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New Zealand Institute of Architects









The design process


Architecture projects typically have seven clear stages. For a smooth-running plan it is important you understand the extent of the architect’s role in each of these.

While creative design is one of the most tangible aspects of an architect’s work, an architect can be involved in your building project every step of the way to ensure the best possible result.

To ensure this understanding, your architect will prepare an Agreement for Architects Services – the standard contract between you and your architect for residential works. It will outline the scope of work, the scope of services, how fees and costs will be charged and any special conditions of service. There are a number of other contracts available for commercial architecture projects.

The below steps roughly outline the progress of a project. 

1. Predesign

After an initial meeting (or meetings), your architect will start to gather key information such as the certificate of title, drainage plans and zoning and town planning information. Sometimes you, as the client, may have some of this information or can help collect it, but this should be clearly discussed to avoid any confusion. The architect may also need to have your site surveyed, on your behalf, to accurately define contours and boundaries. Issues with regard to existing planting, water courses and soil type may also need to be addressed.

2. Concept design

When the project's parameters are established, the architect will begin developing concepts. These will be influenced by project scope, budget and your individual requirements.

Concept design is essentially a range of solutions to the brief. They may be developed through drawings, floor plan and perspective sketches, or computer renderings or physical models.

During concept development an architect will investigate a number of ideas. It is not unusual to receive a number of alternative ideas for your project, as your architect will be thinking about broad issues, looking for advantages of site and setting and ways to design more efficiently. These alternatives may challenge your thinking but be open-minded and communicate clearly about what you do and don’t like. It is always helpful to revisit your brief to assess whether any concept meets your stated objectives.

3. Developed design

When a concept is agreed upon, your architect will test the ideas, refine the details and shape the final design. Developed design is a key phase – it’s your last opportunity to refine the overall nature of the project before planning commences. If you have additional requirements now is the time to table them. Your budget will come into play during developed design. Think about priorities in terms of time, quality and cost and allocate authority for final decision-making. You and your architect may want to engage a quantity surveyor to estimate costs. While it is difficult to predict the final cost of a building, your architect and the external specialists they collaborate with are trained to identify all potential costs and will form an estimate based on that knowledge. Be honest about your budget and work with your architect to find solutions if necessary. Architects can also play a role in securing resource consent, if needed, for your building. However, it may be necessary to engage with specialists or consultants to secure the requisite consents for you.

4. Detailed design

Once resource consent is approved, your project will progress to the detailed design phase. This means your architect will advance your design to the level of detail that allows a construction contractor to assess the full scope of the project. This will include construction details, materials, components, systems and finishes. Be sure to revisit the Agreement for Architects Services to make sure all aspects of the contract are included in the detailed design.

Because your architect is at the heart of your building project, they are best positioned to understand the relevant codes and standards and articulate to the Building Consent Authority the particulars of your project.

An architect is trained to understand the building consent process – they know the jargon and technical issues which you may not fully grasp. Often an architect will communicate with the Building Consent Authority and foster understanding of your project from an early stage. Your architect will have an in-depth understanding of the current state of the construction industry and can be an invaluable guide in choosing a quality builder and other contractors to execute your design. Your architect can help with the tendering process, if that is the procurement method, and can take your particular needs into consideration when choosing a contractor.

5. Contract administration

An architect is trained in the management of contractual and financial transactions during the construction of your building. Projects do change and there are sometimes unforeseen elements that may require contractual consideration – your architect is well placed to help with such developments. Let your architect know if you have any particular preferences about the contractual nature of your project or issues with financing. There are comprehensive guidelines on how NZIA architects should charge their own fees and administer payments for others. It is important for you to read and understand these recommendations. Generally, you will pay fees monthly or at set stages of the design process. Architects will set their fees according to the level of involvement they have in your project, as defined by the Agreement for Architects Services.

6. Project observation

An architect can play an important role in overseeing the construction phase of your project with onsite visits and monitoring the construction contracts that are in place.

Your architect knows best practice and can observe the quality of construction, as well as point out any potential issues that may arise.

It is your choice how deep your architect’s onsite involvement is. When determining their role onsite, take their relationships with other contractors into consideration. You may decide it is necessary for your architect to work onsite regularly, or it might be sufficient for them to visit and monitor the project periodically.

7. Completion

When the main contractor advises your architect the project is practically complete (some minor details may remain) your architect can assess the construction and provide a detailed list of remaining work. Your architect will collect all trade warranties from the main contractor and will secure a Code Compliance Certificate for you. At this point in the project, your architect will also help administer final payments to contractors and issue the main contractor with a Defects Liability Certificate.