What do you miss out on when you let a builder tell you who should design your project? Potentially a lot – and this blog explains what and why.
This is not a builder-bashing blog by any stretch. However, truth be known, some builders do not like architects.
The first step changes where you go …
Often when homeowners are planning a renovation or new home, the first person they’ll call is a local builder.
It makes sense … you want something built – you call a professional who can build things.
What can happen, however, is that when you start with a builder, it can influence the steps you take next.
And you can miss out on opportunities available to you, had you started differently.
Why is this?
Well, in my experience, builders are not designers. Yet some will offer design advice when on site, or shape the way you seek design advice.
And then they guide your project – without you even realising it – and potentially without you even hiring them.
See, some builders don’t like architects. They’ll say …“You don’t need an architect – just use a draftsperson or building designer”
For those who are new to Undercover Architect, you’ll find that my goal is to help you be informed – so you can choose the best professional for you. That may or may not be an architect. (You can read here about the differences between building designers, draftspeople and architects.)
What I do believe in – is design.
Design makes the difference between a home that works, and one that doesn’t.
Great design makes things better, more convenient, more functional, simpler, more beautiful and more fun.
And great design doesn’t cost anymore than average or poor design … when it’s done upfront.
In fact, great design can actually SAVE you money – in creating efficiency in space, construction, and ongoing maintenance and running costs.
Better still – great design can even MAKE you money – especially when you go to sell your home.
So when you start with a builder and they shape the way you seek design support and advice, then you can underutilise the potential of your home. You can miss out on exploiting every chance for your home to be great.
The builder is the professional who knows how to build, but not necessarily how to design. (Having an ‘interest’ in design is not the same as knowing how, and being trained, to do it well).
I had a recent experience of this that brought this point home. A Client that worked with me to create some design sketches for a deck addition to her home then got a builder on board to do the construction.
He looked at my drawings (which proposed removing a post on the existing deck as part of the deck extension) and told her not to remove it – because the home is symmetrical and would no longer be.
The thing was … the only place the home appeared symmetrical from was standing in the bottom of the rear yard, looking up at it (which is where the builder was offering his advice from).
And yet, every other experience of the home – especially moving from the inside out this deck – was asymmetrical.
The proposal of removing one post was to create sufficient space outside that would enable the space to function, feel open and connect with the garden. It would also allow an outdoor table to fit well.
And once the proposed deck and awning was in, the symmetrical nature of the home would definitely not be visible anyway – because the design of the deck and awning deliberately pulled away movement and people from the lower floor bedroom to give it some privacy. And it created an asymmetry in doing so.
This asymmetry was actually important for the hierarchy of the space. The client wanted people to feel more drawn to the eastern end of the home because that’s where their external access will be for visitors who come down the side of the home, and to keep the western side downstairs private (where bedrooms were located).
If she had taken the direction of the builder, who was standing in her backyard observing the symmetrical nature of the home from a vantage point very few people ever used, she’d have a very different outcome to the design solution she now greatly enjoys.
This blog is not a builder-bash session
I think a lot of builders are brilliant – and I’ve had some incredibly collaborative and great working relationships with builders who’ve helped my clients (and me) bring dreams, design and drawings into reality.
This blog is about helping you understand the opportunities available to you based on who you speak to first. It is also about showing you how to put together a team that will support you in your building or renovating journey in the best possible way.
Sweeping generalisations – not all builders dislike architects
As I said before, I’ve worked with some excellent builders.
- only recommend using an architect,
- who also believe in design, and
- find working on architect-designed projects really fun, professionally fulfilling and enjoyable.
Great architects will help great builders create great projects – that work beautifully as homes and are enjoyable, functional places for their owners to live.
When projects like this go well, all team members love being part of the process of creating something like this.
Who doesn’t love bringing great dreams like this to life?
