Here is a list of questions I am frequently asked about our services, practice, fees etc.
You are very welcome to contact me directly for more information, or to discuss ideas for your new project.
What is your Design Process?
The typical design process has been described quite well in this article on the NZ Institute of Architects website. Of course every project is different and the process is tailored to suit your needs.
Paul, you call yourself a ‘Freelance Architect’. What does that mean?
This simply means that my clients include other architects – I often assist other practices around New Zealand when they are busy and need a little extra help, or when they need specialist skills and experience for a task that might lie outside their normal day-to-day capability.
Architecture Prime is a small company. Am I not better off with a larger firm?
To be fair, there are situations where you would be better off with a large firm despite the extra cost, though not as many as there once were.
With today’s BIM technology a single architect with the right skill set can address large and complex projects (such as high-end houses, apartment buildings, multi-story commercial buildings etc) that historically would have required a whole team of architects and draftspeople.
Dealing with a small company also offers you certain advantages – the service is always personalized, and you know you are always getting the top person assigned to your job. You are not affected by the inevitable large firm inefficiencies, higher overheads or staff churn (staff being moved from project to project).
With a large firm, the practice principals you meet and deal with are seldom the ones actually doing the work. To sustain their overheads (and salaries), most work is delegated to more junior staff. Delegation adds a significant internal office communication overhead, and with many projects to address, a large practice typically also needs to move staff from project to project as the firm’s other project deadlines and workloads ramp up and down, each time creating a break in continuity for your project, and each time adding more ‘getting up to speed’ delay when the next person assigned has to pick up the reigns and learn the history of your job.
In a nutshell, within the same fee budget, a large firm faced with higher overheads generally has no choice but to allocate fewer working hours and/or less qualified personnel to your project, if they hope to turn a profit.
It is important to note that beyond a certain level of complexity, some projects will definitely benefit from the resources a large company can offer. Of course at the other end of the scale, there are situations where using an architect (or even a draftsman) at all may be overkill.
We can have a frank discussion about whether we are the right ‘fit’ for your project at our first meeting, and if necessary suggest other suitable practices and options where this makes better sense.
What is ‘Professional Indemnity Insurance’ for, and do you need it?
PI insurance provides financial and legal assistance to the architect in the unlikely event of a claim for negligence. This may be a somewhat double edged sword from the perspective of the client who ultimately pays for this through higher fees; it provides a kind of surety in the form of a known pool of insurer’s money for an aggrieved client to potentially claim against, but also pays for expensive lawyers to defend against the client and minimize the chances that any claim will actually succeed.
Architecture Prime would much rather avoid being sued in the first place through superior quality of work, attention to detail, and good communication, than through insurance products and lawyers. We do not normally use PI insurance unless a client specifically requires us to. If you do prefer we have it for your job, no problem – please just ask.
Either way we are highly motivated to ensure our work is good and our clients are happy – We are committed to ensuring no client will ever have cause to accuse us of negligence!
Architects, architectural designers and draftsmen are more or less the same thing, right?
Most people would assume that a person who designs buildings for a living is an architect.
Very often this is not the case, although the assumption does benefit some operators out there who perhaps like the professional credibility that the title ‘architect’ brings, without having to actually earn it.
Unfortunately it can be quite hard for a layperson to spot the difference – at first.
In a nutshell, by law anyone claiming to be an architect must be officially registered, and must demonstrate a high level of knowledge, training, skill, ethics and care in order to use and retain the title. Designers who have not met this standard must use other words to describe what they do; typically, ‘architectural designer’, or less often now ‘draftsman’.
‘Whats in a name’? you might well ask. Well, there certainly are differences, and let’s be honest, one of them is cost. Another difference is what you get for your money; i.e. quality of outcome, return on investment, and exposure to risk.
While many architectural designers are great at what they do, most who do meet a high standard simply go on to register as architects themselves. Note that there is a very basic standard ‘Licensed Building Practitioner’ that any designer or trades person in the industry must have, but the bar for this is set low, and should not be confused with registration.
