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Working with an architect

Working with an architect to take a building from idea to reality is an exciting process – but it can be complex. If you are planning to engage an architect, make sure you understand the process and the architect’s role.

Understand the process

  1. Before you engage an architect, it's important to check that they are registered with the ARBV. If you are engaging a company or partnership, you can also check that they are approved by the ARBV.

    Find an architect registered in Victoria

    Remember: If they are not registered with the ARBV, they are not an architect.

  2. To ensure the quality and safety of Victoria's built environment, architects must comply with professional conduct obligations, including the Victorian Architects Code of Professional Conduct. It defines an architect's responsibilities and obligations to their client.

    As a client, you should understand this code of conduct so you know what to expect from your architect.

    Obligations outlined in the Victorian Architects Code of Professional Conduct

    Architectural services
    • Standards of conduct
    • Standards of performance and knowledge
    • Approval of documents

    Client relations

    • Need for a compliant client–architect agreement before a project is started
    • Architect’s obligations if administering a building contract
    • Fees and costs
    • Architect’s obligations to keep the client informed
    • Documentation and record-keeping
    • Confidentiality
    • Disclosure of any paid referrals and endorsements
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Withdrawal of the architect's services
    Architectural practice
    • Information about qualifications and contact details

    Approved companies or partnerships

    • Obligation to ensure the company or partnership meets compliance requirements
    Duties to the public and profession
    • Duty to engender confidence and respect for the profession
    • Duty to maintain standards and integrity of the profession
  3. Designing and constructing a building is a significant project – and there are many stages in the process. Understanding the design process will help you talk to your architect about the project and know what to expect at each stage.

    The particular stages and responsibilities of your project will depend on the nature of the architect's engagement. These details must be included in the client-architect agreement. The below stages and descriptions are indicative of typical projects but may not be applicable to your project.

    1. Pre-design

    The architect may help you prepare a project brief. The architect will provide advice about what is and is not possible on your site, any regulation and planning issues and your budget, along with a project schedule.

    At the end of this stage, you should broadly understand what is possible with your site and budget, and the architect should understand your requirements and objectives for the project.
    2. Concept/sketch design

    The architect will prepare preliminary drawings based on your initial brief. The architect may revise the drawings based on your feedback if they agreed to provide multiple drafts in the client–architect agreement. These drawings may be sketches or more formal drawings.

    The architect may engage specialist consultants to better assess the restrictions and opportunities of your site.

    The architect will provide further advice about your budget at this time.

    At the end of this stage, you should be able to select a concept design for further development.
    3. Design development

    Once you have chosen a concept design, the architect will refine it. At this point, more specialist consultants may join the project team, and you will review your budget again.

    At the end of this stage, you should have a preferred design for your project.

    4. Town planning application

    Depending on the site and scope of the project, you may need to apply for planning permission from a land management authority, typically your local council. Planning permission generally considers how the proposed building interacts with the neighbourhood character and impacts the local area and neighbouring properties.

    The land management authority may advertise your application so people living near the site have an opportunity to voice any objections they may have to your proposed project. You may need to provide more information, make changes to your design, or apply for multiple permits for works (for example, demolition or subdivision). This process can be time-consuming, and your application may not be successful.

    5. Construction documentation

    The architect will finalise your design and create additional drawings and documentation needed to apply for a building permit. They will check the drawings and documentation against relevant building regulations and the endorsed town planning drawings as required. During this stage, the architect will typically help you to find a builder to undertake the project.

    At the end of this stage, you should be able to issue architectural drawings of the project to prospective builders for pricing/tender.

    6. Tendering and contractor selection

    The architect will respond to the queries and requests for information from the builders who wish to tender for the project. The architect will then assist you to select a builder and negotiate any post-tender variations – this could include costs savings, revised time frames, or changes to contract conditions.

    At the end of this stage, you should be able to appoint a builder to construct your project.

    7. Building contract administration

    If the architect is engaged to administer the building contract, the role of the architect changes at this point. From here, the architect focuses on making sure you and the builder both meet your responsibilities as outlined in the building contract (between you and the builder).

    The architect may assist you appointing a building surveyor. The builder or the architect applies to the building surveyor for the building permit.

    At the end of this stage, you should have an occupancy permit or notice of final inspection issued by a building surveyor.

    8. Practical completion

    Once the building surveyor has issued an occupancy permit, the architect will assess the building. They will determine if the works are complete and whether there any defects or incomplete works.

    If the architect determines that the works are complete and any defects are minor, they will certify that it is complete in accordance with the plans and specifications, although the builder will still need to fix any minor defects. If the architect determines that there are major issues, the builder must fix them prior to the building being certified complete.

    The architect’s certification of practical completion triggers the start of the defect liability period.

    9. Defect liability period (post-occupancy)

    During the defect liability period, the builder must fix any identified problems that they are responsible for, according to the contract. The length of this period can vary, depending on what is agreed in the contract. The period extends if the builder doesn’t fix the identified problems in time. 

