Guide to Choosing an Architect for Your New House Project.
Embarking on your first house build can be both an exhilarating and daunting venture, especially considering the extra pressures of making the single biggest investment that you’re likely to make in your entire life. So, it’s important to design a home that perfectly suits your needs, preferences, and lifestyle, so choosing an architect is a task that should be conducted carefully. The design and build process can be complex, involving numerous decisions about design, materials, regulations, and more. Unsurprisingly, most first-time home builders instinctively turn to their local architects before they’ve even fully conceptualized what they want to build.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the vast majority of clients embarking on their first build are not well-versed in the fundamentals of building a house. They may not fully understand the intricate design factors that can maximize the value of their investment and deliver an optimum outcome.
This is something we’re trying to improve at The Build Review because educating our clients will ultimately help improve our industry to design and build better quality, sustainable, and healthy homes for less, and hopefully make our trades more efficient and collaborative.
So, working with an experienced architect can become invaluable. However, it’s crucial to choose the right design team, for me, one that includes a specialist lighting designer and a thermal and passive design consultant. If your design is complex and structurally challenging, ensure your civil and structural engineer is involved at the conceptual design stage.
Building houses is not a relay race; it’s a collaborative effort. Mistakes and added complexity often result from passing the baton from person to person. So, try and include an experienced builder during the design stage. They will not only help the designer optimize their design for buildability but will make the build easier to construct, ultimately saving you a lot of money and time.
Before you start, do your homework. Put together a scrapbook of houses, spaces, interiors, features, materials, colours, and textures you like. Remember, it’s your home. You are going to live in it, not your designer, so make sure you get what you want in your home, no matter how quirky the feature may be.
I can’t stress this point enough, designers like me are creatives who usually have a design or two they want to build. Don’t be our guinea pig. Ensure you get what you want and if you don’t like something, say so. Again, it’s your money and your house!
I hope this guide will help you understand when you need an architect, the cost implications, and how to select the best one for your project. It will also provide insights into the critical role an architect plays in translating your vision into a tangible, functional, and aesthetically pleasing home. Remember, this is just my opinion based on my experience, so take from it what you will.
When to Use an Architect:
1. Complex Projects: If your new house project involves complex forms, unique design elements, or is a large-scale project, an architect’s expertise is invaluable. They can help you navigate the design process, ensuring that the final product is both aesthetically pleasing and functionally sound.
2. Custom Design: If you want a home that’s tailored to your specific needs and lifestyle, an architect can translate your vision into a feasible design. They are trained to think creatively and spatially, and can offer innovative solutions to design challenges.
3. Navigating Building Codes and Regulations: Building a new house involves navigating complex building codes and zoning laws. An architect should be familiar with these regulations and can ensure your design is compliant.
4. You want an architect to oversee the build, ensuring the design elements are being built as per your requirements.
5. If it is important for you to say that your house was designed by an architect.
6. If you feel an architecturally designed home will increase a property’s value, like real estate agents often say. Whereas I believe good design is good design, regardless of who designs it.
When You Don’t Need an Architect:
1. Simple Projects: If you’re building a simple house with a straightforward design, you may not need an architect. A competent builder, structural engineer, or contractor will also be able to handle the project.
For what it’s worth, look at award-winning house designs from around the world. Most of them are simple in design but use different materials and textures to add contrast, character and style. Just because the design is simple doesn’t mean you’re not going to get an amazing outcome. I love Scandinavian design, it’s simple and functionally perfect for me. But design is also subjective and represents a point in time. What looks great today may date quickly and be an eyesore in the future, so that’s why I like simplicity, it lasts the test of time better than some convoluted and complex designs.
2. Using Stock Plans: If you’re using a pre-designed plan, an architect may not be necessary. However, if you want to modify these plans significantly, it might be worth consulting an architect, architectural designer, or your experienced builder.
Hiring an architect can be a significant cost. Architect fees can range from 10-20% of the total project cost, depending on the architect’s experience and the project’s complexity. However, remember that an architect can also help avoid costly design errors, ensure regulatory compliance, and potentially increase the value of your home through good design.
Always allow budget contingency and even enlist the services of a good quantity survey to get a better handle on the costs. If you have trouble visualising what has been designed get a 3D visualisation done. These can be done inexpensively by third-parties and may save design and build variations during the project if caught during the design stage.
It’s important to consider that some architects will ‘clip-the-ticket’ on materials and products, especially if they are specifying the products or handling the procurement activities. Most architectural bodies forbid charging a commission for products but in my experience, it does happen a lot. This can add significant cost to your build so make sure you have full visibility of the purchases or better still, use a dedicated procurement company to handle the project purchasing activities. Procurement companies usually get better buying rates and you should get better visibility of your true costs.
I know one small to medium sized architectural practice in Auckland that won’t take on a house project unless they can realize a minimum $1M profit, not turnover, profit. To me, that is astounding, but it is also a reality of business in some cases. Do I feel that is value for money? No, but I’m not the client and they may be happy with that investment for the house they get.
I notice some architects are starting to charge for their services on a time and materials basis. This I feel is a better model as it means that the costs are more in line with other trades and professional services offered in the building industry.
When interviewing potential architects, consider the following:
1. Have they ever built their own home? This can give you insight into their practical experience and understanding of the process from a homeowner’s perspective. Why is this important you may ask, well, until you have used your own money to build your own home I don’t feel you’ve learned how to really economize your build.
2. Review their design portfolio. Do you like their style? Does it suit your project? An architect’s portfolio will give you a sense of their design aesthetic and capabilities and will help you determine if they are a good fit.
3. Ask about their experience with projects of similar scale and complexity to yours.
4. Discuss your budget openly. An experienced architect should be able to give you a rough estimate of the total project cost, including their fees.
5. Ask for references from previous clients. This can give you insight into their reliability, communication style, and how well they stick to budgets and timelines.
6. How open are they with working with other designers like passive design and lighting consultants? These are areas where most architects could be offered some help so it’s important that they are open to help and advice.
7. Ask if your architect will accommodate a time and materials fee structure.
8. Last but not least, make sure they communicate with you at a level you are comfortable with. If you feel intimidated or uncomfortable during the interview in any way then look elsewhere. You need to build a good relationship with your design and building team so make sure you start on the right foot because every build will experience some difficulties, and you need to be able to resolve these issues as a collaborative and productive team.
Choosing whether or not to hire an architect is a significant decision. It’s essential to consider the complexity of your project, the cost implications, and the value that an architect can bring to your new house project. By asking the right questions, you can find an architect who is a good fit for your project and can help turn your dream home into a reality. But remember, like every profession, there are the good, the bad, and the downright dysfunctional. Do your research carefully.