Communication between the residential client and her or his architect is the key to the successful completion of a project. The architect must understand the requirements of the client, as well as the client’s site, national and local planning and building codes as they relate to the project, and how the budget is going to work. The architect must enable a space in which the flow of all information needed for the realisation of the project an happen. The architect has to create a clear brief, which includes the client’s program, the site’s constraints and local code requirements, and not only ensure that the client’s wishes are covered, but that the client is fully aware of it too.

Whether the things you are asking from your architect are farfetched or easy to get done, it is important that you are clear about it so that whether it can be done easily, or not so easily, there is clarity to it.


When you have made the decision to embark on your project, make sure that there is adequate time for planning. An essential part of the plan will include scheduling, especially so if you’re in a hurry. Planning and design are processes which take at least, minimum amounts of time. You and your architect may be able to make quick decisions and to get your preferred design into ‘schematic’ form within a few days, but that schematic then has to be forwarded to local council authorities for their approval. Generally local government areas are divided into ‘zones’, and within each zone only certain uses are allowed. So residential zones are for dwellings and not general industry. Likewise, industrial zones aren’t for dwellings. In the Hills, we have areas designated for heritage, high landscape values, ‘Hills Face’, (which can be seen from the Adelaide Plain), and metropolitan water catchment. All these zones have rules about what you can do (and what you can’t) and what you have to do to be able to do it.

Councils can approve a project within a few days if the project ‘ticks all the boxes’ pertinent to its zone. However, if it varies from the rules in some manner, then a council may ask for more information. If, for example, you have a watercourse crossing your site, a council may ask for a flood report from an engineer. If you have bushfire-prone vegetation on your site, then it may have to be assessed by a Country Fire Service officer, and your project may have to conform to Australian Standard 3959: Construction in Bushfire-prone Areas. Removal of significant vegetation may require an approval from the Native Vegetation Council. These matters may take extra time, especially if you have to engage other consultants.

Once you have your approval from the planning side of a council, you then need approval to build. This will usually mean more work for your architect, who has to produce contract documentation – working drawings and specifications – to be assessed by a building certifier. This person may be a council employee or a private consultant. Contract documents usually include an engineering report which will have designs for a building’s footings and any significant steel framing, and this must be from an engineer. Once you have building certification you can start to build.

Building Costs

Through all of this, it’s helpful if you, the client, are definite about what you want, and what you can afford. Changing your mind about the design is easy and cheap at the schematic stage, but becomes progressively more expensive the further you go into the project. Your architect can give you broad advice upon building costs, knowing which methods and materials are more expensive or cheaper than others, but precise cost information can only be obtained from a builder, and they will only tender it when they have a full set of contract documents in front of them. And one builder’s assessment will vary from another’s, sometimes by up to 50%.

Contract Administration

There are a number of ways to engage a builder. One is to make a choice, based upon a recommendation perhaps, forward that builder the contract documents and negotiate a contract price with them. A second way is to obtain prices or ‘tenders’ from a number of builders, and to select the one which best suits your budget.

In either case, you can engage your architect to assist in this process, calling for expressions of interest from builders, forwarding the documents, handling enquiries during the tender period, advising upon which tender to accept and making up an appropriate contract.

It’s usual for a builder to ask for ‘progress payments’ at successive stages during a build. You can ask your architect to assist here too: the architect can visit the site and verify that the work being claimed for has actually been done, and done properly, and then issue a ‘progress certificate’, mandating payment. The architect can hold regular meetings on the site with the contractors in order that all aspects of the work go smoothly, and to distribute records of the meetings and the decisions made.

Finally, the architect can administer the ‘defects liability period’, usually six or twelve months, during which time any defects in the build must be remedied by the builder. It’s usual for some of the contract money to be held back until the defects liability period expires.