Information gathering

Once engaged, the architect will begin gathering information on the construction site. Depending on the requirements of the project this might include the Certificate of Title, drainage plans, zoning and town planning information. Architects may take photographs and organise to have the site surveyed on your behalf for its contours and boundaries.

Any issues with regard to existing planting, water courses and soil type may be addressed. It is sometimes possible for the client to gather some or all of this information but this should be discussed so that it is quite clear who is doing what. Again, confirming the details of the process in writing is a good idea.

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Concept Development

This is the stage when things start to get exciting! It's your architect's first opportunity to put their initial ideas in front of you for your feedback. Typically at this stage you will be presented with a floor plan and a few perspective drawings that help you get a sense not only of the layout, but also the look and style of what is proposed.

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Concept Evaluation

At this stage, it's still early days and the point of concept drawings is to encourage discussion. They can help you articulate what you do and don't like – and might even result in a complete change of direction. This is all part of the process – it's important to remember that at this stage it's not about being in total agreement on every detail, but to get a strong sense of whether your architect is heading in the right direction and has listened to what you've talked about up to this point.

At this stage you also need to have a clear sense of budget and any issues that might impact upon that. It's important not to feel rushed or pressured to proceed to the next stage until you are completely happy with the concepts you're presented with. Even if it means delaying your project, it's better to reconsider things now, than further down the track when more detailed plans have been completed.

It's certainly not unusual for people to ask more than one architect to prepare concept drawings, but be up front and make sure that all parties are clear that they are in a competitive pitch for your business. It's important that they know exactly what is being asked for, and that you know what you will be charged for the work they do for you.

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Developed Designs

This is the third phase of the project. When you have agreed on a concept your architect will test the ideas and refine the details to shape the final design of your building.

At this stage your budget will be discussed again and your priorities set in terms of cost, time and quality. It is likely that a Quantity Surveyor will be asked to make an independent cost estimate. It is often very difficult to predict the final cost of a project, particularly if it involves renovation work rather than new building. However a range of plus or minus 10% of the estimate is not unusual. In some instances, a sum will be allowed for items such as kitchen appliances, light fittings and soft furnishings, so it is important that the required quality of these items is discussed and agreed upon.

This document could be used for borrowing purposes and it is also a useful document for the client and architect to work out how a project might be achieved in stages if this is what is required.

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Reading architectural plans

Many people find it difficult to visualise a finished home from architectural drawings. If you are not sure what you are looking at, make sure you ask your architect to talk you through it. Don't gloss over things that you don't understand.

Your architect will generally provide floor plans, flows, elevations and cut-through section drawings as well as detail drawings. If necessary they can often also provide 3-D CAD drawings (even a "fly-through") or a scale model.

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Consents and Working Drawings

At this stage a building consent (and possibly also resource consents) will need to be applied for on the client's behalf if this has not already been undertaken at the concept stage.

The complexity of the project tends to dictate the degree of detail in the plans needed to achieve consents. A detailed design might include plans for landscaping, electrical wiring, hardware and lighting, but this detail is not always required for approval from the appropriate authority before proceeding to the construction phase. However a builder will need considerable detail in order to be able to submit a contract price or tender.

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Architects Services

The Architect's role does not end when the drawings are completed. Your architect is fully trained to manage the entire building process, from design through the tendering and contract process, to observe the construction phase and approving payments to the builder.

Architects who are members of the NZIA can provide you with a copy of our comprehensive Agreement for Architect's Services which outlines every step of the process from first sketch designs through to completion. This is a useful document to use to discuss and assign responsibilities.

While some clients might consider employing a 'project manager' to oversee construction, it's important to remember that you are introducing a person into the mix who is not trained as an architect and does not have their skills. You should ask yourself if this is really the most cost-effective or desirable way to ensure that construction proceeds smoothly. Engaging an Architect on a full-service contract ensures that the most qualified person is making the right decisions every step of the way.

Tendering and Contract Administration

Your architect is trained to oversee the tendering and contract administration process and it is money well-spent to engage them to do so as most clients have little experience in this.

It is very common for a number of building contractors to be invited to competitively tender for the project. There are a lot of issues such as timeframe, budget, and desired quality that will have a bearing on your final decision. It's important to discuss these fully with your architect and to be in agreement on to whom the contracts should be awarded.

The architect-builder relationship

The degree to which your architect observes the building process will depend on the scope and complexity of your project. While a small simple project might only require occasional site visits by your architect, more complex projects where risk of non-compliance is higher, will require more frequent visits to review the work and approve payments to the builder or subcontractors.

An architect on full contract is responsible for notifying the builder of any defects that need fixing before signing off on practical completion and applying for code compliance certification from the local council.

Other Services

Your architect may also provide additional services such as landscape design and interior design. Alternatively, they may work closely with other people who provide these skills. Talk to your architect about who will provide these services early on so that appropriate budgets can be allocated for them.

Fee structures

Your architect's fees for providing the agreed services may be calculated on a Lump Sum Fee Basis, a Time Charge Fee Basis, a Percentage Fee Basis, or a combination of these depending on the budget, services offered and complexity of the project. Ask your architect for a copy of the NZIA Agreement for Architects Services for more information.

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