Choosing an architect/designer

Finding the right architect or architectural designer is easier if you have a clear idea of what you want, set simple selection criteria for and evaluate a small group of possibles.

Choosing the right architect may be the most important decision in a process that has a seemingly endless amount of decisions.

Why Use An Architect or Designer

Using a designer to tailor something specifically for you will give you a home that is unique and often with elements that will give you added values both functional and intrinsic terms. The foundation decision to help ensure a successful project will be selecting the right designer to guide you through the process. Finding the right designer for your project can be a relatively daunting prospect, but like most decisions, it can be easily made by setting simple criteria for selection and evaluating a small group who can offer you the service you’ll need.

Steps to Having a House Designed are here…

Choosing an Architect or an Architectural Designer

Look for someone whose work you like or an area of expertise relevant to your particular job, and who you believe you can work with. Use recommendations from friends. Look at magazines and websites like our Design Guide and Pinterest pages to find designs you like…

Those who can prepare a custom-designed home are:

  • A Registered Architect (Please note – only those registered can call themselves an ‘Architect’)
  • An Architectural Designer
  • An Architectural Draughtsperson
  • Some Group Home Builders subcontract to Registered Architects or Architectural Designers who can design your home from scratch
  • There is a growing breed of companies ‘Architect-Builders’ (such as Box™) where both design teams and build teams work as an integrated team under one roof

It is important that the designer you select can understand your needs and adapt to that particular architectural style. This is a good place to begin culling designers who are not suitable.

On establishing a small list of suitable designers, you are ready to begin the detailed process of finding the best fit for you. In doing so you’ll need to consider what is important to you and define selection criteria. Typically the criteria may include:

  • scope of service required
  • experience
  • personality fit

Architects and architectural designers will offer a wide range of services from the purely creative aspects of designing your building to the technical aspects of preparing construction documentation and providing support to you and your contractor during construction.

It is important that you thoroughly discuss the range of service each offers to be sure that you will have the right support throughout the whole building process – and no nasty surprises.

The world of architectural design is incredibly varied and while all architectural designers will be able to demonstrate their experience in some areas, it is important that they are able to competently deliver your unique project. Looking at relevant examples of their work and talking with client and contractor referees will help you establish the designer’s competencies.

Finally, given that the building project is likely to consume many hours of your time over a number of months, a key element is for you to have an effective professional relationship with your designer.

Finding this fit is perhaps the single most important item.

Be comfortable with the way your designer communicates and their alignment with your personal values. Positive relationships lead to positive outcomes.

Price is a small consideration specifically not considered. The value the right designer will add to your project will far exceed any small difference in fee. While it is important to have a clear understanding of your costs, emphasis should be placed on achieving the project budget. Perhaps the matter of architectural fees could help separate the final two designers on your short list!

A typical fee can range from six to 15 percent of the total cost of the job and is affected by the level of service required (full service being full supervision of the build) and size of the job. The three usual ways of charging are:

  • For small jobs you can pay by the hour (can get out of hand if you keep changing your mind)
  • A percentage of the cost of the project – this is the most popular method. You will pay more for well-regarded, high profile ‘star’-chitects.
  • An agreed fixed fee.
  • An alternative and much less expensive method can be to use your architect to sketch phase and have an architectural draughtsman finish the technical drawings. The drawback is that your designer’s involvement is very limited.

Registered Architects

In order to register with the New Zealand Registered Architects Board (NZRAB), architects must first graduate from university with a Bachelor of Architecture Degree, and after some three years’ practical experience in a mentored environment, submit to rigorous registration assessment.

Registered architects must re-register every five years, and to do so must demonstrate that they have undertaken Continuing Professional Development (CPD).  Most registered architects are members of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA), which actively supports graduate development and CPD, provides a wide range of technical documentation to its members, and promotes excellence in design through award programmes.

For more information on Architects or to find a Registered Architect visit

Architectural Designers

To be eligible for membership of Architectural Designers New Zealand Inc (ADNZ), members must hold a recognised certificate or diploma, undertake compulsory professional development, and have their skills assessed to ensure they meet the requirements of the ADNZ Competency Standards. They are also bound by the ADNZ Code of Ethics.

ADNZ (Architectural Designers New Zealand Inc.) is the national professional body representing architectural designers. ADNZ members are specialists in building design and construction, undertaking residential and commercial projects at all stages of the construction process. To be eligible for membership, ADNZ members must hold recognised professional qualifications or relevant experience, undertake compulsory professional development and have their skills assessed to ensure they meet the requirements of the ADNZ Competency Standards.

For more information and to contact an ADNZ member visit

Important Information:

Not all architects are members of the NZIA, and not all members of the NZIA are architects (architectural students and graduates are encouraged to join).

There may be designers who infer that they are an ‘architect’, or call themselves ‘architect’ who do not have the professional standing for this to be valid – check their registration here…

Make sure the person you employ has professional indemnity insurance that provides cover in case of professional negligence.

From November 2007, architectural designers and draftsmen have to be assessed for voluntary licensing by the Department of Building and Housing (DBH) as Licensed Building Practitioners (LBP Design) under one of three classes limited by size, complexity and type of buildings undertaken.  Further rules with regard to LBP design of ‘restricted work’ were introduced in 2010 which you can read about here…

Written with assistance from the New Zealand Institute of Architects

Have a clear idea of what you want

  • Decide what kind of house you want – for a list of contemporary house types have a look at this page here…
  • Put together a scrap book of looks and designs you like. Use magazines and websites or Pinterest and even photograph homes you like. Find an architect/designer who designs in a similar style.
  • Collect brochures on the materials and fittings you like.
  • Take a measuring tape to friends’ homes so you can see how much space is required for rooms, kitchen benches and items.
  • Understand what your Needs and Wants are – use our checklists here…
  • Try to put together a clear brief, use our tool here…

Set simple selection criteria

  • Look for someone whose work you like and whom you believe you can work with.
  • Use local knowledge – recommendations from friends or contractors – or visit our Design Guide website to find designers in your area.
  • Make sure the designer you choose has professional indemnity insurance that provides cover in case of professional negligence.

Evaluate a small group

Once you have a shortlist, the selection criteria will include:

  • scope of service required;
  • experience; and, perhaps the most important,
  • personality fit.

It’s best if you are comfortable with the way your designer communicates. Positive relationships lead to positive outcomes.

In order to get building consent for Restricted Building Work, the design will need to be carried out or supervised by a Design LBP, a Chartered Professional Engineer or a Registered Architect. More information here…

Compare buying off the plan

Group Home Builders (building companies who build large numbers of homes) usually have a number of pre-designed homes you can buy without having to go through a design process and often have an inhouse designer, who can either create a bespoke design or rework one of their off-the-shelf plans.

The advantage is that you can get a design that exists and you don’t need to work through with the designer, unless you want to make changes. There are now designs available that have been pre-consented and have a minimum of administrative work required. The disadvantage is that it will be something other people have and has not been specifically designed for you and the site on which it is to be built.

For additional inspiration, visit our Design Guide website – articles by architects for clients providing some stunning case studies, beautiful photography and insights into the thinking behind the concepts…