Should you be using an architect to review your design when working with a Design-Build Company?
Here are 3 tips to help you decide.
Since my episode about working with Design-Build / Design-Construct companies went live, I’ve received one common question:
“Could we still use a Design-Build business if we hire an architect to review and provide feedback on the design? Maybe that way, we can ensure all the important design elements are included, and we’re not missing anything, whilst we keep our costs down overall.”
If this has been something you’ve been wondering about too, then that’s what this blog is about.
I’ve got 3 specific points for you to consider when hiring an external architect to review / oversee the design-build process (and give you advice and input on the home design they’re creating):
#1 Design is NOT an applied thing that happens AFTER you draw up your floor plans
There can be a perception that you can sort out your floor plan, and then get an external architect to ‘look over it’ and ensure you’ve added all the wow factor and great design elements your home can maximise.
But design is not applied after the floor plan is created.
Design is at the origin of how your site, your brief and your budget is interpreted to drive a fantastic solution.
Design is in the decision-making of how to create volume and capture light, of where to position and arrange functions and rooms, and how to ensure this facilitates ease and comfort in your everyday life.
Remember too, that great design isn’t any more expensive to build than terrible design. As a client once said to me: “It costs the same amount of money to build the wall, whether you put it in the right place or the wrong place.”
Getting an external architect to provide input into ‘the right place to put the wall’ can work, but if your design-build company starts the design process in a superficial or poor way conceptually, or is simply arranging squares and rectangles on a page with total ignorance of orientation and the site-specific opportunities, the origin of the design will be wrong from the start.
That can be hard to simply audit and review, without getting really involved in the design process itself. And, you may not always like the feedback your external architect gives you either.
This leads me onto number #2.
#2 Expert (architectural) input may put a bomb under the work you’ve been doing with the design-build company
From my experience of providing Design Reviews and 1:1 Consultations to my HOME Method members, who use these member upgrades to get input on their home design, I know full well that my input can sometimes put a bomb under the existing work that’s already been carried out.
This is the thing: your design needs to get to a certain level of resolution for you to seek feedback or input on it (and know that the person doing the feedback will have something meaningful to work with).
But to get that level of resolution, you’ll probably have already spent some time too-ing and fro-ing with the design-build company about what you like and want, and what you don’t like and want.
And then you show it to the architect for input. And if they’re like me, they may find this happens …
I can find that my feedback suggests completely rearranging a floor plan to improve its design for orientation.
Or it suggests ways to improve the efficiency of the design and get rid of excess floor area which is making it look ‘spacious’ but in actual fact will be unnecessary fat and awkward space without any function.
Or I’m advising that whole parts of the home need to be re-designed because their lack of functionality will be incredibly challenging for family life.
Sometimes the homeowner will say to me “I’m pretty happy with the floor plan generally, but I’m not sure whether the master bedroom could be better. Or the kitchen is big enough.”
And I’ll look at the floor plan and say “that’s the least of your problems, because currently, this layout is really inefficient, the circulation through the home is terribly arranged, your arrival into the house will be frustrating, and there’s rooms in completely the wrong location for the site. Consider this instead (insert ideas here!)”
It’s not fun news to deliver.
It is actually really horrible news to deliver.
Because I know that the homeowner has spent time, effort and money to get to this point.
But, if they’ve asked for my honest input (based on my experience and knowledge), then that’s what I’m going to give. And if you know me, you’ll know I don’t mince words – I am frank in my feedback, even if I know it’ll be hard to hear.
Still, it doesn’t make it any easier to tell someone that the floor plan they’ve created is going to be a really hard home to live in, and their funds could be better invested in a more functional, better designed, home.
Then, because I’m not being paid to actually design the home – they have to go back to the design-build company, try and convey that input, and then also try and drive a better design outcome. With a designer who, if they knew that information in the first place, wouldn’t have created the solution they have.
This then requires you, as the homeowner and client, to have a passion for the quality of design in your future home, and a tenacity to see that through. Plus you need to be informed and understand home design sufficiently that you can push back on any poor resolutions you continue to get from the design-build company.
For many homeowners, they find this part really hard – because they now know the design doesn’t work, and why it doesn’t work. And they can see there’s a solution in there that will be better. But they can’t solve it themselves, and they can’t show the design-build company how to solve it either.
Which leads me onto number #3.
#3 It can be tricky to clearly delineate who owns what, who gets attribution, and whose design it is
So, you may say … “Well, why can’t I just get the architect I’m hiring for review to draw up the right solution to give back to the design-build company so they can fix the floor plan they’ve done?”
Because, you’re not hiring the architect to design your home. You’re hiring the architect to review the home that someone else is designing.
And once the architect does some design work for you to hand back to the design-build company, you create issues around whose design it is, who gets credit for it, and how that’s managed legally.
When I used to provide a ‘fix-your-floorplan’ service, I didn’t enforce copyright. I’d fix someone’s terrible floor plan and provide to-scale drawings of the alternative design.
Sometimes those clients would actually redraw the floorplan themselves to take back to their own designer, because they didn’t want them to know they’d got external help.
Sometimes they’d just hand my drawing over, then the designer would change the drawing to match it. The house would get built – and that designer would take credit for the design I’d created.
I did that service knowing that could, and would, happen – because my goal was (and is) always about the homeowner getting the best design outcome they can for their budget, their site, and their life.
Not all designers or architects who provide review services are happy to work this way, so that’s something to consider when sourcing your external professional who’ll be providing the review service for you (especially if they’re going to be drawing anything).
So, is it worth getting an external architect involved?
I’ve learned, in doing these reviews (plus in the 25+ years I’ve been in this industry), that there is lazy design everywhere. Designers simply are not working to save floor area, maximise functionality, or make home designs that have brilliant layouts. Things are just ‘close enough’ … and done quickly, so they can move onto the next client or project.
Frankly, I reckon if you’re spending $$$$ on a home you plan to live in long-term, ‘close enough’ is a very low bar.
Homeowners often have a sense it’s not quite working, but don’t always have the words, tools and knowledge to push back and demand better. Some designers and draftspeople simply don’t have the skill to deliver better either.
However … sometimes though, it definitely can work to get expert, architectural input.
(I’ve seen the successful results in my HOME Method members’ homes! It’s super exciting to see the improvements they make with that input.)
So, to avoid dramas with this process, get clear on those 3 points I’ve mentioned.
If you’re determined to work with a design-build company, find one who actually cares about design, and employ designers who have skill and experience.
Then your external architect can become your personal auditor and industry insider to assist in the process.
However, if you’re trying this combo process to simply avoid tendering, or to avoid creating a design that’s over budget, there are better ways.
Learn more about how you can get a builder involved during the pre-construction phase of your project, to provide input on cost and buildability and work collaboratively with your architect or designer using the PAC Process (or Paid As Consultant Process).
Episodes 201 to 205 will help you learn more about the PAC Process. You can start at Episode 201 here >>> The Process to Help Your Home Design be on Budget and Simpler to Build | PAC Process
You can also find out in Part 1 of 2 of this episode if supplying your own fixtures and finishes is a great way to save money on your projects.
I hope you find it super helpful information.
Amelia, UA x
If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that.
It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE
And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you.
You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN
If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER