Concept Design

Concept Design

Once you’ve chosen your architect or building designer, they start with the concept design stage.  And the first plan you receive from your architect or building designer is called the concept design (sometimes called the sketch design).

What is a concept design?

The concept design is a straightforward drawing that shows the layout of your new project.  It is a floor plan that shows the garden, the driveway, the rooms including number, type, size and location of each room.  It also shows the location of stairs, doors and windows and how they open and shut.  It shows the neighbouring properties to ensure there is no overlooking or overshadowing (if relevant).  The concept design is drawn to scale, but does not include measurements (click here to see an example of a concept design).

What happens

To begin, you and the architect or building designer complete a site inspection, and they measure the property.  In their own time, your architect or building designer will check all the rules and regulations (including State and council planning regulations) that apply to your property and intentions.  You then meet with your architect or building designer to develop the client brief (sometimes called the design brief) that summarises all your ideas (concepts), needs, and requirements for the project (see our ‘Getting started’ article).  The client brief will contain information on the existing property and what you want to change.  The information required includes:

  • A copy of your land title
  • A copy of your existing house floor plan (if you have it)
  • Google map or an aerial photo of your property
  • Your budget

What you want can be conveyed to the architect in the following ways:

  • Draw a simple diagram of your desired floor plan
  • Describe what you want in written words
  • Cut out pictures from a magazine, bring your vision board, scrapbook, or Pinterest board

Remember: a good architect or building designer will assist you in figuring out and expressing what you want.  They will interview you, they will listen and respond in detail while bringing their expertise to bear to help you map out exactly how your house should function.  A good design will also take into account how your house needs to change and adapt over time (see ‘Build for the future’ in our ‘Getting started’ article).

After you receive your initial concept design, you will then meet the architect or building designer to discuss what you might want to change.  For the average project, it can take three or four meetings and iterations to get it right.  Your architect or building designer will know if you need to employ consultants to gather additional information.  Consultants are not usually needed at this stage, but may be needed if your project is complicated.

Types of consultants include:

  • Land surveyor (if you require a land surveyor, this would happen before beginning the concept design)
  • Structural engineer
  • Geotechnical engineer (usually to perform a soil test)
  • Town planning consultant

Please note: consultant reports are paid for by you.

After you’re on the way to finalising the concept design, you will receive a cost estimate (an ‘opinion of probable cost’) from the architect or building designer.  This is usually calculated based on square meters and the number of wet areas.  The ‘opinion of probably cost’ may also be calculated based on similar projects done by the architect or building designer.  You will also receive a time estimate of the project.  You can expect this to be a rough estimate based on similar projects done by the architect or building designer.  After this, you will receive the final concept design, which you sign off and pay for.

What you get

Your finalised concept design should include the follow items (either hand drawn or CAD):

  • A floor plan of the existing property
  • A floor plan of the new project
  • An elevation drawing of the new project
  • A three-dimensional drawing of the new project

How long does it take?

A concept design usually takes approximately one to two months.  If you already have the information about the existing property, know what you want, and don’t offer too many changes to the proposed concept design, you should be able to sign it all off within a month.

However, if you don’t have the information about the existing property, and you’re not sure what you want, concept design can take up to two months.  Other factors that can set back concept design delivery include:

  • Delayed site visit – book in your site visit as quickly as possible so it doesn’t create a bottleneck
  • Changing your mind about what you want
  • Your architect or building designer might be busy and take a few weeks to turn designs around
  • The more feedback you give, the longer it will take to make changes
  • The vaguer your feedback, the longer it will take to make changes

Managing your budget

Early on in the process of creating a concept design, the architect or building designer will need to know your budget to design appropriately for it.  If you’ve settled on a budget and are happy to share this information, you’ll have a smoother time developing your concept design.  However, some people feel unsure about sharing budget for many different reasons including:

  • Not certain about construction costs therefore not certain what their budget should be
  • May not trust the architect or building designer enough to share private financial information
  • Concern that if they reveal a high number, the architect or building designer will design indiscriminately around that number instead of balancing cost and value

Undecided budget?

If your budget isn’t set and you haven’t done your own rough cost estimate (see ‘Your budget’ in our ‘Getting started’ article) it may be best to tell your architect or building designer up front.  Ask them sooner than later to provide ‘an opinion of probable cost’ of the concept design that you can then discuss with your bank manager and settle on a budget.  Be aware that if their estimate is beyond your upper limit, you’ll need to alter the concept design to bring the cost down.  Depending on your contract terms with the architect or building designer, this may cost you extra.

Be aware: if you haven’t settled on a budget yet, the architect or building designer usually suggests working off a guesstimate or rough figure to get the concept design underway.  In reality, that figure may be higher than you had in mind.  Know that it will be difficult to reduce the ‘guesstimate’ figure once the concept design has been created and, depending on the terms of your contract, may cost you for more iterations to then bring the cost down.  It’s better for you to control the budget from the outset and keep it realistic rather than aspirational.

Important tips

The two most important tips towards a better outcome are, getting the floorplan right, and having a budget that you stick to:

Get the concept design right

It’s very important to get the layout and function of the floorplan right at the concept design stage.  It will be much harder, and more expensive to change the floorplan down the line.  For example, changing the location of the kitchen at the concept design stage might mean changing a few lines on the concept design plan.  However, changing the location of the kitchen later in the working drawings would be incredibly difficult because it might require changing tens of CAD files with associated floor, roof, electrical, plumbing and door plans.  Don’t punish your architect or building designer like that, and only make big changes during the concept design stage!

Stick to your budget

The first time you undertake a renovation or build a new house, it can be easy to get carried away.  In all the excitement, please don’t forget how important it is to have a budget and stick to it.  Consultants, including architects, building designers, interior designers, and builders, may encourage you to invest in features that all add up.  They might not always have your best interests at heart.  For example, interior designers might be interested in the newest finishes and touches not to suit your brief but to win a design competition or get their name in a design magazine.  Don’t be embarrassed to stick to budget and make it clear you’ll only consider ideas if they fit within your budget.

Disclaimer:  The information in this article is general advice only, and should be used as a general guide only, and not relied on for decision making purposes.  Every building and renovation project is different, so before acting on the information in this article you should consider its appropriateness to your specific project.  For guidance around your specific building or renovation project, seek assistance from a building consultant such as a qualified architect or building designer.