Making sense of Architects Speak

words architects use
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When you work with an architect, if they are a good one they will speak in terms that make sense to you.

However, there are always some words architects use that won’t make sense or have a different meaning in context. 

Have a look at some ‘architects language’ so you feel more confident ahead of your first meeting. 

Brief – Your ‘wish list’; the things your home must have. Your architect will aim to meet your brief as closely as possible but will talk to you about limitations around materials, time and budget and how they impact the brief.

Client – In this case, you are the client.

Consultant – Generally speaking, a consultant is someone who shares their expert advice. They may be a town planner, an engineer, a surveyor or a construction specialist. Using a consultant simplifies the difficult decisions around your project. At Zaher Architects, we will refer you to the consultants who we think will be most important on your project, depending on your needs.

Contingency Sum – The contingency sum is included in a building contract or preserved outside of it to cover costs such as an increase in the price of materials or a change in requirements. It’s recommended to have this money aside so you don’t run out of funds during your project. 

Design Contingency Sum – This refers to the sum of money allowed in your project’s budget to cover the cost of unknown or unforeseen factors. This is usually high early in the design stages and less as you progress towards sign off. It’s recommended to have this money set aside because unexpected things always crop up, pushing up the cost of the project. 

Contract Documents – Signing contracts protects the client and the provider. You will sign agreements with your builder before work commences. At Zaher Architects, we offer a service to review contracts on our clients’ behalf. 

Contract Price – The price includes everything you will pay your builder, including GST.

Contractor – Builders and the construction specialists who work with them are sometimes referred to as contractors.

Cost of Building Works – The total cost of your construction project, excluding any amounts for GST.

Estimate – Also called a quote, an estimate shares an idea of the expected costs of your project. 

Drawing issue –  More architect language. The term ‘drawing issue’ refers to the version of the drawing you received, for example Drawing A, B or C. It does not describe a problem with the drawings themselves.

Owner – The property owner 

Prime Cost Sum – This is money allocated in the building contract for features like taps, sets of handles or shower screens. There may not be a specific cost specified when the contract is signed. 

Project Budget – How much money do you have to spend? The budget will need to cover building costs, designer fees, provisional and contingency sums, GST and additional fees such as the cost of getting council approval. 

Provisional Sum – Another word architects use, this refers to a sum of money included in the building contract for known work, which could not be described in detail at the time the building contract is signed because some details were unknown. 

Render –  This term has two meanings. It can refer to a 3D, computer generated representation of the design (your drawings are ‘rendered’ in 3D).

Render can also mean the finish on the walls of the home.  

Subcontractor (‘Subby’) – Your builder will use ‘subbies’ to help them complete your home. Electricians, tilers and plumbers are examples. These people are not employed or paid by you; the builder takes responsibility for hiring and remunerating them.  

Variation – Builder and architect language explains ‘variations’ to mean a change in requested works after sign off of the designs or contract. Variations cost time and money. 

Work – When ‘work’ starts, your construction team is building your home. 

Works – Once the job is complete; it is often referred to as ‘works’. 

At Zaher Architects when working in Byron Bay and the surrounding hinterlands, we aim to deliver sustainable, beautiful considered architectural designs and help you confidently navigate the mystery that is architectural practice. If you’d like to discuss your project, please contact us for an obligation free consultation.


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