Do I need an Architect? - Misc. AU
Do I need an Architect?

Do I need an Architect?

You'd love a sophisticated architectural design, but do you really need an architect? Also knowing where to start with so many people and costs involved can be a daunting situation. Let's find out if you need the help of a professional or can indeed DIY.

Words by BYO Floor Plan

Architect, Draftsperson or Building Designer: Who should design your Project?


Two things often happen when you go down the conventional design path with an architect. First, they will dive deep into understanding your lifestyle, they’ll question everything you mention and introduce their design philosophies to redesign what you’ve spent so long researching. And second, they’ll charge for it. Often the floor plan design phase can last months, and at their professional rate, that can be big $$$.

Architects are, however, typically highly skilled and experienced industry professionals that provide a luxury/premium service to those wanting a custom-designed building, subdivision, estate, campus or even piece of furniture. Thanks to their education and varied experience, they can sometimes charge substantial fees, sometimes as high as 15-20% of the construction cost if they have clientele lined up willing to invest such figures. Some architects will be more technical focused and others will have a more flamboyant fashion sense. The most common architectural practice is a small one often being just a sole practitioner or with one employee to assist with the gruntwork of preparing the working drawings.

If your project will be subject to serious community scrutiny or is to be located on an exclusive multimillion-dollar property, it may be worth the larger investment with an architect with a remarkable reputation that you resonate with. If not, it's certainly worth exploring other options.

Draftspeople (Unlicenced designers)

Often assisting the architect, or a project builder, are draftspeople, who in recent decades have been known to do their own freelance work under the banner of other registered professionals or for small illegal structures. Since their profession has typically been to assist and not lead the process, you can expect their design and industry skills to be more limited when working solo. They might have gaps in their knowledge relating to critical topics and tasks such as working with various types of engineers, town planners and identifying which council, state and national building codes apply. It's therefore our general recommendation, that you don't consider appointing an unlicensed designer to be 'responsible' for your project's final drawing set.

Even if their drawings are legible and accurate, if the information they convey doesn't align with what's actually required by the 3 levels of government, it can cost you serious time and money to have things rectified... either on paper or in bricks and mortar. For example, forgetting to design for flood-prone land, keeping the roof under the property's height limit, or avoiding a sewer line can lead to a total redesign and is a complete waste of time and money. A building certifier may even reject the whole building application altogether, if a license number isn't listed on the plans, as there is no credibility for who designed the building, making it difficult for them to have any confidence being responsible for its approvals.

If you’ve built up a relationship with a talented draftsperson, maybe they could stay involved in the project but let a registered professional lead the way and produce the final drawings that will be stamped by the council, reviewed by the bank, and referred to by dozens of contractors and other professionals during construction.

With the above said, there seems to be a big difference between paying a registered architect to take an in-depth journey exploring various design principles and somebody who's potentially using illegal software, with no insurance on a project that is lily a major investment of yours... Is there a third option?

Yes...Building Designers

In Queensland and Victoria, these are qualified and licensed professionals who have surpassed their early days of assisting architects or other building designers and now run a legitimate business of their own. The key legal difference between them and an architect is the authoritative body they are registered with. For example, BYO Floor Plan is registered with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) rather than the Queensland Board of Architects.

Depending on a building designer's license type, they may be restricted to some building types or hold an "Open' license, as does BYO floor Plan, meaning they can design and document any building. Be it a surf club, library, office building, school, medical center, factory, apartment building and of course a house, irrespective of how large they may be, a building designer with an 'Open' license or a registered architect can legally design it.

More to the point, however, building designers tend to be more practical in their approach rather than artistic or critically academic. They are often more focused on the technical design and construction of the house rather than winning an award for a remarkably unique piece of architecture or lecturing as a professor at university. As with architects, creativity will vary among them and some building designers win notable awards, attracting clients with high budgets based on their portfolio and reputation rather than the body they are registered with.

Cost Comparison and Scope:

At the end of the day, building designers tend to have less staff and charge lower professional fees when compared to architects, but this is only a general statement. Some building designers will have the reputation and skillset to enable them to charge double that of a small architectural practice for the same project. In the design industry, fees and value are subjective, often based on reputation, past work, availability, or even how desperate somebody might be to win a job.

