Insight: Working With An Architect

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Are you thinking about building a new home or renovating? Wondering what it's like to work with an architect? AAA Vice president and registered architect Ben Gerstel gives you an insight into the process.

By Ben Gerstel

Architects through their degree, training and experience make people’s lives better by designing and improving the spaces they live in by making them more inviting to enjoy.

The common fallacy is that architects cost a lot. Yes, there are fees to engage an architect, but the architect has been engaged to provide a service to meet a client’s brief. A professional architect works within a client’s budget.

The best way to find an architect is to speak to friends who have had a successful relationship and build with their architect. Or, by having a look around your suburb for projects that visually appeal to you so then you can find out who the architect was.

The journey with an architect in creating your design solution is not something that happens overnight. There are stages the architect and client work through.

A productive architect at an initial meeting with the client will do a walkthrough of the existing house and suggest ideas the clients may not have thought of and that will improve and benefit the spaces. The architect will ask for a brief and indicative budget from the clients.

Difficult questions should be asked at the initial meeting which can clarify the client’s mind exactly how they want to approach their design, such as:

  • Is this a long or short term house?
  • Is the house in the right location for work and schools?
  • Is the family unit complete, for example, no more children?
  • In the future, will there be a home office, so a space is allowed for this?
  • Is this the house to spend the money on?

It’s wise for clients to obtain a 10.7 Certificate from Council prior purchasing a property which states what you can do on the site and highlights items like if the site is located in a conservation area, a flood prone or bushfire prone site.

The usual process for an architect when they have been engaged by a client (after the client accepts the architect’s fee proposal and have signed a client / architect agreement) is to produce a drawing of the existing house and suggest to the clients to engage a registered surveyor to produce a detailed survey of their site.

A survey indicates the lay of the land through levels, site features, utilities, neighbouring properties, site area etc. These two plans enable the architect to start designing to the clients brief.

The usual stages of an architect’s works are as follows:


Where the architect interprets the client brief, work with Council controls, for example, Council’s development and local environment plans. These documents state factors which have to be complied with ie. floor and landscaped areas, height limits and how much of the site can be developed.

Detailed Design and Development:

The design is developed including input from consultants like a structural engineer

Development Application Lodgement:

This is where plans are lodged to gain approval from either Council or if the design complies with a Complying Development Certificate. These are the two avenues for approval.


The architect amasses a tender package where all items are detailed to go out to tender to builders. For example:

Large scale plans, electrical layouts, reflected ceiling plans, bathroom, kitchen, laundry details, construction details and a specification.

Selective Tendering:

This is where builders are selected to provide a price on the tender package. The builders have been selected by either recommendations from the client or the architect has used them before. They can be checked at the Department of Fair Trading to see they have a valid builder’s license. All builders are pricing on the same tender package.

Contract Administration:

A builder has been selected, contracts are signed between the clients and the builder and the architect administers the contract through site meetings, builder’s claims and progress certificates.

Practical Completion:

The project is finished and everyone is happy with their beautiful, architect designed house.

  • Article: Ben Gerstel
  • Image: Ben Gerstel with tour participants on the Castlecrag walking tour
  • Photographer: Annette Dearing

This Month At Home Visits A Ken Woolley Classic

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On Sunday 25 August, 'At Home' invites you to explore a Twentieth Century residence designed by Sydney School architect - Ken Woolley.

Tucked away in Paddington, this white brick modernist house was the winner of the Australian Institute of Architects (NSW) Wilkinson Award for outstanding residential design in the 1980's.

Tone Wheeler, architect and AAA President will talk about Ken Woolley and this iconic award winning house along with architect Milenko who has restored/renovated the Paddington house.


Location: Paddington, NSW
Please note that the address and meeting point will only be forwarded to ticket holders in the days immediately before the tour.
Time: 11.00am - 12.00pm
Date: Sunday 25 August 2019
Tickets: $35 (Early Bird) / $45 (Public) / $30 (AAA Members)

Don't miss your opportunity to experience this private residence, numbers are limited.

