The Architectural Design Process

Initial Consultation

Every project starts with an initial consultation of approximately 30 minutes at your house. This meeting is a chance to discuss your "wish list", some of the ideas that you've already come up with, your budget, your schedule, and your specific concerns. It's an opportunity to make sure that what you're thinking of is realistic, and see the particular challenges that your house poses.

There is no charge for this initial consultation and no obligation afterwards. (There is, however, $100 travel time charge for projects more than 20 km from our office). If you decide that the project should proceed and you would like to use our services, we will prepare a letter of agreement for the next step, which is:

Preliminary Design Phase

Investigation of existing conditions

Before any design begins, we will measure the house and investigate the existing conditions. This includes verifying how the house is constructed and any special conditions that might impact the design.

Draw existing floor plan

Once the house has been measured, we will draw accurate floor plans that show the layout of the existing space to use as a basis for design.

Research at Planning Department

If your project is an addition, we will do some additional research with the Planning Department to find out what zoning district your house is in, and what specific constraints, such as setback requirements, lot coverage limitations, parking requirements, height limitations, etc. could restrict your ability to expand.

Clarify needs and wishes

Although we will have already talked about the general concepts and ideas you have about your project at the Initial Consultation, we will need much more detailed information to complete the designs and make sure that they'll work for you. For example, we will want to know the specific furniture that you'll be using in each room, how much storage space you need in a particular area, what rooms need phone outlets, and any special equipment you'll have, such as a computer.

Preliminary Designs

Once we have the above information together, we will prepare some design concepts that we can use as a basis for further discussion. Don't panic if the first designs are not what you were thinking of. They are intended to explore possibilities and help you to clarify your own thinking about the project. Often the final project is only remotely similar to the earliest sketches. Designs start as rough concepts, and evolve with increasing detail. In preparing these designs, we will be thinking of a number of issues: Does the design fit with the existing house? Does the design consider the planning and building code constraints, as well as your own? Is the design reasonable for your budget?

Your budget may not be enough to afford everything that you want to do right now. One strategy is to design your project in phases, based on a long-term master plan. The master plan will help you to decide on what to do when, and make sure that everything you do now will fit into the long-range design. Whenever possible, we try to give the clients some options, often with a range of costs in mind. For example, we might give a client several different ways to expand: a) A moderate cost one-storey extension into the back yard, b) a more expensive second-storey addition, and c) a low-cost scheme which just makes the existing floor plan more efficient.

Meetings to review design options

After the preliminary designs are developed, we will have a meeting to go over the designs, discuss the pro's and con's, and answer any questions you have. Generally, one approach or direction seems to be most appropriate, and the design(s) will undergo a series of revisions (and meetings with you to discuss them) until you are happy with it. Up to three revisions with associated meetings are included in this Preliminary Design Phase at no additional cost. People have extremely different abilities to visualize design ideas from plans and sketches. You will be able to view your design in 3-dimensions on your own computer. But please let us know if you are having trouble "visualizing" something so that we can spend a little more time with it.

Initial Review with Council

If your project is an addition, on which it may be difficult to get Council approval, we will use the preliminary design drawings to discuss your project with the Planning Department and get either a preliminary go-ahead or clarification of which issues need to be addressed in the final submission to the Council.

Preliminary Budget Review

For those projects that have a strict budget, once the preliminary design is finished, we strongly recommend that a contractor confirm that the design is realistic for your budget. An added advantage is that you will have confidence that you won't be investing in detailed engineered construction drawings for a project that doesn't meet your budget. It's a good time to start meeting prospective contractors, as well.

What the Preliminary Design Phase Is For

In addition to helping you see how the project fits into the overall design of your house, this phase is intended to help define an overall scope of the project, determine its complexity structurally, as well as a likely "order of magnitude" of costs. Your project is still somewhat generic at the end of this stage. However you'll know for example, how the major pieces of furniture can be arranged in the rooms, what generic materials are being used, and how an addition "fits" into the rest of the house. There are still lots of decisions to be made though. Delivery of the "final" preliminary design drawings completes the Preliminary Design Phase. There is no obligation to continue at the end of this phase. Think of this as a feasibility study.

If you elect to go ahead with the project, we will then proceed to:

The Detailed Design Phase & Construction Document Phase

These phases expand on the Preliminary Design and produces drawings and specifications suitable for obtaining a building permit and final costs. The selections and designs in this phase have a very large impact on the overall project costs, and therefore need to be thought through carefully. While your project may not include all categories, areas that are typically designed and specified include:

Again, we can adjust our level of involvement in these areas, but these selections should be made early so that there are no surprises in cost, as well as making sure that the construction accommodates your choices. (For example you wouldn't want to find out after the project was built that there was no good way to hang your favorite curtain rod, or that the sofa you wanted won't fit.) Based on your choices, we will prepare the Construction Documents.

Construction Documents

The design phases produce drawings that help you understand what your project "looks like", whereas construction documents show how the project is to be built. These documents are the detailed plans that get submitted to the Building Department for a Building Permit, and they are used by the Contractor for final pricing and building of your project.