    At the end of this stage, the builder should have fixed any incomplete or defective works.

    This phase typically ends with completion of the defect liability period.
    10. Final certificate Once the defect liability period has finished, the architect issues a final certificate and the builder’s warranty begins – you are covered for six years for structural defects and two years for non-structural defects.

  4. After you have found an architect you wish to work with, confirmed their registration and decided to work together, the architect must not start work on the project until you have both entered a written client–architect agreement. The agreement protects both of you by defining responsibilities and obligations.

    The client–architect agreement is an important foundation for a productive working relationship. It must include:

    • details of whom the agreement is between
    • the name, registration number and contact details of the architect
    • the scope and nature of the project, as well as any specific requirements
    • the timeframes
    • details on reasonable estimates of costs (if possible)
    • details on how the fees and costs will be calculated and paid
    • how progress updates will be provided to the client
    • details on authorisations for an architect to proceed with work
    • details on how a change or amendment might impact the fees and costs
    • details on making and approving changes or amendments
    • details on when the architect may need to withdraw from the agreement
    • how the agreement may be terminated and for what reasons it can be terminated.

More information

  • Be realistic about what you can achieve with your site and budget

    Architects can help you assess the possibilities and limitations of your site and budget. They can help you determine your objectives for the project and how clever design can help you achieve them.  

    Ask lots of questions

    Understanding the design process and what happens in each stage will help you manage any risk and understand possible costs. Clients have particular responsibilities at each stage, and it is important to know what the architect, builder and other contractors will expect from you.

    If you are uncertain about anything, ask your architect. It's also important to ensure your instructions to your architect are clear. When giving instructions, give them as an instruction, not as question or general desire.

    There are many specialised terms used to talk about architecture – use the glossary to make sure you understand the meaning of key terms.

    View our architectural services glossary

    Make sure you understand any contracts before you sign

    During the design and construction of a project, you will enter formal agreements with a number of professionals – the architect, the builder and any other specialist consultants your project requires.

    Make sure you take the time to review all agreements and contracts and ask the architect or a lawyer to explain anything you do not understand before you sign it.

    Keep records of any discussion you have with the architect or other contractors

    Throughout the project, you will have many conversations with the architect, the builder, and/or the other consultants. Architects are obliged to keep records of important decisions and produce minutes for meetings. The architect should provide you these documents; if not, ask for them.

    It is also a good idea to keep your own notes and records. This will enable you to refer to them alongside the architect's records. Keeping a 'project diary' is a handy way to do this.

    Changing your mind can be expensive

    Designing and constructing a house or other building is a complex process and making changes to the design can be expensive and time-consuming. As you develop the project brief with the architect, make sure it describes exactly what you want from the project. You may be able to change your mind later, but you will probably end up paying more.

    If you have a question, talk to your architect first

    Architects usually coordinate the builder and other consultants working on your project. If you have any questions or issues during the project, talk to your architect first and they will coordinate with other members of the project team. By going straight to the builder or consultant, you may risk cutting your architect out of the loop.

    If you are unhappy with your architect, you should try to resolve the problem with them directly. If you cannot resolve the problem, you may wish to seek independent advice.

    The ARBV does not provide dispute resolution services to resolve problems that may arise with your architect. If you believe your matter relates to professional conduct or prohibited conduct you can make a complaint to the ARBV who can investigate these matters.

  • You can make a complaint to the Architects Registration Board of Victoria (ARBV) about:

    • an architect’s professional conduct
    • people or bodies that are not registered with or approved by the ARBV, but represent as architects (prohibited conduct).

    The ARBV does not provide dispute resolution services and cannot assist in managing a dispute between you and your architect.

    If you are seeking compensation or refunds, you should consider independent legal advice. The ARBV and the Architects Tribunal cannot order an architect to pay compensation or refunds.

    How do I make a complaint?

    To make a complaint please complete the online complaint form.

    When completing the complaint form provide as much detail as possible. If you can, describe how the architect has breached the Victorian Architects Code of Professional Conduct.

    You should also provide any evidence and/or supporting documents relevant to the complaint. You should clearly reference these documents in your complaint to demonstrate their relevance.

    What happens after I make a complaint?

    If you make a complaint about an architect’s professional conduct, the ARBV will:

    • confirm it has received your complaint
    • request further information from you, or other people, if needed
    • notify the architect that you have made a complaint about them, if appropriate
    • provide complaint documentation to the architect and request their response
    • investigate the complaint
    • let you know the outcome of the investigation.

    The ARBV’s investigations usually take at least three months.

    If the ARBV finds evidence that the architect breached their obligations, they may refer the architect's conduct or fitness to practice to the Architects Tribunal for inquiry.

    If you make a complaint about a prohibited conduct matter, the ARBV will:

    • confirm it has received your complaint
    • request further information from you, or other people, if needed
    • investigate the complaint
    • take appropriate action that many include pursuing voluntary compliance or prosecution in the Magistrates' Court.

Reviewed 28 June 2021

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