Book your place on the tour, click here.


  • Article: Vanessa Couzens & Annette Dearing
  • Image: Paddington House designed by Ken Woolley (Images supplied by Tone Wheeler)

June's AAA Residential Coach Tour

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The last Australian Architecture Association Residential Tour was held on the 22nd of June this year. It was a fabulous all day tour which went from Avalon to Darlinghurst, and covered 5 projects. Everyone had their tastes met in architecture.

On these tours, you meet like-minded people who are interested in contemporary architecture, you make friends and enjoy a fabulous meal plus you get to meet the architects who designed the houses.

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The first house at Avalon was a brand new house designed by a young architect, Angus Wirth, for his parents. Working under Drew Heath and Peter Stutchbury, the house was amazing with some very clever, well thought out ideas. The dominant materials were concrete and timber. He used dowels to lock the sliding doors and when they were open, the dowel was hidden in the door frame.

The next project was a major house renovation in Northbridge by Marston Architects. It turned a 1980’s Tuscan styled house into a contemporary family home with a first floor addition and a large skylight over the aqua front door.

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After a delicious and enjoyable lunch at Martha’s restaurant in Castlecrag, AAA visited 3 more projects. The first for the afternoon was a new house by CHROFI in Balmoral. Highly detailed, making the most of the site and view to Balmoral Beach. The street was architecture heaven with 2 Luigi Rosselli houses and one Clinton Murray / Polly Harbison house.

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Next was a new house by Jorge Hrdina in Seaforth. The site had the most spectacular view to Middle Harbour. The design wrapped itself around the site to maximise the view. This house also utilised a lot of concrete and had a timber truss roof system.

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The last viewing was a tiny 27 square metre apartment in Darlinghurst. It provided a strong contrast to the other houses visited on the tour. Brad Swartz, the architect, managed to include a kitchen, bathroom, living / dining and bedroom spaces all into that tiny area. Everyone was blown away about how clever it was and how you can live quite easily in such a confined space.

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Don’t miss the next AAA residential coach tour which will take place in the Sunshine Coast on the 17th of August 2019 where more exciting houses will be viewed...

Click here to book your place on the next AAA Residential Coach Tour in the Sunshine Coast.


Ben Gerstel is the Vice President of the Australian Architecture Association and runs his practice Ben Gerstel Architecture out of Castlecrag.

He has developed numerous tours for the AAA in Castlecrag, Castle Cove, Middle Cove, Northbridge, McMahons Point, Woollahra, and Chippendale. 

  • Article: Ben Gerstel
  • Photographer: Vanessa Couzens
  • Image 1: Avalon Residence designed by Angus Wirth
  • Image 2: Architect Angus Wirth talks about his design for an Avalon Residence.
  • Image 3: Pip Marston of Marston Architects talks about the design of a Northbridge Residence.
  • Image 4: Steve Fighera of CHROFI Architects talks about the design of a Mosman Residence.
  • Image 5: Jorge Hrdina of Jorge Hrdina Architects talks about the design of a Seaforth Residence
  • Image 6: Brad Swartz talks about the design of a Darlinghurst Apartment.

Last Chance to book Iconic Buildings Talk on the Salk Institute

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Don't miss out on early Bird ticket prices which end this Monday at 10am (AEST), for the second talk in the AAA 'Iconic Buildings of the 20th Century' series, taking place this week on Thursday 8 August 2019. Hosted by Brickworks Studio, you will be enthralled as Tone Wheeler, architect and President of the Australian Architecture Association, reveals the story of how the iconic building - the Salk Institute, designed by American architect Louis Kahn, was conceived and executed.


Louis Kahn’s mid century buildings are enigmas.

Architecture students wonder what the fuss is about: the austere highly geometric forms, the starkness, the unyielding formality.