However, the nature of many architecturally designed homes is that they can be:
- one-off custom designs
- specifically unique to their site
- sometimes highly detailed in the way elements and materials are put together
- use unconventional materials that are more commonly seen in commercial projects
- usually conveyed in comparatively large packages of drawings and written information (read here for my blog on how many drawings you need)
So, their advice to not use an architect, can be about what’s involved in building architecturally designed homes. And some builders don’t like to build that way.
They’ll say … “Architect designed homes are too complicated”
As with other professionals, builders vary in the type, scale, quality and finish of work that they regularly undertake.
There are some builders don’t enjoy the level of detail that can be involved in bespoke homes. They can have systems that bring them efficiency and economy to their projects and they way they deliver them, that do not fit with bespoke, detailed projects.
However, there are other builders who appreciate the level of thought that goes into this detailed approach.
I shared a post about a Grand Designs episode on my social pages recently, where Kevin McCloud was appraising the home, recently clad in its timber cladding. Kevin observed that the owner had forgotten to put flashing over the windows. This meant water could travel down the façade, and track back into the interior of the home, around the windows.
(The owner was building the project from simple drawings prepared by an architect. They’d terminated his services before they’d got detailed drawings)
When an architect provides detailed resolution of a home, they think through all of these details at design and drawing stage. Decisions are made, they’re included in the building quotes, and building work can be carried out in an already-determined, and resolved manner (not an ‘figure it out as you go’ way).
Some builders LOVE this.
Some builders don’t.
Some builders like to use their systems, or to be involved in figuring it out as you go, or to make the decision on behalf of the homeowner.
They’ll say … “Architects do too many drawings”
You can imagine that when the home is represented, in totality, down to specific connections – even the specific screw to use – that there can be a lot of pressure on the builder to know those drawings intimately, and make sure things get built that way.
The drawings form part of the building contract, so any diversion from them can be grounds to have work re-done or to seek some other resolution. It holds the builder accountable to all those decisions and designs that occurred before work commences on site.
Some builders LOVE this.
Some builders don’t.
It takes work on the builder’s behalf to read, know and understand the drawings – and how the home is to be put together – determined by someone else. It takes skill and expertise to read drawings in that way, and interpret them into their building project.
I remember being amazed by an incredible builder I worked with on some high-end riverfront homes at Mirvac. I was Project Architect, and he was the Construction Manager for the site.
He methodically processed all the drawings my team and I prepared … (there were over 100 per home). He coordinated them with all the service consultant drawings too, and created a list of questions of things requiring clarification, or he believed were missing.
He did this before any work commenced, trades were organised or materials were ordered.
He knew those homes as intimately as me – and I’d been sleeping, eating, breathing, designing and drawing them for months.
For me, it was an early introduction into just how necessary (and important) talented, savvy and meticulous builders are to help create great projects.
As designers, we can draw anything we want to (or that the client will allow us). Without the builder, though, they’re only drawings. The builder is essential to the process of turning those drawings into a real building. Without them, our ideas and designs don’t go anywhere.
Of course, it still takes work, skill and expertise to figure out how to interpret any drawings and actually build it. However, when the detail isn’t drawn, the builder can then choose how to tackle it using their own methods. The accountability and process is very different.
Some things to be aware of if starting with a builder:
Some builders will include ‘free design services’ when you start your project with them. There’s really no such thing though – it’s more a case of ‘you don’t have to pay for design yet’ services. Here’s 2 warnings about what to be aware of in this scenario.
Get to where you want to go
Building and renovating is a journey of many steps – not just one big one. And as with any journey, where and how you start out can often impact where you end up.
Undercover Architect exists to help you plan your future reno or new home project – and get it right, simply and with confidence. I’m committed to giving you access to lots of helpful and free advice and info to enable you to do just this – whoever you’re working with.
Get informed about the overall journey first, and then determine who will be the best people on your team to help make it happen – and suit the role you need them for.
Then at every turn, you’ll know exactly how to get to where you want to go.