When it comes to undertaking a major renovation or rebuild, it’s crucial to pick the right team who share your vision and can bring your dream home to life (within your set budget!). The first place to start should involve looking for a qualified professional, who can help you understand any limitations with your building site, council restrictions, and design a space that best fits your lifestyle, priorities, and budget.

Using the internet to search for architects, designers and draftspersons can present you with a lot of conflicting information, so we’ve put together a useful comparison to help you find the right person for your project.



To be legally identified as a professional architect in Australia, a person must:

  • have completed a formal tertiary education/degree in architecture (usually 5-6 years of study). As an FYI, in 2021 the average ATAR score to get into a Bachelor of Design in Architecture at Sydney University was 95.9.
  • have completed a required level of on-job experience (minimum 2 years)
  • be covered by the necessary liability insurance (this is required for registration) – providing peace of mind if something doesn’t quite go to plan
  • be officially registered as an architect with the governing architecture body in their state or territory (NSW Architects Registration Board here in NSW), and strictly adhere to its code of conduct
  • have passed written and interview exams for registration as an architect
  • annually (as part of re-registration) declare that they are fit to practice, and are continuing their professional development with 20 completed hours of study and learning undertaken per annum

Registration with the state architecture body is what defines an ‘architect’, for professional and legal purposes. Even if a person has several degrees in architecture and many years of professional experience, it’s illegal for them to trade as an ‘architect’ if they’re not officially registered as one.

Draftsperson / Building Designer

Many draftspeople (or “draftsmen”) are now more commonly known as building designers, a name that better reflects evolving roles and skillsets from diverse backgrounds. A building designer and a draftsperson can either be accredited or not, depending on your state. But, in essence:

  • Some have studied at TAFE or other tertiary institutions to learn the skills required to draw (document) buildings (typically an Advanced Diploma in Building Design)
  • In many parts of Australia, anyone can operate as a building designer with no qualifications or credentials. There are no mandatory registration or licensing requirements for building designers in the following states and territories
    • New South Wales
    • South Australia
    • Western Australia
    • Northern Territory, or
    • ACT

Some building designers may choose to belong to a professional body like the Building Designers Association of Australia, and be accredited, which means they meet the professional standards set by that body.


While everyone you speak to may have a differing opinion, architects are essentially specialists in design. They use artistic imagination and creative vision to design spaces where their ideas and techniques are represented through form, light, textures, materials, and colours, which combine to fulfil our needs. Alongside creativity, architects also have the deeply practical and technical knowledge to create spaces that are safe, useable, efficient, and sustainable and will maximise design opportunities for your project, your site, and your budget. Architects offer the ability to see how everything fits together, and while many contractors will come and go throughout your project, your architect can remain the custodian of your project from start to finish.

Building designers/draftspersons are specialists in documentation and delivery. In larger practices they will generally work alongside the architect, preparing the drawings for the design work being done by the architect. Building designers and draftspersons are largely taught how to draw and understand the construction of buildings so they can represent them accurately in their documentation. Of course, as part of the drawing, they are often designing as well (and if they’ve studied at TAFE, they have usually also done some design study as part of this). Building designers can come from several design-related backgrounds. This includes people with degrees and experience in architecture who aren’t officially registered as architects, as well as people who have extensive formal education in any number of design fields.



Many people who engage a draftsperson will do so with a pre-set vision of what they want. The draftsperson will follow this direction and usually provide 5-10 drawings for your plan, enough to satisfy council requirements and provide a basic guide for your builder. Applying for council approvals and coordinating surveyors/engineers to supply documentation for your planning submission will usually fall outside of a draftsperson’s or designer’s fees.

