When we are first approached by prospective clients, we have found that few fully understand what an architect does. Many interview draftspeople and volume builders also, and find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of expertise and design engagement on offer. Invariably, a large part of our first discussion is devoted to explaining how our services differ from those of other building designers and why there is great value in the cost of an architect.
What follows is the 2nd of ten articles that explore the question: why engage an architect? An archive of the series can be accessed here.
2. Our work is site specific
Just as important as your requirements are the requirements of your site. It has a specific climate, context, history and landscape. It has a specific shape and relationship to the street. It is regulated by local planning and building controls, and has a specific vegetation pattern and soil profile.
We ask questions like: do you live in the city, the suburbs or the country? Are your neighbours clustered in close or spread out over the horizon? Are you near the sea or deep inland? Which way is north? From where do the prevailing winds originate? Does your site have a rich environmental, cultural or building history? Is it bushfire, termite or inundation prone?
These may seem like simple questions, but neither a draftsperson nor a volume builder will ask them. The former will commit to paper whatever you tell her, with minimum contextual modification. The latter will simply rotate one of its off-the-shelf plans to face the street, the source of sunlight and wind neglected.
We believe however that these questions are essential to understanding the limitations and opportunities of your site. In designing for you, we consider and address them all. We spend time on your site, photographing and measuring it. If you are renovating your house, we draw it in detail, capturing every wall, door and window. We commission a land survey to confirm the location of your site’s boundaries, its trees and services, its contours and fencing. We investigate the planning regulations that cover it, its zoning and overlays, and determine any likely areas of non-compliance. We ask what you like about your site and what you don’t like about it.
If you live in the city, we examine the local built fabric. Do you live in an area recently established or dating back a century or more? Does it have a unified or mixed neighbourhood character? If you live in the country, we examine the landscape. What is its topography? Where are the best views? Are the plants native or introduced? Where is the best place to put your house?
If you were to commission us to design two houses on two different sites, even right next door to one another, you would receive two different designs. Our ultimate goal is a building that is as much a part of the land as the grass and the trees.
- Site, author’s own image.