What an Architect does…. Explained


Vital information that you need to know if you are planning to build

Plans can be drawn by anyone, Architects are more expensive than drafts-persons’, but they have more training which in turn benefits the client.

A minimum of  5 (or 6 depending on course) years at Uni followed by 2 years of practical experience is required before they can sit for their papers. An annual  membership subscription is then required. Some Tafe drafting courses can be done in 6 months. Look closely at credentials. Phrases like “Architectural design” or even an Architectural degree are no guarantee that an actual Architect is used on the job. The persons’ or business name followed by the word ARCHITECT are your only guarantee that an actual Architect is involved.

You will spend more on an Architect designed plans than on Drafts-person supplied ones. All those years of training and study must be accounted for. You will be able to tell the difference between the two products. Consider that two identically sized houses in cost and area can be substantially different in their ambiance and functionality and ultimately resale value. Do not be fooled by builders who offer Design/Build packages. Statements such as “Free plans provided” will ultimately cost you somehow.  Nothing is free. The price will be added into the building price, or there will be variation costs, or perhaps you will just get a one size fits all solution that is not specifically designed for your block. A little bit of extra money spent getting things right from the outset will reap benefits. It also means if you own your own plans you are able to shop around between Builders. You will be comparing the same building rather than similar ones and so you will be making a fully informed decision. 

Experience does matter. A mature aged Architect will usually provide a better service than one just starting out. An Architect that has done houses before will be better at housing than one who hasn’t.

You will get a better service from a small Architectural firm than a big one. Costs of running a big firm usually mean that billing rate is higher, and standard of work can be variable due to lack of ownership of the job by the employees. Quite often you may still get a draftsperson doing the job even though you talk to the Principal. $120  to $140 an hour is a common bill-out rate for big firms and every minute will be accounted for & subsequently billed out to you.

Do not expect the cost of plans for an extension to be significantly cheaper than those for a new house. This is because additional work is required drawing the Measured drawings for the existing building and site. A demolition plan needs to be drawn itemising what is to be retained, demolished or re-used.  Existing services have to be noted and decisions made if and where new services are required and how they will be joined into the existing. Staging plans also may be needed if all the work cannot be accomplished at the same time or you wish to remain in the house throughout the process (not recommended).

The cost of plans for a small extension will not be significantly different than that for a large one. Documenting a small 3m by 3m brick veneer room requires exactly the same amount of time as documenting a 10mx10m brick veneer room. The same amount of drawings need to be produced.  What costs more is detail or when a renovation/extension is fragmented over different portions of a building or site.  Buildings with mixed construction methods will also cost more (these require more construction details). Plans for a small but complicated extension of say 50 sq meters can cost more than one of 150 sq meters that is simple. Complexity can be caused by many things. Site level differences, building on boundaries, gutting part of the existing building and integrating what is left into the new works, built in joinery, complicated ceiling bulkheads and coffers, Large open expanses of glass in a structural wall, specialised briefing requirements such as for buildings near the sea or for a low VOC emissions or a “green” building.


Architects can charge either an hourly rate or a set fee that is based on a percentage of the total building cost. For most firms a rough fee guide for domestic building documentation is 10% of the total building cost for full Architectural services. If less than full services are required then a smaller fee is appropriate. Smaller or more difficult jobs will attract a larger percentage fee and bigger or simpler jobs a smaller one. Although the fee is based on a percentage of the total building cost it is still worked out from an hourly rate. An estimate of how many hours the job will take is made and the hourly fee is multiplied by that figure and then converted to a proportion of how much the job is estimated to cost. A buffer of from10% to 30% is then added into the fixed fee to allow for Client indecision and design changes during the planning stage. This is why the percentage fee will vary from Architect to Architect. An assessment must be made as to how complex the job is, how decisive the client is, how much documentation they are willing to produce and what the building will cost. This assessment will equate directly to hours spent on the job and hence to the percentage fee asked.   Although this is a Fixed fee it is only fixed as long as the cost of the building does not increase. If the cost of the building goes up then you will still pay more money for your documentation as it is based on a percentage of that cost. The downside of this fee structure is the incentive for the Architect to hurry the job along and finish quicker than the hours estimated, making a bigger profit. This may result in some areas of the documentation not being as thorough as they should be. Another drawback is that the firm will keep track of the hours spent on the job and when they are nearing the full fee the documentation process will be abbreviated and hurried along to suit. Neither way will give you a good result.