In comparison, choosing an architect for your project will generally follow these steps:

  1. DESIGN CONSULTATION/design feasibility study: the architect will spend a lot of time upfront to get a thorough understanding of your needs and priorities and provide advice on what is feasible on your physical project site, within your budget.
  2. CONCEPT DESIGN: based on the information gathered in the initial consultation, an architect will use their detailed understanding of design to come back with several tailored concepts. These designs will consider the site orientation, energy efficiency and sustainability, furnishings, costs, and materials and finishes. After making preliminary enquiries to the relevant local council and assessing applicable regulations and requirements, your architect will then refine their original sketch designs and provide an estimate of costs.
  3. DEVELOPMENT OF DETAILED DESIGNS: Once you’ve agreed on a concept design, an architect is likely to provide around 30 comprehensive and highly detailed drawings. They will liaise with consultants, engineers, relevant authorities and the local council to prepare a set of documents that provide design details for your renovation or new home. A detailed cost structure would be drafted at this stage and sent to you as part of a Client Architect Agreement.
  4. DA APPROVALS: Your architect can manage the development process and will submit their architectural drawings alongside other documentation required by the local council including diagrams, analyses, studies, reports and other information. They will act as the key contact and manage the enquiry flow from councils as they seek clarification and further detail on your project.
  5. CONSTRUCTION PLANS: Once your DA has been granted, your architect will draw the final construction plans that will provide a detailed and specific roadmap on exactly what is required of the builder, helping them to quote and provide timelines more precisely. It is for this reason many builders prefer working from the architect’s plans, which will, in turn, increase your likelihood of securing a good builder for your project.
  6. CONTRACT SELECTION and ADMINISTRATION: Architects not only draw up plans, but they also take on board your feedback and guide you through the entire design process, giving you access to their network of professional engineers, builders, interior designers, landscape architects and other relevant consultants and suppliers to ensure maximum success for your project. They can manage the tender process and, in some cases where architects are also licenced builders (like here at MILEHAM), they can also manage the entire construction process for you, from start to finish.

Draftspersons and architects will essentially both deliver a set of plans to satisfy development application requirements, however, it’s the level of creativity, skill, detail, advice, and reassurance, that sets the two apart. Remember that only certified architects are required to hold liability insurance, which offers you protection and peace of mind throughout your project, and after it’s complete.


It’s a common misconception that architects are only for the wealthy who are looking to build amazing, award-winning, magazine-worthy, multi-million dollar homes. While architects may refer you to a building designer/draftsperson for a smaller job (like a single room extension to a house or a new bathroom), they will generally take on a major renovation or knockdown rebuild as well as larger commercial developments.

Some architects and building designers will work on a set fee, while others will charge a percentage of your project costs. As an example, on a $700k project, for concepts and detailed plans, an architect may charge around $25k, while a building designer/draftsperson may charge around $8k. In the scheme of things, it’s important to remember that the difference in these fees when compared to the overall project budget, is around 2%.

Don’t forget, while the architect may have a higher upfront fee, they will be able to help you save in other areas, for example by managing a tender process to get access to a better builder, and scrutinising any extra costs along the way when managing your project. There are less likely to be major budget blowouts as an architect has a more detailed understanding of the construction process and can factor this into your budget upfront.

Apart from saving you money during construction, an architect’s intelligent and beautiful designs can ultimately increase the value of your home or build project. This can be fundamental to your decision process. While you often pay more for an architect, the market values the results you get from their designs. In fact, a recent Australian university study found, that for every dollar that was spent on engaging an architect, the property gained $11.40 in capital appreciation. Remember that you cannot advertise a draftsperson’s work as an ‘architectural design’ when re-selling your home.

At the end of the day – you get what you pay for in terms of experience (in the same way you pay more to see a medical specialist who has more in-depth knowledge and training and takes on greater risk, versus a General Practitioner). A great relationship, based on trust, is the cornerstone to any successful project!


It really comes down to the size and complexity of your project. A building designer/draftsperson may be perfectly fine for a smaller, simple job to get plans quickly submitted for building approval. In comparison, a total rebuild, or extensive renovation may be best suited to an architect who can offer peace of mind and a more complex understanding of the building process to help you create and achieve your vision, address your design challenges, and manage your project from design to completion within your set budget.

Regardless of which you choose, it’s important to remember that the decisions you make early on will have a big flow-on effect right through your project. Spending a little more upfront for clearly articulated and clever designs will be the foundation stone that the rest of your project will be built around.


Mileham’s Principal and Founder, James Pilcher, is both a registered Architect and Licenced Builder and as such can manage all facets of your project from start to finish. For a complimentary, no-obligation 30 minute phone consultation, contact James today to discuss your project’s needs.