The process of working with an architect:
How does it work and what should you expect?

It is fair to say that once you have trawled though many striking architecture websites, looked at countless beautiful images of finished projects and made your final decision on who you would most like to work with, there is not a lot of information on what the next steps are. What are the key milestones, what’s your expected involvement and how long does the whole thing take?

Below are some thoughts on how we like to work with you and what we believe brings about a great result.

What’s your involvement?

Engagement makes a successful project. It goes both ways. An engaged client that has an aspiration beyond delivering a basic house is the type of client we like to work with. A desire to be involved, be part of the process is great. On the other hand, if you specifically don’t want to be involved with every detail along the way and would prefer to be involved in just the key milestones, we are happy to work with that too. Just don’t be afraid to tell us.

For us, it’s always collaborative. We are not a studio that sits back, takes a brief, then presents a masterpiece. Be prepared to come on a journey, be challenged, have your ideas questioned - and push back on our ideas and assumptions about the brief, and architecture in general.

What are you responsible for?

We believe your responsibility is to allow us the opportunity to earn your trust. Let’s be honest, beginning a new relationship with an architect requires a leap of faith. 

Very often a client will have a bulletproof list of project requirements that doesn’t fit within their budget, site constraints, and so on. It’s our job to listen to what you need, but to dig deeper. There’ll be lots of alternatives you may not have even considered. We’ll interrogate the needs and wants, and have that discussion to find our way through to the best possible solution. 

Our clients are usually very engaged, and they try to help out the project as much as possible. Sometimes they even draw their own plans to give us a head start! We appreciate the dedication, but we don’t expect you to take on that level of responsibility. In our blog article “How to create a great brief for an architect” we have some basic steps to help you feel prepared in delivering a good, solid design brief.

Flexibility, trust, being open-minded and committing to dialogue and negotiation are your major responsibilities.

How often do we meet?

The design process is broken down into several phases, starting with briefing, site visits and concept design. These are the stages where we’ll meet the most - often fortnightly.

In most projects, we aim to deliver a significant design response that answers the brief within a four week period from kicking off the project.

The next stage is design development and can be one of the most exciting and engaging stages. It usually takes 6-8 weeks, and we’ll use the time to resolve all of the details of the project. We like to create 3D models, drawings and sketches to better illustrate the design. At this stage you should be able to point to any part of the drawings and ask specific questions about the materials, the decisions and how the building will come together.

We will usually meet fortnightly during this phase to review and discuss the large volume of work that we are generating. It can be intense - there’ll be a lot of options to review and decisions to make before we move into the documentation stage.

During documentation stage, we will speak less often, as we’re busy generating the final drawings for your project. Impromptu meetings, over the phone or back-and-forth via email, will allow us to get your honest feedback on the direction we’re heading, while keeping things moving along.

During this stage, we need you to speak up if you have ideas, feedback and suggestions, the sooner the better.

What do you get to see along the way?

We’ve become very adept in the 3D modelling environment. The 3D model is a virtual model of the design - it’s really easy to pick-up an ipad and walk through the latest version of the design.

We don’t expect clients to interpret complicated 2D drawings anymore. We think it’s important that you can understand what’s changing in your project as we update our models.

We find that these 3D models empower you to visualise the design, make decisions and experiment. You’re an important part of the process, and our models will help to make it easy for you to be a part of the team along the way.

What happens if you don’t like the design?

Most of the time, there’s a good reason that we’ve come together as architect and client. We have common ground and a shared understanding of what matters in the project, so not surprisingly, this situation is quite rare.

On very rare occasions there can be miscommunications or misinterpretations of information. If that happens, it’s important to be very honest with us, your architect, about what you don’t like. Don’t be afraid to hurt our feelings. Our aim is to develop a relationship that makes giving feedback a natural and easy process. We need to know exactly why it isn’t working for you, so that we can understand what the problems are and how we might be able to overcome them. 

We’d rather know your brutally honest opinion so that we can get right to the crux of the issue.

How long does the project take?

As you can imagine, the answer is pretty open ended. However, it will be a long process. We suggest a minimum of eighteen months and sometimes as long as two years, including construction, is a good guide.

Once we have a clear idea of your brief, we can give you a fairly accurate estimate of how long the design process will take - but it is important to remember a lot of external factors can affect the overall project timeline, such as planning, construction, financing and so on.

Whatever happens, the process will take a long time - which means you should expect to develop a long relationship with your architect. That’s why it is so important to make sure that you like your architect and that you feel like you can be open and honest with them. You want to make sure you enjoy speaking to them, and will be able to ride out those hard conversations that can come up at certain points in the process.

When and how often should you expect to pay?

All architecture firms are different, but we try and keep our payments as regular as possible. Rather than waiting to the end of a stage, we’ll invoice you monthly and show how much work we’ve done since the last invoice.

We’ve learned that it’s important to discuss money regularly - since it’s often the biggest source of worry for people building their homes. It creates an opportunity for us to discuss money-related concerns before they turn into larger issues.

Another difference in our approach is that our fees are fixed. It makes it a lot easier for our clients to budget, because it doesn’t rise and fall based on construction cost. We believe, whether you choose to use Italian marble, or laminex bench tops, you shouldn’t be expecting to pay more to your architect for this material choice, as would happen with a percentage based fee. We provide cash flow predictions for our clients so that their upcoming payments are easier to understand and manage.

Conclusion - Where has this process come from? Why is it the way it is? Why is the way to go?

We’ve designed our approach to practice around being a place where our clients feel really excited about working with an architect. We want them to feel engaged, and rewarded by the process of building their own home.

We’ve taken what can be a stressful process, and tried to make it as transparent and simple as possible. Our processes are straightforward, and every attention has been given to making it easy and approachable for you.

Our studio culture is about having fun with our clients and delivering great results. We believe that when our client is part of the team, we can design better houses.