Your ultimate guide to facilitating a great architect/builder relationship

Jun 15, 2019

canberra architects

For years, you’ve dreamed of building the perfect house. Your forever home that is custom built to your exact specifications, and encompasses everything you could ever want or need.

You engage the services of an architect – someone to help you design a home that is functional, beautiful, affordable, and can be completed in an acceptable timeframe.

The drawings come together, and everything seems to be getting off to a great start…and then you engage a builder. From there, things begin to get a little complicated. Issues seem to keep popping up, and you find yourself on the phone with either your architect or builder every other day – with each one telling you a different story, and no way to work out who is right or wrong.

This happens all too often during a custom home build, and can cause home owners a great deal of stress. Especially if you are caught in the middle between two people you trust and need, and are possibly even forced to choose a side.

Building mutual respect

When it comes to building a new home, builders and architects can have different perspectives on the importance of:

  • Aesthetics
  • Functionality
  • Lifestyle
  • Cost
  • Timing

For example, your architect may be dead set on adding a particular design feature that adds thousands to the cost of the build, or weeks to the estimated completion date.

Your builder, on the other hand, may be happy to do away with certain aesthetics, in the interest of keeping the project on time and within budget.

This type of conflict is often due to a lack of respect for the other provider’s abilities.

It is not your builder’s place to overstep the line and act as an authority on design. It is also not right for an architect to do the same regarding construction and building costs. Sometimes arguments are the result of overinflated egos. Other times, the architect or builder is not as experienced, talented or professional as they made themselves out to be, and the other party is forced to intervene.

The best way to avoid this scenario is to be aware of this when you engage both parties.

Builders admire and enjoy working with great architects who have a clear vision and can create documentation that is detailed, relevant, consistent, buildable, and has dimensions that add up.

Architects enjoy working with builders who:

  • have the experience and skills to understand and follow the drawings
  • enjoy the challenge of developing solutions with the architect for details that arise during the project
  • can communicate potential issues before they have major consequences

Great homes are delivered by architects and builders who are talented, experienced and flexible, communicate freely, and respect each other.

Achieving a beautiful and buildable design

If the documentation (floor plans, details, elevations) provided by your architect is not sufficient, your builder may:

  1. Suspend construction until they receive proper instructions (i.e.: new/revised drawings). These requests for information can put everyone under pressure to analyse the issue and generate a solution ASAP. The architect may be restricted by the availability of staff who know the project, input needed from consultants (e.g.: the structural engineer), and even selection/approval from you.
  1. Take it upon themselves to resolve the issue by modifying the design, details, or substituting or omitting materials. They may do this without consulting the architect (or even you), to keep the job progressing or to secretly reduce their build costs.

If either of these scenarios happen, it can place a lot of stress on everyone involved. It may lead to variations (which cost time and money), or a compromised design outcome that doesn’t meet the architect’s vision.

This can then cause disputes over who was responsible for the poor outcome: the architect whose detail was incorrect, or the builder who took it upon themselves to “fix it up”.

The ideal way to avoid this is to ensure your architect has designed your home virtually, using 3D modelling. This allows them to test that each component they have specified fits together as intended (and in the space allowed).

A home that can be built virtually, can almost definitely be brought to life as intended.

Dealing with budget blowout

If your architect estimates the cost of your build without input from a builder, you cannot blame them if the budget is exceeded.

A professional architect will always have regard for the budget. However, because they aren’t in the day to day business of building, they can’t be expected to have expertise in some of the major items that make up the cost of building a custom home, such as:

  • Estimating the many time based tasks (e.g.: how many carpenters are needed to build a ceiling bulkhead and how long will it take?).
  • Supervision costs for a construction manager and/or site supervisor.
  • Overheads that contribute to the running costs of a competent, reliable builder (e.g.: administration, insurances, tools and training).

If the budget does blow out, the architect may not get to see their vision built, which can be demoralising for their team.

An architect’s best tool to design a home to a budget (without input from a builder) is by referencing similar homes they have recently designed which have been priced by a builder.

Ideally, you should try to bring your builder in at the earliest possible point, to guide you on the costs of building the architect’s design. This way, informed decisions can be made about design elements and specifications as the design is developed.

You should also be aware of how many “minor changes” you make during the course of the design that could not have been foreseen by the architect or builder. Lots of seemingly minor changes can add up to a significant amount, which is a common cause of budget blow out.

Right team, right approach

The right team and the right approach will help you avoid conflict between your builder and architect…leading to a smooth and enjoyable building process, and a successful outcome for all.

We’ll leave you with a few simple tips for facilitating a great builder/architect relationship:

  1. Get them to meet as soon as possible and observe how they communicate. You’ll get a sense of whether they are speaking the same language, if there is respect for each other’s skills, and if they are passionate about your project.
  2. If one is bluffing about their skills, the other will be able to quickly see through their ability to deliver, and may be able to raise it with you before problems fester.
  3. Allow experienced builders and architects to bring their expertise to the process. You want professionals with solid opinions on what is needed (not “yes” men). A passionate point of view often equals true ownership of the project, and a better outcome for you.
  4. Get a sense of the culture in the architect’s firm and the builder’s business. There should be consistency among staff, so that no matter who works on your project, they are always bringing the same level of energy and expertise to designing and building your new home. Ask if you can meet some of the design team, or the builder’s crew, during your early meetings.

If you can choose a great architect and builder who have the right attitude and are open to communication between each other and with you, you are well on your way to facilitating a great working relationship that will extend over 12-18 months – and ending up with the house you had envisioned.

To build your custom home with a highly experienced builder, or for recommendations on a great local architect, please call Danny or Robert Rosin on 6247 4799 or email

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