Design & Build Builder vs Architect vs Building Designer in Australia
Updated: Sep 14
The pros and cons of engaging a design & build builder, architect or building designer for the design of your home.
When planning your new home, using a professional designer can make an enormous difference. From refining your ideas to creating renders and visualisations, they can help you bring your dream design to life. They can also come up with new and creative ways to make your design even more beautiful and functional.
But in Australia, you are not required to work with a professional when designing most residential structures. Here, the main consideration is whether the proposed structure complies with local planning requirements. If it does, it does not matter who was responsible for developing the design.
Despite this, most people still choose to engage an experienced designer. And, thanks to the looser restrictions on who can design a home, they have a range of options. Specifically, they can choose between engaging an architect, working with a building designer, or choosing a design and build builder.
Each of these options has its benefits and can deliver a high-quality, bespoke home. So, what is the difference between the three options? And, most importantly, which one should you choose?
The pros and cons of using an architect
The biggest benefit of working with an architect is getting access to their education and experience. Generally, they are the most qualified option and have to adhere to stringent licensing controls.
In fact, for someone to call themselves an architect in Australia, they have to complete a 5-year university degree. They then have to have at least two years of professional experience under the guidance of a registered architect. Finally, they need to pass a series of exams before they can be registered with the governing body in their state.
Through this process, architects learn about both the art and science of building design and construction. They study the history and theory of architecture as well as more practical elements like design techniques and contract management. They also have to consistently show a passion for the actual creative process of developing a building’s design.
As a result of this, most architects have a strong appreciation for the importance of tailoring a design. They will usually spend more time getting to know you, your family, and how you will live in the home. They will also consider how the structure can work with its surroundings to maximise everything from views to climate control.
In this regard, architects are more known for their attention to detail and ability to interpret other people’s ideas. They focus on both aesthetics and functionality and try to make things as beautiful as they are practical. As such, many people find designs created by architects to be both more visually impressive and practically liveable.
In addition to developing the design, many architects will also play a key role in managing the building’s delivery. They will work with you to find a suitable builder (and any other trades you need) and often help manage the budget. Many will also make themselves available to be on-site at key times to answer questions and solve any problems.
Because of all of this, architects are usually – but not always – the most expensive option. As a rough guide, you will generally pay around 10% of your total budget for their design and project management. This is partly due to their education and experience and partly because of the time they devote to each project.
The pros and cons of using a building designer
Once called a draftsperson, a building designer is usually more focused on the documentation of a design. As they do not require any specific qualifications, they tend to come from a wide range of backgrounds. That being said, many building designers come with previous design experience and some formal education (e.g. an Advanced Diploma).
Also, while most states do not register building designers, in Victoria, there are some requirements they need to meet. Specifically, to practice as a building designer in Victoria, people need to be registered with the Building Practitioners Board. As with any other designer, all of their designs also need to meet local planning requirements to be built.
One of the main reasons people choose to use a building designer is the cost. Generally speaking, a building designer will charge less than an architect to deliver a similar level of documentation. Usually, this will be around 3% – 5% of the total build cost, though more experienced designers will often charge more.
Building designers are also seen as a cost-effective option if you already have a clear idea of what you want. For example, if you have sketched out your desired floor plan, a building designer can easily turn this into proposed plans. As part of this, most will also be able to provide advice on things like the orientation and overall flow.
Much like an architect, most building designers will also guide you through the planning process and help manage construction. They can work with you to source builder quotes, and many will even manage site activities on a day-to-day basis. This can be particularly beneficial if your building designer is from a construction background (as many are).
However, as most building designers lack the formal education of an architect, the designs they deliver are often less detailed. They also tend not to take such a highly consultative approach or look to ‘push the boundaries’ with their designs. As such, designs developed by building designers generally have a greater focus on functionality and ease of construction.
It is also important to note that building designers cannot be used for structures of three or more stories. Because of the complex engineering required for such buildings, they must be designed by a registered architect.
In many ways, a design and build builder gives you the best of both worlds. They provide the close attention to detail you expect from an architect and the practical planning you want from a builder. Also, they are often more focused on finding cost-effective ways to achieve the desired quality of finish.
Because a design and build builder is a one-stop shop, it tends to be a faster process. Many design and build builders, like Carmel Homes, have in-house architects that work closely with the building team. This allows you to move from designing to building quickly and easily and reduces the likelihood of issues during construction.
Moreover, you are effectively working with one team that manages the entire process for you. This makes communication much easier as you have one contact throughout the entire project. It also usually helps reduce unnecessary stress, as you know who to contact with questions and concerns.
When working with a design and build builder, your starting point will often be one of their existing designs. As they will usually have a display home in this design, you can visit it to see how it flows. From there, you can make adjustments to personalise the design to your taste and requirements.
Another major advantage of choosing a design and build builder is the cost certainty. During initial consultations, they will usually work with you to set a maximum budget and formalise this in the contract. Then, throughout the build, any changes or issues will be negotiated with the builder and managed to stay within budget.
The most significant drawback to using a design and build builder is you usually have less control over the team. As you are dealing with one company throughout the whole process, you cannot select your own trades or specialist services. You are also locked into their contract and cannot shop around for a better deal on materials, fixtures, or finishes.
The final verdict
With all of this in mind, the question still remains… which type of design professional should you work with? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this – it really depends on your situation and the level of support you require.
If you are planning a smaller home or keeping the design simple, a building designer is probably best. They are usually cost-effective, will provide all the documentation you need to get through planning and can help manage construction. They are also a great option if you already know exactly what you want and just need it documented properly.
If you are looking to make more of a statement with your new home, working with an architect may be better. While they generally cost more, they usually have a stronger attention to detail and can create something truly unique. They are also a great option if there is an unusual design feature or material you want to incorporate in your design.
And, if you want the quickest, most stress-free option, you might want to consider working with a design and build builder. They will manage the whole process for you, from design to completion, and you will have one point of contact. They will also usually work to a fixed price, making them a great option if you have a set budget.
If you have questions about working with a professional designer, give Carmel Homes a call. As one of Melbourne’s leading design and build builders, we specialise in developing and delivering high-quality bespoke home designs. We are also committed to making the building process as easy and enjoyable as possible.