If you hear a designer claiming to be ‘just as good’, or ‘more or less the same’ as an architect, but who ‘never quite got around to registering’, there may be a good reason.
The issue of professional titles aside, unsurprisingly, for any given build budget, minimizing design cost is strongly associated with minimizing the skill, design and documentation quality brought to bear on your project.
Without a good designer and thorough documentation, you should generally expect less imaginative, attractive and efficient solutions, more problems on site, and lower resale value – but lower up front design cost.
Why are architects so expensive?
A common misconception, but quite simply, we aren’t at all expensive – when you compare the alternatives.
For sure, designing buildings properly does require an investment in time and care that not all developers and home builders allow for. There is more to go wrong, and more involved in getting it right than many people realise.
Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the extra costs down the track caused by minimizing design fees are not obvious up front, and are too often overlooked by inexperienced clients when selecting a building and design delivery strategy.
Obviously as an architect I would say this, but architect fees, while not often the cheapest, do generally represent the best value overall.
I can say this with confidence because the fees you spend on an architect are typically more than offset by the increased valuation (resale or rental return) of the building you get from architect-quality design and documentation; increased efficiency, desirability and amenity in operation, and as studies show, substantially less cost during construction from reduced mistakes and delays on site.
It is fair to say that every dollar saved up front on professional fees probably costs you many more dollars in the end.
Why are architects so cheap?
… Actually, I am not asked this one too often to be fair, but surprisingly, compared with almost any other professional, typical architect incomes are firmly at the bottom end of the scale.
This is because a good deal of time and care is required to ensure the client gets a great outcome, and so the fees earned need to be spread over a high number of hours.
Consider for example that a real estate agent, with no more than a high school education, might charge 2-4% of the value of a property for the equivalent of maybe a few days work. An architect can easily require months of solid work to design and draw up all the details of that same building (even years on large or complex buildings), and yet might earn about the same.
Which building the client may well sell at a large profit, if it was well designed.
Some else is offering to work for 2% less than you, so why should I use Architecture Prime ?
If someone else appears to be cheaper, there is probably a very good reason for it (or a bad reason, depending on your viewpoint!).
The market is crowded with designers of all kinds, and pricing is very competitive. This means practices are forced to price keenly in relation to what it costs them to provide the service, and the costs faced by any practice typically relate to the level of efficiency, the specific services, the level of skill and the level of care being offered.
Certainly, operating at the forefront of technology, and without large practice overheads to carry, the efficiency at Architecture Prime is already far better than most, so you already get more service for every dollar spent.
This leaves only three ways to undercut Architecture Prime, all of which involve added risk for you:
1) Provide reduced service, i.e. by omitting key outcomes or processes that Prime has included in the price (quite possibly making up the difference later via a bunch of unexpected ‘extra’ costs as the need for these tasks becomes apparent to you) .
2) Provide less skill than Prime offers, typically by using or delegating to cheaper less qualified, or experienced staff.
3) Provide less care than Prime insists upon providing. Cutting corners and not allowing for the time required for good thorough work.
Whatever you do, and whoever you finally use, please make sure the fees you compare really are an ‘apples for apples’ comparison.
Finally, I cannot reiterate strongly enough that every dollar saved on design fees will likely cost you far more by the end.
Ok, so how much do you charge?
This depends completely on what services you need.
There is an NZIA ‘scale of fees’ where estimates can range anywhere from 3% of construction cost for a very large and expensive building, to perhaps 15% for a tiny low budget alteration job – but without knowing quite a bit about your objectives and your project, I would be doing you no favours by guessing at a more specific figure.
For this reason you should be very careful if ‘shopping around’ for an architect or other designer, to ensure you really are comparing apples with apples, and that the fees proposed will actually allow for everything you will need. There are a lot of essential things that need to be done beyond ‘drawing the plans’ that most people never even think of, and which can mount up.
There are usually a number of fee and service options available at any scale of building, and we can usually tailor our services to suit your objectives and budget.
Listening carefully to your objectives and understanding your site is the first and most essential service we offer.