9 May 2022

The difference between architects and building designers

Emma McLaren
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Building a house is a gradual process that starts with drawing up plans at the design stage. Potential property owners who are regular people always have a rough idea of what they want in their property (""I would like three rooms and a kitchen with mahogany panelling""). This is taken into account, but a substantial part of the ""design"" used in the actual construction is usually drawn up by skilled professionals. For Australians, the choices lie between a building designer and an architect.

The reputation of career architects precedes them; building designers are only a little less known. Many who do know both are inaccurately convinced both are the same and are oblivious to any differences between them. These differences can be easily demonstrated within a few paragraphs.

Hear from Mark Deacon, who has experience dealing with people from both careers through his work as the Director at Superdraft. He gives insight into these differences and elucidates pricing ranges to expect when hiring either. He claims the price ranges for both reflect skill level and what one should expect from a hire. Both careers stipulate different price ranges for every unique project. This also shows in various features of the plan: the overall design quality, the allure and elegance, the functionality and creativity, etc.

Paraphrasing his words, architects charge more across the board than building designers (also known as draftspeople) do. When hiring a draftsperson, one can expect to hand over 3-5% of the overall cost of the building process. However, the price is 7-10% of a project for regular architects and more than for architects hired from prominent corporate architectural firms.

So for a construction project of around $700,000, a draftsperson would get $21,000 - $35,000, and an architect, about $49,000 to $70,000, and more.

Going deeper into these differences

Who is an architect, and what do they do?

Architects are skilled personnel trained in the art of construction design to help potential property owners delegate function and organisation to the exterior and interior spaces of a new project. Architects are, by virtue of their skill level, very versatile – they help at the blueprint level to construct homes and offices, terrains, and towers. Architects even help in the design of boats and planning ventures. This implies that the work of a certified architect is mainly dependent on the type of project on hand.

Understanding this and going back to the words of Mark Deacon, it does come with no surprise that architects have more experience and skill than building designers. However, this is not always the case, and some interpretation is left to subjectivity. The same is to be said of their charges.

Architects charge more across the board, but there are situations in which building designers edge over them. The certification of every architect is dependent on the completion of various processes; in education and corporate validation. To be legally branded as an architect requires the following steps:

  • One must have an educational background in architecture and have graduated with a degree in the course. This must be done at the tertiary level.

  • One must be held in obligation by liability insurance that reduces risk.

  • One must be a recognised, licensed member and under the jurisdiction of the specific architectural body in their council or state.

One upside to hiring architects over building designers is their inclination and inherent responsibility to assist both builders and clients in navigating the city planning processes.

On the issue of educational background, Mark Deacon breaks it down this way: One must have completed a degree course in architecture. This usually takes around five years. After that, subsequent education in practicals is to be completed. Upon completion, the candidate is expected to undertake an examination (both in oral and written form).

On the other hand, Draftspeople/building designers come from diverse origins. Most of them have some background in building construction processes or people who completed tertiary education in architecture but never got past board certification. These experiences, unrelated as they may seem, give them ample qualifications to advise and help potential property owners with building plans. In many states and territories, the benchmark for becoming a building designer requires no board certification and licensing. There are exceptions, though. In places like Tasmania and Victoria, regulation is imposed.

The most important thing about being a building designer is adhering to general rules and regulations exacted on all projects by the licensed surveyor. This is even though people from different origins can become building designers, which helps incorporate a culture of coherence and competence in line with what should be standard procedure. This is also why potential property owners should properly vet the building designers they want to design their homes.

In what situations do I hire architects?

According to Mark Deacon, architects are more suited to handling projects on a grand scale. This is because the outsized complexity requires a skill level that focuses on intricacy and detail. Mistakes could be highly debilitating too. Projects that require more than three levels or stories and government projects are examples of projects that architects should be hired for. Deacon also reiterates that they are more suited to this kind of work because of their training, tailored to cover the knowledge and craft of designing a building in detail.

When working on a specific project, architects pull from their vast wealth of experience and knowledge, which has been validated through years of assessment, to arrive at a design that combines all the sturdy and functional building features. They also incorporate aesthetic flair with other elements that would eventually drive up the value of the building.

This should not be misinterpreted. While architects supposedly have the experience and skill level to execute proper planning into construction plans, building designers are not all lacking in these aspects. Many of them (especially those with a background in architecture or construction) have as much experience and can produce material with similar quality to that of architects. They mostly only shirk in minor detailing.

This is not to impugn the skill or competence level of building designers. While they can handle large projects that do not lack quality or intricacy, projects on a smaller scale are more suited to their certifications.

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