure these items are priced into the project by the builder.
  • If engaged to administer the building contract, your architect will act as your independent advisor on contractual matters like variations, progress payments and when the project reaches practical completion.

Typical architectural services

Typically, the services of an architect can be broadly divided into 3 phases. You may engage an architect for all or some of these phases. Whatever services you require should be agreed before work commences and be included in the written agreement between you and your architect. This ensures everyone is on the same page. Before the design phase starts you and your architect might discuss important decisions like project feasibility, planning rules and the likely project program or timeline.

1. Design. The design phase typically includes:

  • Briefing discussions to clarify your requirements, including an assessment of the regulations your building should comply with and any planning requirements.
  • Sketch designs to explore possibilities, usually including some cost options.
  • Design development to produce detailed drawings, select materials and fittings etc and identify associated cost of building work.

2. Contract documentation. Your architect will produce technical drawings and specifications to document your choices so that you can obtain building approval, invite tenders, and construct the design.

3. Contract administration. If you have agreed to engage your architect to administer the building contract, they can advise on suitable contracts for the project that balance your interests as the client with accepted industry safeguards for contractors and trades. This is essential for any tendering or negotiation with potential builders.

During construction, it is your builder that supervises the building works. But your architect will:

  • Liaise with the builder to assess quality of work at key stages and ensure that the contract and specifications are delivered as agreed.
  • Keep you informed of progress and let you know when key decisions need to be made.
  • Approve, with you, any variations in price or time delays (due to rain, heat or other valid reason set out in the contract).
  • Certify progress payments by you to the builder.
  • Identify any defects and administer their rectification.
  • Advise when practical completion occurs so you can move in.

The built works need to be certified by the Council or an independent certifier to make sure they are built correctly and according to regulations. Your architect generally acts as your representative here too and will keep you informed along the way.

Choosing an architect

The use of the title ‘architect’ is protected by law. Only individuals who are on the NSW Register of Architects may use this title. You can find a registered architect or check your architect’s registration status by searching the NSW Register of Architects available on the homepage of the NSW Architects Registration Board’s website. 

You may know which architect you want to use, or you may seek advice from the professional bodies – the Australian Institute of Architects or the Association of Consulting Architects. You may find it useful to ask friends who are building. Some local councils run design awards. Past winners of these awards have the advantage of being in your area and being highly regarded by Council. 

However you go about choosing your architect, you should make sure they are the right one for your project. The relationship you will have with your architect will be a close one. Here is some advice on getting the right 'fit' with your architect:

  • Firstly, outline your requirements in terms of what you want to achieve and your budget. Do your research before contacting 2 or 3 architects about your project. Architects expect you to obtain a few quotes.
  • Check the architect's qualifications and registration. Check the NSW Register of Architects and if in doubt call the NSW Architects Registration Board to ensure that the person you are dealing with is an architect.
  • Check out the architect's website for completed projects designed by the architect to see if you like work they have done.
  • Ask for client references to confirm the architect has good client relationships and whether previous clients are happy with the outcomes. Was the architect conscious of budget and time constraints? Was the client satisfied with the services they received? Is the client enjoying the project designed for them? Would the client recommend the architect? What would they do differently?
  • At the initial meeting with your chosen architect briefly outline the nature of your project and the budget you have in mind. Sometimes what you want to achieve will not align with your budget, so spend some time talking with your architect about what is really important to you. Often, this is where the creative solutions start. The architect can assist you to clarify and formulate your brief. Ask whatever questions you need to to satisfy your curiosity or to clear up any confusion or doubt. There are no wrong or silly questions. Discuss the services the architect will provide and the stages of the project. Clarify the fees involved (mindful that the cheapest fee quoted does not necessarily mean the best). Choose an architect who has experience in the type of project you are doing, who is a good communicator, and who has a track record of respecting their professional obligations. Make sure you have the right person for your job. Are you both a 'good fit' for each other?

Your role as the client

As the client, you are entitled to rely on the skills of your architect, but you also have an important role to play in assisting the realisation of your project:

  • Be as clear as possible about what you want to achieve, what you need, and what you can afford.
  • Do not hesitate to ask about the written client architect agreement before you sign it to clarify what will be done for what cost. It is important to clarify any aspects of the agreement that you don’t understand. Be clear about what is included and excluded in the architect’s scope of works.
  • Changes are best made early in the design process, so make sure your architect explains early sketch designs. The later in the process that changes are made, the more likely they are to have cost implications.
  • Be ready to select and engage other required consultants as advised by your architect. 
  • Be clear about the responsibilities of the architect, builder, sub-contractors and certifier.
  • If your architect is administering the building contract, avoid 3-way confusion by communicating all queries through your architect who will be the point of contact with the builder. This ensures your early discussions on what you wanted from the project are built-in all the way through.
  • Keep your own notes of meetings either in the office or on site. When decisions are flying, it can be useful to record them.
  • Give any instructions to your architect in writing.
  • Talk about timelines and be aware that many factors are beyond your architect’s control and may cause delays. These include delays in obtaining Council approvals, unseasonal weather, disruption in the supply of materials, and delays in construction due to matters outside the control of the architect.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions and be involved, but also allow your architect to do their job.
  • Be aware of your rights as a consumer of architectural services. The professional conduct of your architect is governed by the NSW Architects Code of Professional Conduct. Familiarise yourself with the Code provided to you when you sign the client architect agreement.
  • If you have a problem, first talk to your architect and try to resolve it. Be open. Many issues can be resolved if you speak up early. But if you have a complaint or need advice about the professional conduct of your architect, then you should contact the NSW ARB.
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