Everything you should know before you hire an architect

Should you hire an architect for your building project? I recently met with a potential client, who wanted to know if I can “draw plans”. I saw this as an opportunity to educate them on exactly what an architect does. This way, they would actually see the real value of my services. In my experience, clients who come to me asking about something as vague as “drawing plans” usually want one of two things.

Firstly, they want cheap ready-made plans with no design. The second is that they mistakenly say they want plans (think floor plan) when what they really need is a design that will suit the exact requirements they desire. The latter should definitely hire an architect.

What is an architect and what do they do?

Architects work with clients to design buildings, whether commercial, residential or public. It’s the architect’s job to ensure that those buildings are functional, sustainable, aesthetically pleasing and safe. In order to successfully complete a project, the architect will need to understand your objectives for the building. This is what you hope for the design to achieve. They will take into account your budget and any other constraints such the plot you want to build on, land use permits, municipal regulations etc, in order to provide the best design to suit your requirements.

When would you need to hire an architect?

New build

If you want to put up a new structure, then you need to hire an architect to help you conceptualise your building with a new design concept.  Your architect will go through the design process with you, starting with your requirements or brief. If you have a design in mind, they can translate that design to fit your requirements.

In some instances, clients don’t necessarily want to go through the design process from scratch. The client will then choose an existing design and the architect will customise it to their plot. This is the quicker more affordable option, as the architect will probably only charge per hour for work done.

As architects, we cannot however work off someone else’s design and alter it to your needs. To put it plainly, you cannot come with building plans done by someone else and ask us to tweak them to your plot for submission to council. All architects maintain the copyrights to their work, therefore such a request would be unethical and fraudulent.


If there is something you need to add or take away from your existing structure, perhaps add an extra bathroom, or remove walls to create more of an open plan, then you need an architect. The architect will see how best to design and revamp the existing model to meet your new requirements. If the renovations are complex, the architect will advise you to include other built environment professionals such as structural engineers.

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More than just “drawing plans”

The architecture process involves more than just drawing plans. We have outlined our process in detail here. Remember you hire an architect to give you the design of your dreams, to bring your vision to life. In order to do that we need to understand any constraints that will prevent us from achieving that vision.

If budget is a constraint, this isn’t a train smash.  We work within that budget to get you as close to your dream design as possible. If you are transparent and aim for full disclosure, you will likely have a pleasant experience. Voice your concerns, open up about your expectations. This is your money and you are hiring an architect to work for you.

Why you should hire an architect

Hiring an architect means having a well planned and managed project, which can be built more efficiently and economically. Architects plan your project with you. Your ideas may evolve throughout the design process. Changes made on paper during the design stages are less expensive than later when construction is already in progress. Thorough drawings make it easier for the contractor to accurately price and build your project, leaving little room for misunderstandings. The following are real benefits you get from hiring an architect:

Save money long term with energy-efficient buildings.

An architect will design a building to maximize heating from the sun and let in natural light. This can reduce your heating, cooling, and electricity costs over time.

Material and workmanship selection.

Since your architect is the one who develops the design and drawings of your structure, they can assist you in getting quotes/bids for construction based on your requirements. They are in a better position to help you assess the workmanship of a contractor before making a final decision. A good architect will work within your budget to help you choose beautiful, durable materials and finishes, saving on frequent maintenance and replacement costs. Architects stay abreast of latest advances in roofing, brickwork, floor tiling, paint finishes, etc in order to make relevant recommendations.

Designs that sell.

A beautifully designed structure has a higher resale value. Well-designed offices create work environments that attract employees and add prestige to your brand. Whether residential, commercial or industrial, great design inspires and is easier to retain value.

Architects Can Make Your Life Easier. Building is a long process that is often messy and disruptive. We look out for your interests and try to find ways to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

If your project requires engineering or other design services, we coordinate this team of experts so you don’t have to. We also help you find qualified construction contractors based on your requirements and budget.


Apart from all the great benefits of hiring an architect, no home build whether new or an upgrade, will be approved by any local council authority unless the building plans have been submitted by a professional registered with the Architects Registration Council (ARC). ARC is the regulator of the architectural profession. Its main objective is protecting the members of the public on dealings with its registered professionals. Visit their website to see if your architect is registered

Project administration.

During the construction phase, we will make periodic visits to the building site. This is to monitor progress, assist the builder with interpreting drawings, review the overall progress of the work being carried out and answer the builder’s queries. The architect is the best person to ensure that your house is being built according to the design.

