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Question Are sustainable buildings more expensive?

No. Sustainable buildings include features that are cost positive from day one; other features recoup costs over the long term through lower running costs.

According to a study commissioned by Sustainability Victoria and the Cape Paterson Ecovillage (Szatow 2011), sustainable technology has reached a tipping point where the financial benefits of building and living in environmentally friendly homes now outweigh the initial costs over the lifespan of the home. The study concluded that:

  • additional up-front investment in sustainable features could realise up to 10% after-tax returns per year over 20 years and allow faster mortgage repayment through energy and water savings 
  • a combination of high level thermal performance, efficient appliances, on-site power generation, electric vehicles, energy management systems and water efficiency could save residents more than $300,000 and eight years off a typical mortgage. Source: Your Home: Australia’s guide to environmentally sustainable homes

Sustainable homes and developments can include solar photovoltaic systems, battery storage, rainwater tanks (connected to the laundry and toilet and/or to the garden), rain gardens, solar hot water, geo thermal, double or triple glazing, black water, low emission materials and finishes, and ethically procured building materials.

We are experienced at sourcing these products, have established relationships with suppliers, and we have a broad understanding of the applicable certification and approval processes.

Question How does the process work?

In principle, every project moves through five main stages:

1. Concept Design – First, we’ll establish the brief with you, analyse site conditions and review applicable regulations. Then we’ll develop plan layouts, building form, and find the ‘great idea’ for your project.

2. Design Development – This is where we incorporate your feedback and progress design in more detail. We make sure we meet our sustainability goals, in terms of performance and material selection, building systems and services, and we’ll also resolve circulation and functionality, room layouts, and interior design concepts. Defining and developing a unique ‘look’ and identity for the project is critical. If a town planning application is required, this will happen during this stage, too.

3. Documentation – During this stage, we produce technical drawings and specifications to describe the scope of works, building systems, materials and finishes, services, doors, windows, joinery and construction details to allow builders to provide a quote for construction.

4. Contractor Selection – This is were we secure a suitable builder for the project. This can happen through direct negotiations, Expressions of Interest or competitive tender. The pool of potential contractors is typically a combination of builders we have successful business relationships with or those who come recommended.

5. Contract Administration – During the construction stage our role is to administer the contract between you and the builder. We act as your advocate and check that the project gets built to the contract drawings and specifications. It requires running site meetings, clarifying details, dealing with possible extra works, inspecting the build during construction, and certifying payments.

If you’re not sure if it’s worth going ahead with your project, we can do a feasibility study before Concept Design (Stage 1) to assess what’s possible on your site and the likely costs. Before we start working together we’ll sign a fee agreement that outlines in more detail each service in each stage, what we’re going to deliver, when, and the associated fees.

Question Who will work on the project?

Everyone. Design and construction is a collaborative process. It involves your contribution and our staff, other consultants, authorities and every contractor on site.

At Steffen Welsch Architects, we work as a design studio. Every staff member presents early design ideas for discussion and critique for each project. We then develop preferred options that reflect the collective input. This method continues at milestones throughout each project.

There are typically three team members managing a project through to completion: the project leader, an assistant, and the practice director. Your main point of contact will be the project leader, but all staff welcome contact from our clients. Our communication systems ensure everyone is up-to-date through the process.

Question How long does a project take?

Every project finds its own pace depending on a variety of factors: planning, cost, market and site conditions, other commitments that may impact on decision making, and coordination between clients and consultants.

Residential projects typically take 9 to 15 months from the start of design through to the beginning of construction. Construction time depends on each project but renovations usually take 8 to 12 months to build, and new builds, 9 to 14 months.

Schools and community projects can be turned around within 4 months from the start of design to the start of construction, but more often these take longer depending on the size of the project, planning regulations, and funding. Our role as architects is to negotiate the needs of different stakeholders – waste, tenants, building users of all types, council etc – in these projects.

Question Do you have a particular style?

We don’t think we do, but if we do, it’s for someone else to judge!

We know that our design principles and what we believe makes a good building drives form, materials and details in our work. Each project is a product of collaboration, so its style develops through finding the right expression of ideas that take into consideration how the building fits into its surrounds, as well as your needs and preferences.

Our buildings are designed to passive solar design principles. In winter, they collect the heat of the sun during the day and keep it in at night; in summer, they reduce solar exposure and have carefully considered operable glazing for cool breezes and fresh air. We also consider responsible material use and ethical sourcing.

We’ve been designing environmentally sustainable architecture since 2003, so we like to think we’re experts in this area!

Question Do you do interiors?

Yes we do. This where our experience with domestic spaces comes to the fore. Architecture is background, but interiors are what you see, feel, touch – the warmth and tactility of materials, how particular materials capture light, are they clean or obscure, cold to touch, hard or giving? Interiors bring projects to life. We also have knowledge about environmental, social impact, and healthy home interior material selection. Interiors are included in the architectural fee; for additional interiors support such as choosing soft furnishings, we refer recommended consultants.

Question What happens if we can’t achieve our brief within the budget?