The rigorous texts that accompany the works and Kahn’s reputation as a great teacher don’t seem reflected in the buildings. And then on a visit their ‘first Kahn' their attitude reverses: these are the greatest works of architecture of the 20th C. 

They become devotees and almost religious proselytisers for the buildings, which only adds to the confusion for those who haven’t ‘accepted the religion of Kahn’. 

This talk cuts through the rhetoric to explain, in greatly illustrated detail, the ideas, the experiences, and ultimately the extraordinary humanity that this building in particular exhibits. Tone has visited the building several times (and many other Kahn buildings), and believes that an enthusiastic study of the building can convey the power of the architecture without the costs of a visit.


Time: 6.00pm (6.30pm start) - 8.15pm
Date: Thursday 8 August 2019
Location: Brickworks Design Studio, 2 Barrack Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Cost: $55 Earlybird (public) / $60 (public) / $50 (AAA Members)

Drinks and canapes will be served before the talk commences.

Click here to buy your ticket for the Salk Institute Talk.

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The third and final talk in the series will focus on Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers' Centre Pompidou.


The most visited building in Paris, in a city that boasts the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay and the Musee du Quai Branly. In fact the most popular museum in the world!

So everyone knows the Centre Pompidou, colloquially known as Beaubourg, right? Wrong, and more than most could believe.

In this talk we go back to the competition (Tone has a copy of the original brief) and look at the ideas of the time.

Did you know that a now well-known Australian architect came second? And what bought Renzo Piano from Italy and Richard Rogers from London together to create a building that many believe is a turning point in Modernism?

Not just an ‘inside-out’ building, not just a great place to see Paris, and not just a backdrop to the most lively space in Paris, it is a formative work of art, a tour-de-force of architecture.

Come and hear the background to this extraordinary building that will give you a completely different perspective on this great site.


Time: 6.00pm (6.30pm start) - 8.15pm
Date: Thursday 26 September 2019
Location: Brickworks Design Studio, 2 Barrack Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Cost: $55 Earlybird (public) / $60 (public) / $50 (AAA Members)

Drinks and canapes will be served before the talk commences.

Click here to buy your ticket for the Centre Pompidou Talk.


  • Article: Vanessa Couzens / Tone Wheeler
  • Image 1: The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, designed by Louis Kahn
  • Image 2: Centre Georges Pompidou, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers
  • Images: Supplied by Tone Wheeler

Last Chance to Book AAA Sunshine Coast Tour

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Time is running out to secure your tickets for one of the AAA's most popular tours - the Sunshine Coast Residential Coach tour. Taking place on Saturday 17 August, you won't want to miss out on this unique opportunity to explore some of Queenslands contemporary residential architecture. 

Once again the Australian Architecture Association will showcase the work of established and upcoming Queensland architects, such as:


Meet Lindsay Clare of Clare Design and explore the private residence 'Perwillowen House'.

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Meet architect John Mainwaring of Hollindale Mainwaring Architecture and explore 'Vida', a medium density low rise residential development by Stockland in North Lakes.

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Meet Lindy Atkin and Stephen Guthrie, directors of Bark Design Architects as you experience 'Seaview II', a private residence at Sunshine Beach.

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Date: Saturday 17 August 2019
Time: 9.30am - 5.45pm
Tickets: $205 (public) / $190 (AAA Members)

A full lunch is provided on the day of the bus tour.

Numbers are limited, so book now!

Click here to secure your place on the tour.

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  • Article: Vanessa Couzens
  • Image 1 & 2: Perwillowen House, designed by Clare Design (Image Source: Clare Design)
  • Image 3 & 4: 'Vida', a Stocklands development in North Lakes, designed by Hollindale Mainwariing Architecture (Image source: John Mainwaring)
  • Images 5 & 6: 'Seaview II' Sunshine Beach QLD, designed by Bark Architects (Image source: Bark Architects)