Alternately an hourly rate can be applied for work.  You will  get the best set of documentation this way as there is no incentive to finish the job before it has been properly documented. The problem here is that there is no need for the Architect to hurry the design process along. Each time you make changes it costs you more money, and changes made at the end of the job will cost you more than changes made at the beginning as this will mean more drawings will need to be revised.

If the documentation is done properly and honestly and the Client (you) is decisive (allow for no safety buffer) the two fee methods should come out around to the same total fee as they are based on the same hourly rate. The fixed fee however, usually has a safety factor built into it which takes into account how much the client will change their mind. This can be a substantial amount of money over and above the hourly rate. The safety factor is needed because no matter how good the Architect some clients simply cannot make up their mind. This is very frustrating and valuable time can be consumed over minute often pointless decisions.  In extreme cases after going through 6 or 7 design iterations the client eventually decides that they really liked the first one any way. This means that less time can be spent on documentation as most of the fee has been consumed by this wasted effort…..

The extra money that is factored into any fixed fee often results from a gut feeling by the Architect upon the first meeting. Once you have dealt with a client once you can accurately judge this figure but the first job will always result in a bit more fat factored in… just in case.

The  best method of fee structure is a combination of both the above methods. This is my preferred method of fee. I will work by my hourly rate but with a fee cap based on the percentage method. This means that if both Client and Architect try to do the best by each other the hourly rate will result in cheaper drawings as well as a better documented building. You will make less changes when you realise that you are paying for them and subsequently more time can be spent getting a good set of documents together. I will have incentive to finish as I have a cap on the job, and I will aim to finish well before the cap just to avoid the possibility of last minute problems that may run me over….. Everyone wins! 

 If you are quoted a substantially cheaper price there will be a catch. You will get less documentation or you will get poorer documentation and subsequently pay the price with cost variations during the building process. This can often cost you much more than you saved. The only way you will get more for your money is if the firm has lower running costs. Smaller firms that pay less for overheads and support staff can pass some of this saving onto the client and still make the same profit. My hourly rate is lower as I operate from a SOHO environment and can pass the savings on to my clients.

The fee for full Architectural services is divided into 3 roughly equal cost components and stages. My typical services and fees for designing a new house or complicated extension are listed below. Building approval should come in under $20,000 for most jobs. This link shows some typical documentation.

I have however designed and gotten Building Approval for one simple extension this year (2022) for as little as $4500. This came to $7000 including other consultants and Council fees. The client knew what he wanted and did not change his mind throughout the process. Basically the more you change your mind and the more complicated the job the more expensive the documentation becomes.



SKETCH DESIGN: I (Grant Lucas Architect) meet the Client (you or your agent), view the site/building and firm up a scope for the job. This can all be done remotely with phone-calls, emails and digital photos of the site if you are in a country location. I then prepare an accurate measured drawing of the existing site/building. I will prepare an accurate site-plan of the land using online services to the Lands title office or from your certificate of title if you have one. The existing building (if there is one) and landscape features such as trees and paving etc. will need to be drawn in. I can do this for you, or if you want to save money or are in a remote location I will instruct you on what measurements must be made.  You can email me your sketch. An existing real estate agents flyer showing the floorplan is a good place to start. If you are lucky you may have the existing house-plans or plans from an old renovation. You then only have to locate the house on the block rather than measure the entire building internally. Once the site-plan has been drawn the existing building also has to be drawn in elevation. This has to be done on all sides that will be influenced by the new extension. The edge of neighboring buildings also needs to be located. These “Measured drawings” ensure your sketch design is not guess-work. The measured drawing stage will cost you around $2000.  We will then discuss design options and will firm up building siting, Floor Plan & Elevations. I then draw up a Sketch Design for you. We will use this for discussion and make changes as required.  I will liaise with Council at this stage if there are any planning issues. Sketch design stage including the measured drawings should come in around $3500. Please note the cost of this stage is entirely dependent on how decisive you are. Indecision will involve changes and cost more.


I use the Sketch design drawings as a basis for your Planning approval application. The application will consist of these plans and elevations and I will append additional detail and notes to them in order to provide the specific information the Council needs for Planning Approval.  Basically Council wants to know “what will it look like?” and “How does it fit on the site”.

