The process of working with an Architect

There are many options when it comes to building your new home or renovation. The process of working alongside a Registered Architect, if you have not built before, can be a little confusing. We wanted to demystify the process, so we put together a diagram showing the way that Architects move through the different stages of designing and documenting a bespoke home or building.

These stages follow the 'NZIA Agreement for Architects Services' stages and relate to the way that architects often break down their fees. If you have a registered Architect on board you will be presented this as part of their terms of engagement. Even between Architects, there are different levels of information that may be offered for each stage (eg. Renders/3ds may or may not be offered as part of a standard design stage service), and we have tried to accommodate that range in the descriptions below. 

Often to simplify the many stages for clients, Stages B1, B2 and B3 can be labelled by some Architects as the 'Design' stages, and stages B4, B5 the 'Documentation stages'.

Stage B6-B8 is the option of a 'FULL SERVICE' that is able to be offered by Architects to support their clients from design right through to construction. An Architect can assist you with a the builder selection process, contract establishment and can attend site meetings and certify payments. This full service simplifies the build for our clients and helps make it an enjoyable, rather than a potential 'Grand Designs', experience.

B1 - Pre Design 

Research, assessment of existing documentation, planning, site checks, site visit, modelling of site survey information. (For Renovations this may include an internal measure up as an additional service). We prefer to work off actual site measurements rather than property file information as that helps ensure the design and documentation is as accurate as possible.

B2 - Concept Design

Big picture ideas and sketches showing design principles and the approach to your brief and land. You may be presented with a few options at this stage. Or, if your budget and brief are not in alignment, you may be presented with options that will assist you to make choices to up or down scale the project once the cost data comes in.

*COST CHECK by a Quantity Surveyor/Estimator. (separate consultant)

B3- Preliminary Design

Using the costing data, the client and architect will make choices about what to take forwards, and focus in on one concept in greater detail - drawings of elevations, sections, images. For our firm this also includes 3d models and realistic renders - (*other Architects may not offer visualisation images as part of their standard package.)

*COST CHECK by a Quanity Surveyor/Estimator. (separate consultant).

B4 - Developed Design 

Tweak design, if required, with both Client and Architect using Quantity Surveyor cost information as a tool. Resolution of key design details, co ordination of some structural elements,  finishes and materials. In our firm, because we work on bespoke residential, we often allow for samples boards, colours, fixtures and fittings schedules, electrical layouts and interior design of kitchens, bathrooms and cabinetry. (*Other Architects may not offer interior design / sampleboards / fixtures and fittings information).

B5 - Working Drawings (sometimes called Detailed Design and Documentation) 

At this stage the design decisions should be frozen. Documentation at this stage should ideally accommodate both BUILDING CONSENT level of information (basic compliance signoff) but also CONSTRUCTION information. It's important to know the difference. A Building Consent only level of information is applicable for simple straightforward buildings, its purpose is to prove compliance with the code and achieve compliance signoff, and can often consist of generic details.  However, a full set of Construction Documentation contains not only compliance information, but more co ordinated details relevant to constructing your specific project on site. The tender price of any builder can be more accurate, and for custom build options (that often have non standard junctions and a higher level of complexity) this level of specific construction detail will save time and variations once under construction. In our studio we provide BC+Construction documentation as standard as it reduces cost and time risk for our clients when on site and we know that the builders we work with appreciate this level of information (* other documentation options may only quote for a Building Consent level of documentation).

B6 Tender (or Contractor Procurement).

Documents are prepared for submission for tender and at the end of this stage negotiations can be entered into to select a contractor. Contract documents are prepared for signing. (*others may not offer Stages B6/B7 or B8 as part of their standard services)

B7 Contract Administration.

Administration relates to the management of the construction contract. It includes general administration services, and can include assessing the contractors payment claims, extension of time claims etc. The Architects role in this project is usually via using an approved SCC1 contract, as that enables the architect to be the clients nominated representative on site. 

B8 Observation

The observation of the contract works relates to monitoring the construction with respect to the design documents that form part of the contract. It may include site visits assessing information regarding material and installation, specification and performance criteria. (Note that an 'observation' role does not replace the builders responsibility - the Architect is not responsible for the construction means methods, techniques, sequences, procedures or programmes of the contractor). 

We find that the best building experience for our clients is when the builder and architect work as a team through the construction process. We include stage B8 if we have completed the Construction documentation, so we can ensure that the details are followed through and so we are there to answer any queries on site.

B9 - Additional services

Cabinetry Detailing, Resource consent reports, Additional variations, Measure up of an existing house. These are often completed on an hourly rate, and are additional fee stages to the above.


Bespoke architecture is not built to a generic recipe book - it is carefully tailored to life and land, and as such meter squared rates or even projects that have been built in the past are not sufficient to estimate construction values for a specific project. As part of the design process we recommend that a cost estimate is completed at two stages by a costing professional. This means that the scope can be shaped using firm cost data that is specific to the project as much as possible prior to the tender stage.

This is a process that we find ensures that cost risk can be mitigated, and the different responsibilities and skills of clients, professionals and architects are respected and acknowledged. It also enables everyone to work together collaboratively, and creates a project that everyone is proud to have been a part of.


Key for diagram 

(QS) Quantity surveyor - Costing expert

(E) Engineer - Structural and Civil engineering, Truss designer.

(LS) Land surveyor - land data and site setout,

(GE) Geotechnical engineer - sub surface ground information

(S) Services - septic design, water supply if required

(P) Planner - for complex resource consent reports.

(B) Main  Building Contractor./Subcontractors - selected by a tender process on full construction and consent information.