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How to Choose an Architect

One of the most important decisions you will have to make is selecting the right architect.

Building your dream home is both an exciting and daunting project if you decided to take on the challenge. Unless you are a builder yourself, you will need to find a team of professionals who you can trust to turn your vision into reality. One of the most important decisions you will have to make at the start of this process is selecting the right architect.

What does the architect do?

While most of us think of the architect as the creative designer of a project, they play an integral role in determining many more fundamental decisions and details needed to deliver a home. In general, their key tasks include preparing the brief, concept sketches and production drawings which detail all the elements of the home.

How to choose an architect
AluSpace by Alspec
Photo credit: Richard Whitbread

They are responsible for resolving the project with the client to meet their budget and to liaise with other professionals such as town planners, engineers, landscape architects and quantity surveyors. They obtain the necessary building approvals and prepare the specifications and contract documents for the build.

Depending on the contract, they can also be involved with managing trades and final details such as furnishings.

How to choose an architect
Elwood House, Melbourne VIC

Who can be an architect?

The term ‘architect’ can only be used by those who are registered with the relevant Architects Registration Board in their state. To register they must hold a degree, or other qualification in architecture accredited and approved by the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia.

They must comply with the Code of Professional Conduct of their state board, demonstrate continuing professional development, and confirm they have appropriate insurance coverage.

How to choose an architect
Skyview Apartments, Rockhampton, QLD

Sharing your vision

Before speaking to an architect, invest some time in writing down what you want and gather pictures of homes you’ve seen and liked, both inside and out. Describe what is important to you and what you want them to prioritise, particularly if the site has constraints. For example, do you want to:

  • Maximise open space
  • Cater for large gatherings
  • Embrace the indoor-outdoor lifestyle
  • Be an eco-friendly build

How to choose an architect
Haberfield House, Sydney NSW

Your ‘wish list’ might include some things not be achievable with your budget but knowing your priorities and discussing them early on with the architect will help avoid issues later.

Gathering a short list

Nothing beats a personal referral, particularly if you have seen a home in a style you like. Don’t be afraid to knock on doors and ask who their architect was.

Use the internet to look at websites showcasing architects, such as ArchDaily or Architecture & Design.

How to choose an architect
Walkerville, South Australia

The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) also offers a 'find an architect' feature where you can search their 11,000 member database.

Members of the AIA commit to upholding the highest of industry standards and identified by their use of the institute logo ‘A+’ on their websites and communications.

How to choose an architect
Summer Hill, NSW

How do they charge?

The cost of an architect will depend on many factors including how ‘hands on’ you want them to be in terms of managing contractors, approvals, and supervision during the build. All these details will need to be specified in the brief and in the final contract.

Architects charge differently, with some adopting a percentage fee model (based on the overall project cost or budget) while others stipulate a fixed fee. However, even a fixed fee will need provision for contingencies as not all costs can be anticipated at project commencement. On smaller projects, they may charge an hourly fee.

How to choose an architect
Waterside House, Earlwood, NSW

Review the shortlist

Once you have a shortlist of potential architects it is time to make some phone calls. Some key questions to ask are:

  • Can they describe their project process (e.g. do they do a feasibility study and give a rough estimate before doing detailed design?)
  • Will they be your main point of contact throughout?
  • What type of fee structure do they use?
  • What does their fee typically include/exclude? (ask for a draft contract to review)
  • How many options do they provide for their design? (three is common)
  • Who chooses the final materials and finishes?
  • Expected timeframes for a build like yours (including design, permits and construction)
  • Do they have preferred builders they will be recommending?
  • Can they give your referees for similar builds?

Final selection

After comparing their answers and talking to referees you should end up with a good picture of the type of architect they are and whether they are someone you can work with through the life of the project. Having a clear understanding of the architect’s role from the outset should help smooth the way for your journey together creating your dream home.


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