This can be broken down into subcategories such as “What are the site levels and will there be cut and fill required?”. “How will stormwater be disposed of?”. The subcategory “Is it within size limitations” covers things such as “plot ratio” (which is the amount of built form expressed as a percentage of the total site), amount of hard paving, amount of and type of soft landscaping, covered patios and amount of “private open space”. “Is it built on a boundary?”.  “Is there any overlooking or overshadowing of neighbours property?”.

“Will it visually fit in with the existing buildings on the street?” has subcategories of height, width, and setback limitations. “What are the materials the building is constructed from and what colour are they” is another important piece of information in this category and these choices need to be listed on the drawings to ensure that the visual amenity of the street is maintained for other residents. “How much parking space is provided” is broken down into location, setback and size requirements for any form of carport or garaging, with minimum car parking requirements dictated by number of persons accommodated on the site (this equates to bedroom numbers for domestic buildings).

Please note that Council approval is not always granted. There are various legal avenues that can be pursued if that occurs, but it is sometimes better to shift if you cannot build what you want. The purpose of preparing and submitting the drawings in 2 stages is to avoid the costly mistake of fully documenting a job and then finding out that Council will not let you build what you want where you want. As an Architect I am familiar with Planning regulations and so can guide the project as smoothly through this stage as possible.  This includes preparing a submission for you if the proposal is to be scrutinised by a Council DAP Panel.  DAP submissions are only required if the proposal does not meet all the criteria that Council assess new works by, or if a neighbor has lodged a formal objection. Any DAP work will involve additional costs over and above those for a standard submission.   I will advise you from the outset if I think there may be planning problems and liaise with Council to see if there can be a compromise made.  I will provide changes as required to comply with council feedback.

Once Planning approval has been granted  I will recommend a consultant Engineer to you (or you may have one you prefer). I will send the planning drawings to the Engineer(s) for a quote and you will engage them for the job.  

A set of typical sketch design and planning approval drawings from me will cost around $2900. This will be more or less depending on how much you the client decide to change your mind. I have completed this stage for as little as $1200 and as much as $7000 but both of these figures are unusual.  An optional stage will be the production of a 3d model of the building. This is done on client request and is not an an approval requirement unless Council ask for a shadow study.  In this case this is the most effective method of conveying the appropriate information. My cost for this optional service will typically cost around $1200


 Draw up plans, elevations, sections & details. Write specification if required. Lodge for approval by a certifier. Lodge with council. Engage an Energy consultant to certify the building complies with the most recent changes to the Energy Provisions in the BCA. Typical costs for this stage are $3200 for my drawings, $180 for the energy consultant, $1000 for the Engineer, $400 for the timber framing truss calculations ( I engage a draftsman as a sub-consultant for this),$400 for the private certifier, .25% of the building cost as a government levee say $250 for every 100K spent and a few hundred dollars for Council lodgement and processing fees which are variable according to each council


Provide a legal contract between the builder and the building owner (unbiased unlike most contracts that builders will provide).  Check progress of work on site and that the building is being built to the design intent of  the drawings. Supervise payments to builder. Ensure retention sums are kept and released upon practical completion and after a reasonable defects period

Sometimes the Builder and the Owner negotiate these matters themselves.  Owner builder will not need this step as they only have to negotiate with separate subcontractors. In either case I will make site visits if I am required to inspect issues over work standard or compliance with drawings. I charge my standard hourly rate for this service. 

Please note that if you are an Owner Builder you will need the various trades to sign compliance forms that guarantee their work has been done according to relevant standards. The engineer will also be required to make site inspections at significant points (such as before steel-work is covered over) and certificates are to be supplied proving that work was inspected and up to standard. Your local Council will supply you with information on how to proceed with this matter and I recommend that you check what is required before you start to build.

Please note that the above explanation of what an Architect is and how they differ from a draftsperson is my personal opinion and is based on my last 25 years of experience in the industry. This is no means definitive and is not meant to disrespect drafts-persons’ in any way. What the above indicates is that there is a measure of certainty in the product you are getting from a mature Architect as the registration process assures you of certain competency. There is no such guarantee implied in work from a drafts-person or a building designer.