Our residential design process
Whilst each project is unique, we tend to follow a design process that is predictable and well understood by our clients and stakeholders prior to commencing work. In this article we provide an overview of the typical design process you can expect when working with us.

  • Richie Willemsen

So, you want a house designed and you are thinking of hiring an Architect. That's great!

What now?

Well, every practice will employ their own unique process when a new residential project is started. In our practice, here is what you can typically expect.


The initial meeting is one of the most important and exciting stages in any project. It's preferably held onsite, and it's the opportunity to introduce one another face to face and gauge the scope of the building work and how the architect can help facilitate things.

We always try to take plenty of notes and photographs of the site at this meeting, with the intent of compiling the information in an initial brief and fee proposal.

The questions we ask and discussions that ensue normally cover the topics such as:

  • Desired functions that need to be accommodated
  • Anticipated users or occupants
  • Special needs or wants
  • Extent of demolition or additions
  • Timeframes for design, construction and completion
  • Budget


Did you know, architects are not mandated to follow a strict fee proposal proforma?

There are guidelines and standard agreements, such as the RAIA Client Architect Agreement (CAA2019), that provide an excellent framework that covers design and building projects of various sizes.

Practices will also often write their own agreement based on their own experiences and approaches. And they set their fees based on what makes economic sense to their business and livelihood.

Whichever approach is taken, the fee proposal that is exchanged should at the very least clearly set out the:

  • Scope of Works
  • Key design parameters (aka return brief)
  • Timelines
  • Drawings to be prepared, grouped by project stage
  • Targeted budget
  • Services to be offered
  • Architects fees and charge-out rates (with expected due dates)
  • Excluded costs and services
  • Termination clause
  • Copyright clause

From the outset of the project the client and architect relationship needs to be founded upon mutual trust and respect. There should be confidence that one another will always work as a team, and follow a logical process to achieve the desired objectives and building outcome.

The fee proposal and agreement must be signed off by both parties, before pen goes to paper.


Conceptual design is just that. It should involve loose, free flowing and preferably hand drawn sketches and illustrations that are both:

  • based upon an understanding of the functional requirements of the building
  • comply or are assessable against prevailing planning instruments
  • driven by thematic ideals and meaningful constructs
  • shaped by listening to client feedback

In Architecture, there is always more to a building design than just it's functional programming. There is a rationale behind the approach, and better still, a meaning that connects the project to the people and place it is intended for.

Such rationale stems from an understanding of:

  • Site topography and aspect
  • Pedestrian & vehicular movements and circulation pathways
  • Seasonal climatic conditions
  • Socio-economic patterns

It can be subjectively derived from an appreciation of:

  • Light and shade
  • Volumetric height and length
  • Bulk and scale
  • Privacy and openness
  • Material qualities and textures
  • Ideological meanings and narratives

The conceptual design phase is where we evaluate the constraints and look for the opportunities, and communicate our ideas in 1:200 sketch plans and elevations.

Whilst these drawings are not precious, they do form the basis of our approach to documenting the building once the design concepts are agreed upon internally and with the client.


Taking the concept design drawings as a starting point, we now model the building using BIM and prepare accurate drawings that form the basis of our design approval drawings.

What's BIM you ask?

BIM stands for "Building Information Modelling", a technique of parametrically drawing a building using software. It's more advanced than manually drafting using a standard CAD program, because you constantly work three dimensionally, and the generation of line drawings is generally a product of the model itself.
Learn more about our use in BIM in two recent projects.

You don't draft a building using BIM - you "model" it.

As a result, we get to evaluate the design in three dimensions prior to locking it in. We get to understand the bulk and scale, assess the impact on solar access and views, and test material textures and palettes. And better still, you the client, get to see what it will all look like in real life, with fixed perspectives and even walkthroughs possible.

In our practice, we prefer to keep the 3D imagery generated from BIM as simple as possible. We like to spend our time where it counts, on the documentation and drawing quality, rather than finessing the architectural images. If you want hyper-realism, there are professionals that specialise in rendering models for marketing purposes.


Now that we have a resolved design, we present the drawings in a submission targeted at gaining design approval from the client and if necessary, development approval (DA) from local council.

If the design is code assessable (which means it complies with planning guidelines), there is no need for DA drawings and we can proceed to straight to construction documentation.

If the proposal is impact assessable (which means it does not follow the planning guidelines), a town planner will need to get involved and prepare a report that outlines the relevant planning regulations and assesses various aspects of project in terms of compliance with "planning instruments" like:

  • Setbacks
  • Overshadowing
  • Building Density
  • Building Height
  • Carparking

The town planner normally submits the drawings and their report to council, and then manages the information request and public notification process that ensues, on the client's behalf.

In case you are wondering:

  • an Information Request occurs when council has reviewed a DA submission and requires more information or modifications to the design in order to make a final decision on the approval status

  • Public Notification refers to a period of time where the public must be notified regarding the development, both through paper and a sign on the site. Both advertisements give the public an opportunity to provide feedback and if compelled to, lodge an objection that gets reviewed by council (often prior to the information request being sent).


During this phase we "document" the building with as much detail that is required for a builder to price the proposed building works and proceed to construct the building.

The extent of drawings required will depend on the complexity of the project. We tend to go a bit overboard with the detail, but generally all you need to get started are fully dimensioned:

  • Floor Plans & Elevations
  • Sections
  • Typical Details
  • Window & Door Schedules
  • Electrical & Wet Area Plans


The procurement process can be as biased or as egalitarian as you like it.

A normal competitive tender is where you put the drawing package our to three or more builders, that then get a fixed time frame to price the building works. Once submitted, you make a decision on the best offer, which might not necessarily be determined upon price alone.

During the tendering process, if a builder requires more information they can send a request for information (RFI). The updated drawings would then be issued to all participants for consideration.

Alternatively, the builder may be selected on reputation and build quality alone. In this instance, they would charge an agreed fee for project management and then sub-tender the work out to other trades, passing the cost onto the client. This approach can be risky for the client, as there is no clear indication of the overall outlay required to achieve the desired building outcome prior to starting.