4 ways to tell if your architect is good, bad, or mediocre?

Wesley Spencer

Wesley Spencer recently shared his experience with houzz.com.au on how to judge a potential architect, from the design stage to budgeting and beyond.

As an architect, I’ve spent a lot of time explaining why we do things the way we do them to my friends, potential clients and other architects. Inevitably, it all comes down to the same reason:

Delivering an excellent home for the end-user.

Architects don’t have a prescriptive format for how they work. Be it the design stages, what’s included in their services, the type of projects they take onboard, and most particularly, their fees. So it’s understandable that a new client can find it difficult to compare different architects.

Here are some things you should look out for in your efforts before making a decision.

1. Design

Architects have been trained for years about how to design a building. They take on board a range of guidelines that determine the design they present you with, including:

  • Your budget.
  • Your brief.
  • Your aesthetic and personal preferences.
  • Council and local law guidelines/design codes.
  • Environmental design, including sun orientation.
  • Buildability and your timeline.
  • The engineering/ infrastructure design.

A good architect will be able to consider these aspects and design something with all these factors in mind. Don’t forget, an architect’s job is not just to design for you (the client) but for your family as it evolves, as well as for the people who will live in your home after you.

A mediocre architect will just take instruction from you, only focusing on the aspects that are important to you, such as giving you a box-like design and tacking on the aesthetics.

A bad architect won’t consider these aspects.

2. Concept

I’m about to head into an arena that less creative people might consider a little floral, but we need to chat about this.

Some people think that as long as they like all the features in their home, it will all gel nicely. But that’s unrealistic – we like different things and feel bored when faced with too much of the same features. In order to have a home that’s decked out with ideas that fold into each other cohesively, there needs to be a story that informs all design decisions.

So, let’s say for example that you, the client, came to me saying you loved the aesthetic of Chanel. That would inform the colour selection, the restraint of the spaces, the furniture selection, and the way the house interacts with the street. Having a grounded concept will inform every detailed decision, and – especially because you’ve hired an architect to make decisions for you – you want to be assured that these decisions are those you will be happy with.

A good architect will be interested to learn more about you personally and will observe little details about you and your existing home, such as what mug you like drinking from and what you’re wearing. That said, most potential clients wear all black in anticipation of meeting their architect and wanting to make a positive impression. Just wear what you love best – express yourself.

A mediocre architect will just ask you what you like and design that for you. Some people might read that and wonder, “What’s wrong with that?”. However, if that’s what you want, then I think you’re missing an opportunity to let a professional design something unique for your vital living dilemmas, backed up by years of training and practice developing ideas and solutions. A good architect will have ideas you would never think of.

A bad architect will try to convince you to proceed with an idea you don’t necessarily like, want or need because of an idea they may have. I recently had a client with an enormous house, and the brief was to redeploy disused spaces. The client explained that the architect before me had suggested putting a rooftop garden above their rumpus room. She never asked for more outdoor space nor wanted to hang out on her roof.

3. Budget

An architect will design your home to your specified budget. Let’s set aside an industry term called ‘scope creep’ for a minute.

We are professionally responsible to deliver a design that is relatively within your budget. So, it is important to test a potential architect’s knowledge on the cost of features and materials. This knowledge will be necessary when trying to negotiate with builders, trim costs and (earlier in the process), design a building with the features you want that fall within your budget.

A good architect will tell you that option A costs more, and, where possible, will also come up with an option B that does not cost more.

A mediocre architect will be able to design your home within budget, but can run off track with various features that, while seemingly minute, can badly affect your budget. For example, square-set cornices and P50 (which is the shadowline cornice) cost the same to purchase; however, installing a P50 shadowline is quite a bit dearer than installing square-set cornices.

A bad architect will not mention that extra cost and take it for granted that ‘you asked for it, therefore you should expect a price rise’.

4. Style

We typically have two different types of clients. The ones who rely on our advice and opinions, and the ones who have a fairly strong idea of what they like and just want you to put it together. Each approach is entirely fine and we work happily with both.

Of course, if you’re the latter, then don’t go back to your architect after the project’s complete, complaining that it doesn’t look how you’d expected. It’s like going to the hairdresser with a photo of someone sporting a thick coif, and the hairdresser telling you, “Umm… you’re balding, so unless I stick some hair on your head, this would be impossible”.

A good architect will still warn you that “what you want is a bad idea”, and endeavour to explain why your vision won’t work in this particular application.

Usually, this has something to do with the aforementioned points. Other times, it’s due to external characteristics, for example, feng shui. You might not care about feng shui, but future buyers may. Or, it might be to do with the fact that an architect understands the look you’re aiming for, but because they have a heightened ability to visualise a space, they know that this is not how it will look when finished.

If what you’re asking for is a bad solution, a good architect will take your request and propose an alternative that meets your design objective.

A mediocre architect will say no, not explain why, frustrate you until you simply insist on doing it that way, then give up.

A bad architect will do what you’ve asked while muttering under their breath.

“Wesley and the staff are great listeners and eager to learn. The desire of the team to ensure the latest products and Trends is a testament to their design ideology.”

David, Melbourne

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