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What is the difference between an architect, a building designer and a draftsperson?

In the world of residential designs, it can be confusing who to choose to design your home as they can all perform the same role. But just as you can build a house with either a couple of drawings roughly describing what's there or a full detailed set, there can be a significant difference between what you get from an architect or a building designer or a draftsperson. 

In Australia, to be legally identified as an architect, a person must have a formal tertiary education / degree in architecture and then have a minimum of 2 years practical experience before being able to sit the registration exams (both written and interview). When this next level of screening examinations are completed, the architect can begin practising as along as they are covered by the minimum level of Professional Indemnity Insurance and is register as a practising architect with the local state governing body.

In Victoria, this is the Architects Registration Board of Victoria (ARBV). This registration has to be renewed yearly to ensure that your architect is still fit to practise ; ensuring that your architect is held to a certain standard. Architects are expected to complete a certain number of hours of Professional Development in order to  keep up to date with the industry.

This stringent level of study and regulation ensures that when you hire an architect, you know that they are qualified, experienced and registered to not only design your home but is trained to manage the entire design and construction process. How an architect works with you is also generally different as they will often spend longer in the design phase, testing different options to maximise the best possible outcome for your space and investment - which is a main area of skill as opposed to a side component. 

Architects are trained to assess your practical needs as well as your lifestyle needs. Often, an architect will include more drawings in their documentation because they are more focused on the quality of the finish and detailing. It is also easier for the builder to come up with more accurate quotes if there are more drawings, details and specifications to follow as there will be less 'on the spot' design solutions during construction. 

Your architect will not only take into account what you want, they will also recommend and suggest ideas which will complement your original brief. If they have a suggestion which may contradict what you have requested, they will let your know and explain why. You can then choose to proceed with your initial decision or you may discover that you like the other option better.

In many states, you do not need any qualification to become a building designer. In Victoria however, there is more protection when employing a Building Designer. In addition to having the necessary technical skills and insurance, under the Victorian Building Act (1993) a building designer has to be registered and governed by the Building Practitioners Board under the category of 'Draftsperson, Class of Building Design (Architectural)'. 

There is currently no governing board or regulation for a Draftsperson. While draftspeople often work hand in hand with Architects and Building Designers, their focus and training is predominantly on the technical aspects of drafting. 

While the above comments cover the general role differences between Architects, Building Designers and Draftspeople, this is not necessarily the case with every building designer or draftsperson. 

Is an Architect more expensive than a Building Designer or a Draftsperson?

While you can pay more for the expertise of an Architect, this is not necessarily the case. It all really depends on what your job entails.

An Architect will charge more for a custom house/renovation/extension because of the additional time required. Keep in mind that building your own home will be one of the most expensive investments in your lifetime; you would want the design, layout and specifications to all be carefully explored and thought out because once it is built, it will be there for a very long time. Often with a custom home, I find that I learn so much about what the client wants and how they live that the home becomes very precious to me too. We often get passionate about the design and spend a lot more time on it in order to get the best possible outcome.

If your project is an investment - for example a subdivision project, quite often an architect will charge a similar price to a building designer or a draftsman because they know the client will not have as much of an emotional attachment to the house. While the quality of the home will still be great, there is less time spent personalising the design and a more standardised selection of materials; designed to appeal to a wider range of the population as opposed to a specific lifestyle.

Architects can charge the same or even sometimes be cheaper for simple projects - it all really depends on what you want done and how much time it all takes.

In the grand scheme of your project, whether your project budget is ~$150k or $10mil, your architect's fees is still a small portion of that cost especially since everything else is dependent on how well the initial stages of design and documentation is done.

Note: Do keep in mind that the fees an architect charges proportionate to how much work is involved. While your budget for a renovation/extension may be $250k as opposed to new build with a budget of ~$600k, if there are complications to the project and a lot more time is involved, the fees could be very similar. Even for a renovation, you may still need the same amount of drawings as you would for a whole new house.

How do I choose between an Architect, a Building Designer or a Draftsperson?

Choosing between an Architect, Building Designer or Draftsperson really depends on what you want done. Choosing a cheaper option during the design phase of  may mean that you spend more later on when it turns out there are issues which haven't been resolved earlier on and you have to either redo the work or pay for variations. 

While cost is often a factor in selection, the most important thing is to be comfortable with whoever you choose. The design and build process is a collaboration not just between your architect and other consultants but between you and your architect. You will be working together quite closely so a good working relationship is very important. You can have the cheapest designer or most talented, if their personality does not match well with yours, you will have a nightmare of a time. Remember, designing and building your own home or investment can be a stressful process even with a great architect. But you should still be excited and have fun along the way.

Someone who communicates well with you and that you can put your trust in, should be how you decide. 

Now you will say to me, how will I know if I can get along with my Architect or designer?

Sometimes, it will be easy to tell from the initial consultation whether you feel comfortable enough to proceed. More often than not though, unless it is someone who is a friend of a friends or there is some sort of existing connection, it can be extremely daunting signing a contract to work together based on 1 meeting. I suggest in this case that you either proceed with the initial design exploration/feasibility phase at an hourly rate or  agree to a set fee for just the initial phases with the option to continue later on. Then, when you've worked together long enough to get a better gauge, you can set up the agreement for the rest of the project.