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Residential FAQ

1. What does an architect do and how he/she can help your building project

An architect is a trained, qualified and registered professional in the design development and construction of a building project. Their role is to interpret and develop your ideas and transform them into reality whilst monitoring cost, quality and time on your behalf to ensure an added value end result that meets your budget and brief.

An architect will also assist you with getting approval from authority for your project in a timely manner.

2. What are the cost benefits of using an architect

The fee charged by an architect for design, documentation and contract administration is a small percentage of the total cost of constructing and operating the building throughout its useful life. By investing in the services of an architect, you ensure an exploration of various options for the design of your project. Through good spatial design and use of cost effective material, an architect can enhance the value of your site and may produce significant savings in areas such as in energy usage (heating/cooling & lighting), re-use of materials, etc.

3. How do architects charge?

An architect’s fee varies between projects. The basis of the fee depends on the type and complexity of the project. It may be worked out as a percentage of the building cost, on an hourly basis, or simply as an agreed fixed sum.

Fees for domestic residential work may range from 5% and 10% for full services and considerably less for partial services.This flexibility enables you and your architect to settle on a fee that fits your individual circumstances.

4. Step by step of architect’s role in building process

Architects work generally can be divided into five broad stages:
1. Schematic Design
What is the maximum area we can build? Do we build out or up? Should we choose to knock down and rebuild or renovate and extend?

These questions and others are schematic design questions. Your architect will use their knowledge and experience; considering siting, orientation, massing, circulation and energy efficiency in producing the most effective solutions to answer your brief. The schematic designs will also take into account local council requirements.

At this stage, it is also important to discuss your budget with your if you have one in mind. In some cases, a cost control specialist maybe appointed to establish a budget that you are comfortable with. Your architect will also advise you on the need for other consultants if applicable such as surveyors, mechanical engineers etc. By taking on a coordinating role, your architect will contribute to the efficiency and cost control of your fitout project.

2. Design Development
This is the stage where the schematic design is refined and detailed to meet your requirements. This stage finalises the ‘look’ of the building and your architect will show you a range of options regarding choice of building materials. Your Architect can outline the merits of each, determine their likely costs and help you decide: “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?”

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 like to use. Your architect will also coordinate the contributions of specialist consultants as required. This might include mechanical/electrical/hydraulic engineers, landscape designers, energy consultants etc.

It is important that you are involved closely to ensure that you approve the design development drawings because the complex process of getting authority approvals and preparing detailed documentation/working drawings and specifications will be based on the design you approve.

3. Getting approval
Approvals for your project must be obtained from a number of authorities. Commonly a DA application needs to be obtained from local council or for suitable minor development projects, a CDC can be also be obtained from private certifier. Your architect can submit the application together with the relevant drawings on your behalf (as the owner, you must give your consent and sign the application form) and respond to any technical queries raised by the authorities during the application process.

Approval given by the authorities at this stage is indicative only of overall acceptance of the design proposal it is not an approval for construction. Applications for Construction Certificate (CC application) are lodged after more detailed construction documents have been completed. This application can be lodged to local council or through an approved private certifier.

4. Detailed Documentation
Following the authority consent for the proposed design, your architect will prepare detailed working drawings and specifications which will be used in the construction process as well as to call for tenders and negotiate prices with potential builders.

Construction documents are detailed and complex, they require specific skill, experience and time to prepare. They consist of a set of fully dimensioned drawings which set out dimensions, setbacks, materials, levels, wall heights, window/door sizes, etc. with by a written specification giving full description, detail and direction as to all work to be carried out.

As well as the material prepared by your architect, the construction documents often include drawings and specifications prepared by any specialist consultants appointed for your project in the design development stage.

5. Contract Administration
This stage includes tendering and administering the progress of construction. With tendering, your architect will prove very useful in finding suitable builders and negotiating good tender pricing. Your architect’s input is invaluable because once a competent builder is on the job, you can be far more confident that the work will be carried out in a professional manner.

Having been responsible for the design and documentation, your architect has an intimate understanding of what is required by the contract and is therefore in the best position to administer it on your behalf. Your architect will conduct regular site visits as required and offer professional judgment in a variety of ways including:

  • assessing and certifying progress payments
  • issuing, assessing, referring and authorising any contract variations
  • assessing/determining compliance of materials and workmanship against that specified in the contract
  • assessing and determining any extensions of time
  • determining and formally notifying the date of practical completion
  • notification of faults during the ‘maintenance period’
  • determining completion and final certification

5. How do I set a realistic budget for my new home?

It is important to set a realistic budget if you decide to engage an architect to design your new home so your architect can suggest design solutions that meet your budget as well as your brief.

At present, a rough sqm construction cost for a custom design house starts from $2,500 per sqm and can go up to $5000 per sqm depending on the quality and level of finish required. It is important to avoid over or under investing in your new home. As a rule of thumb, your construction budget should be a similar value to the value of your land.

6. What is a 3D visualization and why it is one of the most useful tools in building design?

3D visualization is a tool used by architects to help their client visualize the end result of a project. 3D visualization can be achieved in the form of virtual walkthroughs and/or photo realistic renders using specialized computer programs such as Sketch up, 3D studio max, Revit etc.

Not everyone is accustomed to reading 2 dimensional architectural drawings therefore by presenting a 3D visualization really helps the client see exactly what they are getting. This is also a great marketing/promotional tool for owners, investors and/or real estate agent who are selling ‘off plan’ development projects.

7. How long does council takes to approve a DA application? How about a CDC application?

Legislation requires councils to process a planning application within a maximum of 42 days Processing times vary depending on:

  • The complexity of the application
  • The number of applications already being considered by the council
  • Whether all of the necessary information has been provided at the beginning

CDC (Complying Development) application is applicable to selected minor development that meets certain requirements set within state government regulation and this type of application is entitled to speedy approval process and usually only takes maximum of 10 working days to obtain approval.

8. How do I select a builder?

Architects are usually involved in the process of selecting a builder through private tendering. This process involves pre-selection of a group of builders who have a good track record in your type of project. (Selective tendering such as this is normally restricted to three or four building contractors.)

In selecting a builder, it is essential to consider more than just the tender price. Your architect will assist you in evaluating tenders through consideration of the following factors:

  • value for money
  • tenderer’s ability to meet the project
  • tenderer’s experience and reputation in your type of project
  • tenderer’s financial stability.

9. Which contract to sign with your builder

Selecting the right building contract can be critical to the success of a project. The contract should be selected to suit each individual project, taking account of its complexity, value and any specific project issues or requirements.
There is a variety of contracts available, each issued by different governing bodies such as building contracts by master builders association and Fair Trading home building contracts made available by office of fair trading.

Another form of contract is The Australian Building Industry Contracts (ABIC) are jointly published by Master Builders Australia (Master Builders) and the Australian Institute of Architects (Institute). This contract is recommended where an architect will be administering the contract.

ABIC contracts are designed to make contract administration clear and less prone to dispute or time-consuming negotiation. Promptly resolving claims and other issues that arise under building contracts at the time that they arise is an effective way of avoiding disputes on construction projects

10. How to avoid variation during construction

When an architect provides complete documentation for the construction of your project, most areas of possible misunderstanding and confusion are removed and variations to the work are kept to a minimum; however, unforeseeable variations may arise due to the discovery of unexpected site conditions, authority requirements or simply if you change your mind during construction.

With their training and experience, your architect is equipped to provide advise on options to minimize or avoid increases in building costs. When variations are unavoidable, your architect will act on your behalf to negotiate an equitable contract adjustment with the builder.