Key to the value of the fees is the scope of service they represent. At a basic level, architects and building designers can get away with preparing very basic drawing sets to just satisfy the building approval, rather than documenting the design with specific detail. As a simple example, a kitchen bench can be professionally shown as a rectangle on the drawing with a cooktop icon added. That rectangle on the floor plan does nothing to explain the benchtop's thickness, material and colour, the configuration of drawers and shelving, their handles, the position of the microwave, indicate a pull-out garbage bin, and the type of splashback. Is there a water connection for the fridge noted and is there enough power for the induction cooktop? Beware of cheap quotes from architects and designers, as your builder or builder(s) might end up totally clueless as to what to quote and may just default to selecting the cheapest fixtures and finishes, with zero bells and whistles so their bottom line is attractive.

Along with the detail of the drawings set, a major difference in the fees will relate to how much time they are willing to spend talking with you, leading you through the pre-approval process, and how involved they intend to be with the builder(s). Some architects and designers avoid speaking with clients and keep the specifics of their design vague to avoid spending time any extra time than absolutely required. Others, however, enjoy working with clients and have no hesitation to pick up the phone or asking a vital question via email.

Industry Memberships.

Some architects and building designers are also members of non-compulsory organisations which hold meetings and industry events to better improve the professionals' awareness of current affairs, building technologies, and design trends. Evidence of this membership is a small way to see how committed the practice might be to their industry and the clients they serve.

Your Design Involvement:

If you're reading this article you're likely a DIYer on some level, which we'd be glad to hear. However it's important to note, some established architects and designers will naturally be offended if you try to edit their designs or have major input, as they feel you are trying to do their job. Spending weeks and months designing a project can give them the feeling it's their baby, even though you paid for it and will be the one living in it.

This is not the case at BYO Floor Plan, as we are set up intentionally to work with construction industry professionals tradies, and DIYers to help them develop and achieve the best design possible based on their own initial sketches and ideas. Sometimes our clients scrap their own ideas and help develop new ones with us but the point is we welcome your input. This is not because we lack design flair or passion in our work, rather we enjoy the collaborative process and see our clients fulfill a lifelong dream to design and build their own homes.

Custom Home Builders (Design and Construct):

If you've initially approached a builder who is to 'design' your home, they will most likely use a draftsperson to prepare your design and drawings, as this would keep their costs to a minimum. The draftsperson does not need to have their own license if drawing plans directly for a specific builder that takes on sole responsibility for the job,

If they are to use an architect or building designer, it's typically in their interest to tell you, as it would cost more subcontracting to an external business and you'd likely be having several meetings and conversations with the designer, even if they are overseen by the builder. Having an architect or building designer onboard will likely heighten the design flair of the project and award more flexibility than a catalog standard plan edited by a draftsperson would otherwise inhibit.


As it may seem from reading the above, there isn't a clear distinction between what differentiates an architect and abuilding designer when it comes to providing the design service. In our opinion, it really comes down to how skilled and creative each professional is and if they have experience relative to the project you will be embarking on. Most professionals will be able to adjust their service scope to suit your situation too, to ensure your specific needs are being catered for, which is also critical for your success and sanity.

Meeting with more than one architect and/or building designer is the best way to get a feel for potential pricing, the services available, and who might be a good fit. If you can give them all the same information they'll have a much better chance of being able to quote on the same service scope, so it's closer to comparing apples with apples. There's no point in telling one architect you'd like them to explore 3 potential design schemes before developing one to be tendered to multiple builders, then have a second designer write up a quote to produce a basic set of drawings for your brother-in-law who is a builder and heavily involved with the interior fit-out selections. If you're honest and open with all of them, you'll likely be surprised as to the types of questions and comments some will raise and others won't even mention.

Please note the above is a general summary of some of the key design professions in Queensland and is not specific advice for your situation or project. If you like to read more about how we deliver our services, feel free to read our About Page or get in Contact with us to discuss your unique project and design ideas.

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