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There has been quite a few (formal and informal) studies into why people don’t use an architect when they are about to launch into a building project.  The top 5 reasons that I keep seeing pop are:

  • Architects are too expensive (and I can get the same thing from a cheaper option)
  • Architects are too conceited and therefore intimidating
  • I don’t need an architect because I know exactly what I want and I know how to design my house
  • Builders advise people to steer clear of architects
  • Architects can’t design a building that is in-keeping with my budget

Obviously there are other reasons, but these 5 keep popping up, so I thought I would talk about each of them to see if I can offer a different perspective on them…just in case you are wondering if you should engage an architect or not.

Architects are too expensive

This is a tough one to totally dispel because not every architect is the same, nor is every ‘cheaper option’ the same.  There may be some architects who are charging exorbitant fees and there may be draftspersons out there capable of comprehensively designing and documenting your new home.  But, the belief that ‘architects are too expensive’ is a blanket statement that simply lacks accuracy a lot of the time.

Many building designers can be as expensive as architects.  We have had our little business now for over 13 years and I can, hand on my heart, tell you that we are not driving around in Ferrari’s and Range Rovers (not that I am discrediting these cars or anyone that drives them). We are not out there marketing ourselves with the primary intention to build an empire.  We simply want to earn an honest living while being of service to the community…which it’s getting harder and harder to do so I might add.

The fact that we actually don’t charge the Earth for what we do is one thing, but the other crucial fact that I just HAVE to make you aware of is that you must compare apples with apples if you want a true comparison between architects and other options.  When you engage an architect, you are investing in not only someone who can draw floor plans and elevations, you are investing in someone – often a team of people, who should have a comprehensive understanding of, and experience in, the entire process  that is required to bring a building out of the ground.  From the skill of interpreting your dreams and desires, to graphically expressing this in a way that is easy for you to visualise, to knowing (or at least having access to) all the rules and regulations you need to abide by, to being able to work collaboratively with the team of consultants, to being able to offer suggestions and recommendations on materials, finishes and fittings, to having the confidence to represent you on site, to the vital art of problem solving that comes up in EVERY build.   

You can’t be blamed for thinking you are simply comparing the cost of one set of floor plans to another.  The intellect and behind the scenes knowledge that comes with a set of drawings from an architect is not always easy to see from the surface.  Quite often the added value is not black and white, but becomes evident – very evident, during the construction phase.  The smooth running of the project onsite can be directly proportional to the level of involvement a good architect has.

I could ramble all day on this topic, but you will lose interest so I will leave it at that…I think you get the picture.  Architects are not just glorified, overpriced versions of the other options you have.  We can (and in MANY instances do) represent very high value for money.   

Architects are too conceited and therefore intimidating

Yes, there are definitely architects out there who live for the power that they potentially have on a building site and/or behind the scenes.  That said, architects are just human beings which means we vary in personality immensely.  There can be conceited teachers, doctors, tilers, shop assistants…do you see what I’m saying?  I struggle with this one because I am so far from conceited that you wouldn’t believe.  I am confident, but as a service provider, I make it my business to be considerate, kind and approachable.  I will go far as to say that an architect simply can’t be good at their job if they can’t relate to their clients as well as the builders and consultants that they work with.  It would be like a bus driver who doesn’t have a license…they shouldn’t be gifted the task of transporting people around safely.  My best advice to dismiss this myth is to search for an architect that listens to you and respects you (and your dreams)….we do exist! 

I don’t need an architect because I know exactly what I want and I know how to design my house

There is no doubt that the most qualified person to know how they want their home to look, feel and cost is the client…absolutely no doubt about it.  Some people are extraordinarily gifted at sketching and graphically representing their thoughts…I actually envy those people because ironically I can’t freehand draw to save myself!  (Luckily for me I can use the tools available to me well enough to close the gap between myself and such talented folk).  There are also people who can visualise buildings, and most forms, in three dimensions beautifully (I reckon I’m on par with them on this one)…which means they can not only create their own floor plans, but can also generate some cracking elevations and/or 3D sketches of the homes/spaces that they want.  There is no doubt that if you are one of these people, you are ahead of the pack when it comes to working with your preferred designer.  As an architect, it is crucial to be critical…what I mean by this is that it is simply not enough to come up with a solution that ticks the boxes…we should be coming up with a variety of solutions and collaboratively deciding which is most suited.  The same idea can (well…should) be applied to the person that has created the dream home themselves.  An architect may be able to look at the design and offer a different solution that may not have been considered but may actually be more suitable…this is not to say that it is any worse that the original, but perhaps might be more suitable in terms of climate, orientation, constructability, liveability, compliance, etc.  

At this point also, I must reference again the unwritten (or undrawn in this case) value of the architect.  It is the experience (good, bad and ugly) and the knowledge of the building process that your architect should bring to the table that perhaps you may be lacking? Architecture is not JUST drawings floor plans and elevations…it is their role as your representative throughout the building process that is so valuable.         

Builder’s advise to steer clear of architects – talk about a collaborative process

It’s no secret that there are a lot of builders out there that roll their eyes and break out into a sweat when their client mentions that they are working with an architect.  In my experience there are also builders who hold architects in high regard.  The difference?  Their experience with architects and architectural designs and documentation. Often (hopefully) an architecturally designed and documented building is not a cookie-cutter solution and perhaps may even have emerged from some out of the box thinking.  The best solution for the client is not always the simplest and quickest solution for the builder.  Some builders find this challenging and hence don’t consider their experiences with architects as positive ones.  We have been a part of many builds where we have maintained a great working relationship with the builder…after all some of our best clients are builder-developers so we would be in a bit of a pickle if we didn’t get along with builders now wouldn’t we?!?!  The key is in the process – when to get the builder involved.  In many cases, it is beneficial to commence discussions between the architect and the builder right at the beginning of the design process.  Both parties play such critical roles in the creation of buildings that it seems crazy for the design process not to be a collaborative one if it’s possible.  A mutual respect for each other is the only way to ensure the best outcome.   


They can’t design a building that is in-keeping with my budget

If you have informed your architect of your budget and they have gone away and designed you something that totally blows your budget out of the water, then you are using the wrong architect.  Communication and collaboration need to be present EARLY in the design stage if you wish to keep your build on budget.  The client MUST communicate their budget and their desires/needs, and the architect MUST communicate where the client’s desires are out of alignment with their budget.  While we are by no means quantity surveyors (professionals whose job it is to place a value on proposed building projects based on current construction and material costs), architects should be able to give you a rough idea of the size and complexity of building you can afford and they should be able to collaborate with you, and the builder (if one has been appointed), in order to deliver a building that meets your budget.     

If there’s one thing I would love for readers of this blog to take away from it is that architects are not scary, nor do we wish to spend all of your hard earned savings for you.  At the end of the day we are service providers who ultimately want to give you the best possible experience when you are taking on a building project – whether it be a bathroom renovation, or a 30 storey apartment building.  Investing in an architect is more than investing in 2D drawings – it is an investment in a relationship and a specialised service.