What's In Construction Documents

The set of construction documents contain a number of different parts, each equally important. These include:

  1. Drawings (Often called "plans" or "blueprints"): A variety of intricate and detailed drawings may be included: Plot Plan, Roof Plan, Floor Plans, Elevations (Interior & Exterior), Sections, Details, Electrical Plans, Structural Framing Plans, and others. Not all projects will use all of these, though.
  2. Specifications: Specifications define the quality on your project. They are written descriptions of the materials, procedures, and quality levels desired. They dealwith such issues as: How many coats of paint and what type? What grade of timber should be used? Will the drywall be screwed or nailed to the studs, and what kind of texture should be used? What plumbing fixtures and faucetry will be used? What kind of roofing guarantee will you require?

Specifications need to be closely coordinated with the drawings.

Also included in our fee are ALF (Annual Loss Factor) H1 calculations and documentation, basic bracing calculations and basic structural engineering. Exempt are unusual aspects requiring a structural engineer?

Importance of Good Construction Documents

Other than having a good contractor, probably nothing is as critical to the success of your project as a good set of construction documents. They're necessary, of course, for getting a building permit and a price from a contractor. But most importantly, they form the basis of an agreement between you and the contractor, and as with any contract, if there are areas of ambiguity, there may be misunderstandings. For this reason, we take the extra time needed to make sure that these documents are quite detailed and of high quality. It's time and money well spent!

Please review your set of construction documents carefully. We will be happy to answer any questions you have. If you wish to make any adjustments to the design, it's generally less expensive to do it now, rather than after construction starts.

Applying for the Building Permit

Obtaining a building permit is often one of the lengthiest parts of the entire process, so I recommend applying for the building permit as soon as possible. When the construction drawings and specifications are complete, we will act as your agent in applying for the permit. For the application, we will usually need a cheque from you payable to the appropriate building department; the fees can be calculated from the Council website and paid upon submission of plans.

Contract for Construction

The contractor will want you to sign a contract before construction begins. (You should want a written contract, anyway!) This contract must be very carefully reviewed by you (and your lawyer, if necessary). Although many homeowners are willing to accept the contractor's standard contract, it is equally acceptable for you to provide the contract. One contract form that has worked well for many homeowners, and that is in common use, is the one produced by Standards NZ. We can provide a sample of this Agreement, if you wish.

We our unable to provide a review of Contractor-provided contracts as it would constitute practicing law illegally. Please make sure that you understand any construction agreement and obtain appropriate legal counsel, if needed, before you sign it.

Construction Period Services

The services provided during construction are as important to the success of your project as the services provided before construction. These services are not optional. Because of the great number of hidden conditions and unknowns in residential constructions, drawings simply cannot cover every possible condition that may be encountered. Therefore, the construction drawings will require interpretations to fit some circumstances. And sometimes as the construction progresses, opportunities for improvements in the design present themselves.

Site Visits

We can visit the project at appropriate stages to check on the progress of the work and verify that it is being built in accordance with the drawings and specifications. Usually these visits occur at specific points in the construction process, such as just before the concrete is poured for the foundation (to check the reinforcing steel), when the rough framing is complete, when the plumbing and electrical is in but before the drywall is installed, etc.We will also come to the construction site if any problems come up that can best be resolved in person. The purpose of our visits is to see that the work is generally in accordance with the drawings and specifications, and to help guard against defects and deficiencies. However, because our inspections are not continuous (such as a full-time on-site inspector would make) or exhaustive, we cannot make any all-encompassing guarantees or representations regarding the contractor's work. At the end of the project we can make a final inspection, ideally with both you and the contractor present, to document the items that are in need of correction before the contractor is entitled to the final payment. Usually this includes things like hardware adjustments, areas of poor painting, etc.

Coordination of Changes

If you request any changes to the original design, or if changes become necessary due to other circumstances, we will prepare whatever drawings or additional specifications are necessary. If you or the Contractor wishes to make changes, please, please, please, talk to us first. There may be important reasons for doing something a certain way. For example, moving a seemingly innocent wall or door could destroy a seismic bracing scheme. Or changing a kitchen countertop detail could mean that a soon-to-arrive appliance will no longer fit.

Up to three hours of Owner-requested revisions are included in our fee at no additional charge. Changes beyond that will be billed as additional services.

Change Orders

Usually clients prefer to have us review any contractor requests for "extras", also known as "Change Orders" before they approve them. These would be reviewed for pricing and appropriateness. (On several occasions, requested extras were already included in the original scope of work!) In all cases, extra work should be by written change order, and approved by you.

Review of Shop Drawings

For some custom fabricated items, such as cabinetry or windows, the fabricator will provide shop drawings of custom fabricated items. We will review these for general conformance with the design concept.

Payments to the Contractor

We are frequently asked to review the contractor's requests for payments to make sure that the contractor isn't overpaid at any point during the process. In Addition to the contractor the client needs to be aware of The Constructions Act 2002, This contract can't be under written and is none contract ional out, if the client is unsure seek legal advice of their obligations to the contractor under the Construction Contracts Act.