An architect is not responsible for the work of the builder or for the supervision of the builder and contractors. However, as administrators of the contract, we have certain powers. If we determine that work has not been done properly or is of poor quality, we can advise that you withhold certifying payment for defective work until it’s rectified. We may even recommend dismissal if a builder refuses to comply.

What to look for in an architect

Before hiring an architect, it’s important to meet with them to see if you can establish a good working relationship. You need to be free and comfortable enough with this person to entrust them with designing your dream home. Arrange a meet and greet with them, where you will be able to interview your designer and determine if you want them to work on your project.

Once you decide to proceed with a selected designer, you will need to arrange a consultation. The difference between a consultation and a meet and greet, is that a meet and greet is just that, meeting each other and finding out about each other in order to confirm compatibility. It’s a very high level meeting where the designer will explain their design process, their background and experience and give you references to contact and a portfolio of their work.

 A consultation on the other hand will usually be billed by the hour. Specifics are discussed, advice is given, and value is exchanged. The consultation will usually be your kick-off meeting if you decided to proceed with the architect you chose in your meet and greet.

The reason consultations are charged is because if you are coming with a design problem, the designer charges for the advice or solution they give. It’s the same as consulting with a medical practitioner. You are billed for professional advice.

How to prepare for your first meeting

In order to be fully prepared for your first meeting, you need to ensure you have the proper documents. We need to see ownership of the land with a title deed or copy thereof. Secondly, it’s best to kick off the meeting with the people who will be responsible for project communications. Thirdly, bring a completed copy of your project brief. This is everything from the type of structure you want to build, mood board or vision board etc.

The first meeting is to establish if you have chosen the right architect. From there the architect will tell you if you have the right project for the plot you have. He will further discuss what can be achieved and where his role fits in. If you haven’t already bought a plot but you are thinking of building, This guide will help you find a suitable plot to build on.

Questions to ask before hiring an architect

  1. Are they registered? The architect should have proof that they are registered with the (ARC) and therefore compliant. Remember that the main objective of the ARC is to protect YOUR INTERESTS in any dealings with registered architecture professionals. Should any disputes arise, they ought to be your first point of contact. Therefore, insist on finding a registered architect.
  2. Do they have professional indemnity? If so, how much are they covered for? The minimum requirement is P1 million.
  3. Do they overpromise? If you have a modest budget, you should have an idea of what can and can’t be achieved in terms of a realistic build. Someone offering you the moon and the stars should warrant a raised eyebrow. Managing expectations is something a responsible architect will do from the beginning.
  4. What are their strengths? Are they particularly strong with project management? Or do they excel more with design? How is their construction detailing? All architects should have a balanced set of skills but one should be able to express their strengths, which will only work to your benefit as a client. It all depends on what you are looking for in a project.
  5. Will they assist in procuring finishes and materials? It will be beneficial if the architect can assist you through the procurement stage to avoid possible mishaps, such as overbuying material that you cant return.
  6. Do they have working relationships with contractors they can recommend? Architects work with various contractors and should be able to recommend one or two that they have worked with. This will help prevent you from going with someone who hasn’t been tried and tested.
  7. Will they be doing site visits during construction? On-site services will help ensure the project runs smoothly. If they offer this service, who will be going onsite? How often?
  8. Do they have reliable suppliers they have worked with? if they have working relationships with suppliers, they can negotiate on your behalf.
  9. What is their fee structure? Each architect has a different structure depending on the project. We wrote a full guide that explains how architects determine their fees.

A good architect will use your brief to design a building that is aesthetically pleasing, environmentally friendly, and takes into consideration your budget and ensure the project sticks to the agreed timeframe all while adhering to council guidelines.

In conclusion

Having an architect in your corner throughout this experience is a major advantage to ensuring that your vision is implemented impeccably. There is no doubt that projects with a good architect present from start to finish have a higher chance of being completed on time and within the allocated budget.

The biggest value you can get is hiring an architect for turnkey services, from design to construction. DIY may save you now, but you will end up losing those savings if you overbuy materials that can’t be returned. You won’t know if your roof has leaks until it rains and you have already moved in.

These are all things an architect can foresee during construction if they are your project administrators. If you’re going through the effort to build your house and not just buy an existing house off the market, then make sure you get it right. The only way to do this is to work with registered professionals. If you are going to save, save yourself the trouble and heartache of tearing down walls because a plumber forgot to put in a pipe. Hire an architect.

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