Renovating with a draftsperson vs architect

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First, a quick history lesson. No! Don’t leave! If you want to renovate or build in the future, you will want to know this stuff. Many people don’t really know the difference between an architect and a draftsperson/building designer. Because of this they end up either spending way too much on a simple renovation or alternately investing too little, getting a poor result and ultimately losing themselves money in capital growth.

A draftsman, now a draftsperson or building designer, was originally (and sometimes still is) positioned within an architectural firm. They traditionally worked with architects to draw up final plans for construction, while having an expert knowledge or relevant building regulations. Today draftspeople and building designers now function as sole agents and often work on projects instead of architects.


To be an architect in Australia involves:

  • 5 years of an undergraduate degree
  • Usually 2 years training in a practice
  • Written and interview exams for registration as an architect.
  • Annual re-registration process to satisfy professional development requirements.

During these years, architects are exposed to the artistic and scientific principles of design, as well as learning how to draft sketches, learning relevant construction law and sustainability practices. However, an architect is essentially a specialist in design. A draftsperson will often provide 5-10 drawings for your plans, while an architect will often provide over 30. An architect spends more time working with you to provide comprehensive designs for your builders. They will also provide intelligent and beautiful designs that will ultimately increase the value of your home.

This can be fundamental to your decision process: an architect can make you money. While you often pay more for an architect, the market values the results you get from their designs. Remember that you cannot advertise a draftsperson’s work as an ‘architectural design’.

Building designer and draftsperson

A building designer and a draftsperson can either be accredited or not, depending on your state (more on this later). But in essence, they will often have maximum 2 years of training in comparison to an architect’s 7 years. This means that practically speaking, they just don’t have the time during their studies to learn what architects learn. As such, what they can offer you may reflect this. A draftsperson can provide you with drawings for a build that satisfy council requirements and sometimes building designers will even work with you on the build in a project management role.

Building designers and draftspeople may not always be the cheaper option. Some do charge as much as architects because their service is most likely of a high quality. But the majority of their services will be at a smaller cost in comparison to an architect and this may suit your particular project. Are you just wanting a small extension to your home but want plans done professionally? A good draftsperson may be all you need. On top of this, a good architect would simply tell you that they are not suitable for simpler projects.

State requirements

There are no licensing requirements for building designers in the following states and territories:

  • Western Australia
  • New South Wales
  • South Australia
  • Northern Territory, and
  • ACT

In Victoria, the law requires building designers to have a registration with the Building Practitioners Board as a Draftsperson, Class of Building Design (Architectural). In Queensland they must hold a BSA Building Design License and in Tasmania they must hold a Building Practitioner Accreditation for projects exceeding $5,000. It is integral that if you live within these state you check your building designer’s accreditations and if you are in any of the other states in Australia, try to find a draftsperson that can show a history of successful projects and that has undergone training.

What you get

There is little way of avoiding the fact that if you employ an architect, you are going to receive a comprehensive, custom, innovative and beautiful design (hopefully!). If you are planning a considerable build, want something entirely ‘yours’ in its design, want a long term and heavily involved relationship with your contractor and a result that can produce strong capital growth, an architect may be the best option. If your build is smaller in nature, a draftsperson or building designer can often provide you with results that are just as good as what an architect could provide, both quickly and cheaply.

Not sure if your home is a Californian Bungalow or an Edwardian? Check out Understanding Architecture Today for a look at the styles you will see on your streets.

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