Architect V Draftsperson v Designer – what’s the difference and who should I hire?

While most public buildings in Australia are built using an architect, only 10% of privately built new homes built use architects.

For many people considering a home build, the words “draftsperson” or “drafting officer”, “building designer” and “architect” may seem somewhat interchangeable, and for others the architect is regarded as an expensive luxury.

But times are changing.

While COVID-19 initially painted a gloomy picture for the building industry, strong growth in Victoria especially and building permits up 25% in the first quarter of 2021 – are all behind a forecast of 4.7% growth in 2022-2023.

While draftspersons and building designers are perfectly acceptable for some jobs, there are occasions when the experience of an architect will yield higher financial rewards at resale if the project is larger or more complex.

Here are the five questions you should ask yourself, before making your decision, courtesy of Melbourne Architect Taras Wolf of Wolf Architects.

1 What does the service provider do?

The draftsperson is the person who creates to scale technical drawings, usually using computer assisted design software.

They often work with architects and can be engaged by engineers or architects to produce drawings for the project at hand.

Generally, the draftsperson can’t be expected to have the artistic or comprehensive background to go beyond making minor changes to the plan.

They also are rarely involved for any stage of the build beyond initial planning.

A draftsperson may be the ideal candidate for a small house renovation or extension but if it is aesthetics, usage of space, energy efficiency and a unique or artistic look, building designers and architects are a safer bet.

The building designer is somewhat more experienced than the draftsperson (a building designer requires licensing in many states) and unlike the draftsperson can be more involved in other stages outside of initial planning.

While the building designer has to be registered to work on a residential home, they can also be someone with an architecture degree who hasn’t been registered yet.

The architect has considerably more skills and a greater depth of education than the draftsperson and designer. Architects can draw plans, design materials and processes, negotiate with contractors and generally have greater skills negotiating with councils especially in heritage conservation areas.

Education is significantly longer and more intense.

As a point of difference the architect degree includes acoustics, basic knowledge of structural behaviour, general knowledge of building codes, visualisation, innovation, negotiation skills, ability to source and coordinate various consultants (eg planners, quantity surveyors, engineers), ergonomics, environmental sustainability, architectural history, legal knowledge and most of all design quality (e.g. properotion, alignment, colour theory, lighting expertise).

As with any occupation you are generally paying for the extra training, liability and insurance.

The architect is also responsible for the way the building looks aesthetically, that it serves the purpose, that it adheres to building codes and that it stays on budget with as few hiccups as possible.

The best analogy I can think of is that the nurse represents the draftsperson, the intern represents the building designer and the resident consultant and above are all different categories of architects.   

1 How complex is the project?

While a simple bathroom or kitchen renovation is often perfectly suitable for a draftsperson, if your renovation is more complex or a larger project then an architect will bring more experience to the table.

You don’t see many homes on Grand Designs that are NOT designed by architects, and outside of aesthetics, architects are also generally the most helpful contractually as the architect advises the client on the builder’s contractual responsibility and what steps to take when this is breached. The architect is not however responsible for the builder’s performance.

And just because an architect costs more in the short-term, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire them – especially if you’re looking to sell down the track.

New research from Melbourne University shows that the use of architects leads to better resale value and capital gains and adds 1.2% more value per year to house price, than non-architect designed houses.

It’s also about how particular you are. Architects are trained to deliver maximum value for every dollar and inch of space with the least compromise, which is critical when investing millions of dollars.

What are the provider’s qualifications and licensing?

A draftsperson will typically complete a two year TAFE course focusing predominantly on computer aided design drawing.

Drafting officers are rarely involved beyond the planning stage.

A building designer typically may start as a draftsperson and do extra training to get licensing, or some designers may have a degree in architecture but not be registered with the Board of Architects.

An architect will be involved in all stages of the project (planning, design, construction budgeting, supervision, risk management).

Architecture is generally a minimum 7 year journey (three as an undergraduate degree, followed by two to five years after the Masters to be ready for registration exams.

Other benefits of using an architect include:

More options.  The level of detail in drawings is important. Architect drawings tend to have more information which helps minimse guess work in the creation of custom and unique designs.

Bid evaluation. Architects can also evaluate the bids of competing construction companies and advise on best options.

Mediation experience. Architects are also responsible for mediating with contractors and managing the schedule.

Licensing. Also, using a licensed architect assures the client that the project will be more likely approved by the council and construction company.

Building designers need to be licensed as well and although a draftsperson has a two-year qualification in many states of Australia they are not required to have a license.

“I guess that the easiest way to put it is that you’re just getting a deep level of design thinking with architecture,” says Wolf.

“I often compare this scenario to a hamburger. It doesn’t require enormous skill or education to make a tasty hamburger, but in a good restaurant there will be a lot more consideration to the way it’s assembled, the ingredients and the whole dining experience.”

What guarantees does the provider offer?

When choosing a draftsperson, building designer or architect, there are some important questions to ask.

These may include

  • Will you alter plans if something comes up during the construction phase and at what cost?
  • Are the plans guaranteed to meet or exceed building code requirements?
  • What guarantees do you offer on your work?
  • Do you work alone or in conjunction with an architect, designer or engineer?
  • Do you have any referees or people I can talk to about previous projects?

Three ideas to make your home look more expensive

Melbourne architect Taras Wolf, offers his interior design tips to improve the glamor factor of your home.

Think low and curved furniture

“Creating a sense of airiness and space can be achieved by using furniture that is lower to the ground,” says Wolf.

Hanging paintings and pictures lower down (leaving the top part of the wall virtually empty) creates a sense of space and emptiness at the top of the room.

Curved furniture can work very well and is one of Pinterest’s most popular trends this year, but you must have space to use it.

“You want to be able to walk around most curved forms because if you put curved furniture against a straight space it generally will not work.”

Where to best place furniture generally?

When you walk into a room you need to focus on what the eyes can see MOST of the time, not 10 percent of the time, and make that the centerpiece of the room, he says.

It’s important to invest in interior design to make the most of the space and create some emotion.

“Too many people ruin a perfectly great space with poor choice of furniture, how it’s arranged, bad colour combinations and unusual finishes or fixtures that may seem trendy but date quickly.”

Have multiple seating areas

“There is nothing more inviting  than having a couple of extra chairs in the living room, or multiple seating areas outside where people can gather privately as a group,” says Wolf.

“When summer rolls around an outdoor entertaining area becomes one of the most used and loved parts of a home.

“If your backyard or balcony doesn’t already have an area dedicated to entertaining, introducing one is a sure-fire way to increase the value of your property.

“Often extending the colours outside from what’s inside with a rug or the same coloured cushions can add a sense of unity too. Outdoor storage is important too for toys and cushions that can be put away when the weather is cold and wet.”

Layer the lighting

“Nothing screams the wow factor like a large, modern statement artwork, with layered lighting around the room which may include picture lights on the artwork, a chandelier, and a few table lamps so there are different visual items of light interest around the room,” says Wolf.

And it’s all worthwhile removing all the “cool light bulbs’ ‘ in bedrooms, living rooms and kitchen especially, and swapping them out with warm lights. Changing all your lights from cool to warm in the house can create an incredible sense of warmth and cosiness.

Hanging lights lower about 1.9m from the floor (or with 7 foot clearance) is ideal to keep the light at eye level, especially if ceilings are high.

You don’t want any light neck-craningly high.

For bedside tables, the bottom of the shade should be around about chin level.

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