It’s pretty rare to arrive at the first meeting with a brief matching a budget. Usually people have a wish list and during our early meetings we evolve this into a workable, budgeted project brief. Unlike a holiday where you book flights, hotels and allow a daily budget, architecture budgeting isn’t straightforward. This is because the market affects the build costs, and every decision that is made can have cost ramifications. Where you cannot afford what you’d like we’ll work with you on alternatives. For example, if you’d like a rumpus, study and tv room that would be three separate rooms (each approximately 60K to build), we could make one bedroom larger to incorporate a study desk or create one communal room rather than separate rooms (which can have a positive effect on the family environment anyway). Our role is to help you make informed decisions where you understand cost and lifestyle implications.

Question How do fees work?

Architects’ fees are typically a combination of percentage and fixed fees. We develop a concept design for a fixed fee. After the concept stage, architectural work and fees relate to the cost it takes to build. Once we have agreed on a preferred design we can get the construction cost estimated, refine budget and work out a fee as a percentage of the construction cost for all further stages. In general, the more expensive an item is to build, the more work architects have to do. A simple example is a kitchen. A small and generic laminate kitchen with cupboard doors is much easier to design and detail than a large timber veneer kitchen where we make sure every appliance has a home and the drawers are soft closing. Percentage fees will be outlined before we start so you’ll know what you can expect to pay, when, from the beginning of the project. Alternatively, for smaller projects, hourly rates work well. We’ll provide a task list and a running sheet – what needs to be done when, and what is still to come.

Question How do you control costs?

Controlling cost is absolutely essential to you and us, which is why we have a number of procedures in place. First, when we start a new project we benchmark it against existing projects in the office to give you an idea of likely costs from the outset. After we have agreed on a concept, we recommend you hire a quantity surveyor (cost planner) to work out a cost plan. A cost plan can work like a shopping list with cost estimates attached to each item, and they typically cost around $2000. It may seem like a lot, but it’s only a small part of what you’re investing overall and it can make a huge difference to peace of mind, and allow everyone to adjust scope and assess the possible effects on cost. Alternatively, it’s also possible to test the market early. During our 16 years in practice we have developed good relationships with builders and can work closely with them to get cost indications early. Those discussions allow us to negotiate prices and economical outcomes as we work through a project.

Question What happens if we don't want to proceed?

Sometimes life gets in the way. If circumstances change and you can’t proceed with construction we can put your project on hold or halt it. You’ll be required to pay for any work complete, as per our contract. No hard feelings!

Question Are you experienced with planning permits and councils?

Since starting in 2003, we have worked with most Melbourne and many regional councils. True to our principles, we believe a collaborative, respectful and professional approach to planning achieves the best outcomes. Knowing the planning controls, planning environment, and having a good working relationship with local councils is a good start.

This experience allows us to push the envelope where required to get great design outcomes through planning, such as our Sunshine project, Beyond Expectations or House in House.

For some projects, we organise a pre-planning permit application meeting with council, to work through any potential issues early. For particularly challenging projects we recommend you hire a planning consultant. This will help should we need to appeal a decision.

Question Why are architect’s designs more expensive than off the plan constructions?

Architect’s designs are more unique and custom designed to meet your needs. The fridge will be exactly where you need it and the right size. The bath will be big enough. Storage will suit your gear. The building will be beautiful, responsive to its context, and a neighbourly asset, making your neighbourhood better.

Architect-designed houses also generally have higher resale value because they are more considered and better built.

Question How do you choose a builder?

There are three ways of selecting a builder:

1. Direct negotiating

2. Competitive tender

3. Inviting builders to put in expressions of interest and then select a preferred builder

We’ll explain the pros and cons of each approach and help you select your preferred option. When we’re working with you to select a builder for your project, we’ll usually put together a shortlist of builders we’ve worked with before and others recommended by yourselves or others.

Question Can we visit your projects?

Of course! Many of our clients are more than happy for prospective clients to tour their Steffen Welsch Architects’ home. For education or commercial projects, tours of our buildings are also welcomed. Please get in touch to arrange a suitable time.

Question Personal question: Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Beatles – more unique and more depth (although I like the energy of the Rolling Stones)

Question Personal question: Best concert ever?

Billy Bragg at the Prince of Wales in St. Kilda. He played ‘A New England’ and didn’t have to sing – the crowd did. They knew every single word and so did I (unbeknownst to me).

Question Personal question: Second best concert ever?

Rolling Stones at the MCG 2001. Maybe because I was waiting for this since I was 11. Six metres away from Mick Jagger – one item off my bucket list.

Question Personal question: Best sporting event ever?

My daughter’s basketball Grand Final at the Eltham Tournament 2017 – they were down two points with 4 seconds to go and scored a buzzer beater to win by a point.

Question Personal question: Second best sporting event ever?

World Cup game Australia vs France 2018 – beautiful atmosphere, high quality game. I sat next to my son, my nephew and a French couple. On the way to the seats I bumped into my client from North Fitzroy.

Question Personal question: Favourite book?

‘Herr Lehmann’ – an entertaining German novel by Sven Regner about a young person in West Berlin when The Wall came down and his personal life while the world around him is changing.

Question Personal question: Favourite music?

Anything between Gustav Mahler, Wilco, Public Enemy and The Go-Betweens.

Question Last but not least: Favourite building?

The Pompidou Centre in Paris by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano – it is spectacular and optimistic. One might think it does not relate to its Heritage context – until you see the activity in the forecourt and enjoy going up the external escalator that gradually reveals the view of the city.

    Feel free to contact us with further questions.