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