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No one can be blamed for being totally confused about who they should engage to design their new home, development, renovation, deck extension.  The terms architect, draftsperson and building designer are forever being thrown around…particularly now with the internet and social media.

But who is the best suited to deliver MY next project? 

In order to answer this question, two main things need to be ascertained:

  • What is the difference between the three terms; and
  • What does your next project entail?

 So…What is the difference between an architect, a building designer and a draftsperson?  One of the main differences comes down to the extent and content of the study required to become one of these. 

Let me break it down for you…

In Australia, a person must be Board Registered in order to use the title of ‘Architect’.  This means they have completed a 5-6 year university degree (recognised), completed a minimum of 2 years on the job experience, sat and passed a written registration exam, sat and passed an interview exam, and finally declare annually that they are fit to practice architecture and that they continually complete the minimum amount of continued professional development (CPD) in order to maintain their registration.  If someone has their university degree but have not undertaken and/or passed the registration process, they are referred to as a Graduate Architect.

A draftsperson has typically undertaken a TAFE course to learn how to document, or draw, buildings.  As far as I know, this is not mandatory and some draftspersons may not have completed a TAFE course but acquired their skill on the job.

Finally, a building designer.  Again, there are TAFE courses that can provide this qualification.   The QBCC (QLD Building and Construction Commission) is responsible for issuing Building Design Licenses, which a building designer must hold (appropriate for the scope of works they are undertaking – low, medium or high rise) in order to practice as a building designer in Queensland.

This is the best clarification I can give…hopefully it goes some way towards explaining the situation. 

So…I guess here is where I should be recommending everyone to use architects given the extensive qualification requirements they have to fulfil before they can even call themselves an architect.    However, the fact of the matter is that an architect may not always be your best option.  The second, equally important, factor to be considered is what your project actually entails.

Building projects vary so extraordinarily – from a simple bathroom renovation, to a 30 story high-rise apartment building…and everything in between!  The architectural assistance you require will vary equally extraordinarily.  For instance, if you are giving your bathroom a facelift (as in keeping all the plumbing and fixture locations the same but changing the tiles and fittings), you might get more value from asking your bestie who has impeccable taste (that matches yours), than going to a specialist interior designer.  Likewise, if you are wanting to transform your humble 150sqM two bedroom home into a 500sqM five bedroom home, you probably want to consider using an architect, a specialist in the design field, to make sure you are realising the maximum potential – in terms of quality, not just quantity, of the site and the original home.  When you are proposing to dramatically alter the envelope of the home, you really need to engage someone who has the knowledge of what you can and can’t do, as well as the knowledge of how to make it look and function the way you want it to.

I would (perhaps dangerously) compare architects to specialist doctors.  If I had a fever, or a head cold, or needed immunisation, or some other straightforward ailment that you would expect a GP to be able to diagnose and treat, then I would not spend the extra money on taking myself to a specialist who might charge more than the GP *NOTE: Don’t always assume architects are more expensive that building designers and draftspersons, this is not always the case*.  If, on the other hand, I didn’t quite know what I was dealing with, or I had something going on that wasn’t run of the mill, or I knew my condition was more complicated than normal, then I would seek a more specific assistance.  A similar concept can be applied to your design project.  If you know exactly what you want (and are not interested in considering other options) and you are familiar with the process – or even if you’re not familiar with the process but you are confident you can work it out, or if you know you are simply needing a straightforward solution which you are certain can be reached by a draftsperson or building designer, then why would you engage a specialist?

Just to add another layer to the decision of who to engage for your next building project, you can’t ignore the fact that within each of the three tiers of designers, there are varying types.  For instance, there are architects that specialise in residential architecture, as well as commercial, retail and industrial.  This isn’t to say that if a designer specialises in one form of architecture, that they can’t also do a good job in another form of architecture, but it is definitely wise to consider their area of expertise in conjunction with their capabilities, and their fees.  To apply a similar notion as the one above, if I had a sore back, I wouldn’t go and see an ear nose and throat specialist.

Then of course is the personality and style of the designer.  If you have undertaken any kind of building project before, you don’t need me to tell you how important it is to maintain a positive working relationship with the person and/or people who are responsible for the way the project takes shape.  Whether it be the builder (if you decide not to engage a professional to represent/assist you throughout the construction phase), or the architect/designer, or site manager, you need to be able to communicate well with them.  If you don’t like the person, or at least like the way they handle things, then chances are your relationship with them will become stresses.  It is so important to build an open, honest and communicative rapport with your designer, from concept stage through to completion. If you don’t feel like you can comment, or give feedback (whether it be positive or negative) on the design, then you may end up settling on a design/outcome that you are not 100% happy with.     

Actually, at this point I am going to add another layer to the onion…the client themselves.  Your personality and indeed your lifestyle will definitely influence the decision you should make about whether to use and architect or not.  If you are someone that is time poor and at capacity, or even if you are someone who just likes things planned out and resolved before they happen, then engaging an architect might be a wise decision for you.  If on the other hand, you are very hands-on and someone who loves a challenge, maybe finds it hard to delegate, or if you love the adrenalin rush of confrontation, then perhaps you would be happy to (first do the adequate research) create the designs yourself, or in conjunction with a draftsperson, and tackle any on-site issues that arise during the construction without the need to enlist a specialist.   

There is a good fit for every project – the fit needs to be good between the project (scope), the client and the designer.  When one or more of the three elements of the equation doesn’t fit well, that’s when problems can arise.  I can’t stress enough just how smoothly and more enjoyable a project runs if and when all the fits are good.  

Selfishly, I wish there was no second and third tier in the industry…I wish everyone who was responsible for providing expertise in the design, documentation and project management field was required to undergo the same extent of study and experience, but they are not and that’s why we have such a vast variety of people offering these services, and why the topic has given rise to many discussions over the years.