Cost Planning For Projects

Every project requires absolute cohesion of two things:

  1. The client’s budget
  2. The ability of the architect to work within it

If these two things are out of alignment, a project will simply not succeed, in fact it will probably never begin.

In my experience, it is best to set a clear cost for the works at the beginning of the design process. This may seem optimistic, often because it is. It is very rare for the project budget to be resolved so early on, however in an effort to build momentum and get the project of the ground, both the client and the architect must at least discuss the means in which they are to work.

The truth is, without these discussions taking place, it has become far too common for other architects to assimilate an extensive and ever growing brief, grossly undermined by dwindling funds. These instances in which the architect, but worse so, the client are caught off guard and left ‘out of pocket’ are obviously not ideal and more often than not, result in a half done job, with the client’s ‘must haves’ reserved for ‘when we have the money’.

So let’s talk about successful cost planning and budgeting for architectural projects

As I mentioned, it is near unheard of for a client to have aligned their brief and their budget by the time of the first meeting. For those of you looking to build or renovate and who are unfamiliar with the process of design, construction and cost planning, this is totally understandable however, as you have simply never been exposed to this area of expertise. How could you project the likely cost of your new home and its finishes without having understood the landscape upon it is to be built, or the structural limitations of the storage and lighting your garage turned man cave.

Until this point, it is likely that you have been guided by the advice of your colleagues, or mate who values himself as a bit of a ‘handy man’, not to mention what you have seen in the media. These mediums will often give you a very distorted view of ‘how easy’ your bathroom reno may be, and equally so, how Grand Designs-esk your completed project will look, while working within on a Reno-Rumble budget. and typically your aspirations may exceed what you’d like to spend on the project.

30 years of experience tells me that relevant and accurate information about the cost of building in the current landscape is limited, if existent at all. Generally, any building and renovation information refers to the cost of building per square metre – a poor and inaccurate metric of building costs when considering the uniqueness of each and every client and the needs of their project. It is my belief that all projects will, at some point, need to be priced in detail; relevant to the specificity of the structure, its location, the quality of the desired finishes and even its accessibility throughout the building process.

Great care must be taken when first considering the potential requirements of any project, and any additional costs or constraints that may arise. Much like the home that is to be build, the financial success and feasibility of a project requires a strong foundation upon which the architect can build a home that can be uniquely enjoyed by the client.

Before any costs or pricing can even be discussed however, I think it is important to note that the responsibility falls on the architect to understand exactly what it is the client aspires to create and helps them to appreciate the scale and complexity of their vision. Only then can both parties enter discussions around cost and budget ‘on the same page’, or at least somewhere within the same chapter.

Once the parameters of project have been broadly defined it’s time for a Cost Planner (or sometimes a Builder) to get involved. With their cost estimations, the project can be evaluated objectively and both the client and architect aware of just how much they’re up for; deciding to revisit drafting stages or move forward to refining and building stages.

A Cost Planners’ (aka Quantity Surveyor) expertise in dissecting a project down is particularly valuable. A Cost Planner, or QS, is able to evaluate the project into component parts and attribute the market value of the project.
The final Cost Plan will then be a document upon which the architect can better measure and acclimate the cost of the final design (usually at Schematic Design stage), offering a far more accurate cost than any per square metre ‘guestimate’.

And yes, while it is common that the brief changes to accommodate the budget, the same can be said for the opposite: the budget may need to be a bit pliable to help achieve the brief.

At the end of the day, this is all just common sense, is it not? It is far better to understand the costs of a project early so as to avoid confusion, conflict and an empty piggy bank later on during the construction process. And while the early stages of a build can be hectic will all kinds of other dealings and discussions going on, the Budget one is one seriously worth having; for your sake, and for your bank account’s.