Building Design vs Architect: A Deconstruction

Architecture is an industry of which I have great respect and love for. It is a timeless profession, which communicates, through built form, the style and lifestyle of society. Both Architects and Building Designers aim to continue this through the use of varying design styles, materials and construction techniques, while responding to a client brief. 

Whilst Building designers cannot be described as Architects for legal purposes, which I fully respect, both a Designer and an Architect can achieve the desired end result for clients if the correct person/firm is selected. 

Many Designers and Architects specialise in one type or style of architecture, and can be pigeon-holed because of this. If there is a designer/architect that specialises in your preferred style then by all means approach and engage them, however if your parameters are more custom, like the majority of projects, then shop around for the right fit for you.  


In Victoria you do not need a registered Architect or Designer to design your project, or to gain planning permission. You do however require a registered Architect or Building  Designer to gain building permission through a Building Surveyor (different rules can apply to owner builders.) 

If registered, an Architect or Building Designer is required to hold the same insurance and are both liable to the same implications under this insurance policy. 

What is an Architect?

An Architect is a design professional who can be involved in every stage of your building design They can generate design concepts, create detailed drawings, renderings and plans, obtain quotes for labour and materials, assist with scoping and budgeting and manage construction consultants. 

Architects complete a 5+ year university degree and to qualify for this course, they'll require a HSC ATAR in the high 90s (this differs from other educational pathways that have lower barriers to entry).  Architecture students typically deep-dive into the art and science of building design, with a focus on conceptual and technical design, as well as periphery topics like design history and contract law. 

To legally operate as an architect, you must:

·      Have a formal tertiary education / degree in architecture

·      Be covered by the necessary liability insurance (this is required for registration)

·      Be officially registered as an architect with the governing architecture body in their state or territory

Their official registration is the most important distinction that separates an Architect from another design professional. In fact, you could hold several relevant degrees and still not legally qualify as an architect UNLESS you’ve officially been registered with the appropriate governing body. To be eligible, you need a tertiary qualification and a minimum of 2 years professional experience under a registered architect in the field. 

For an architect to legally use that title in Australia, they must be “board registered”. This means they’ve:

·      Completed a recognised university degree (usually 5 – 6 years of study)

·      Completed a required level of on-job experience (minimum 2 years)

·      Then sat a written exam and passed followed by an interview exam and passed and then annually (as part of re-registration) declare that they are fit to practice, and are continuing their professional development with a required number of hours of study and learning


What is a Building Designer?

The title “Building Designer” is an evolving role within the building industry that people are generally less familiar with. 

In Victoria, a Building Designer must be registered to be able to obtain building permission, and meet the following criteria:

·       Completed Advanced Diploma of Building Design (Architectural) usually 2 years study)

·       Be a member of an industry association ie BDAV (Building designers association of Victoria)

·       Be insured under the same liabilities as an Architect

·       Be registered with the VBA (Victorian building Authority) as a registered practitioner – This process involves an exam and interview process, generally extensive industry experience is required to obtain Registration. 

·       Undertake ongoing professional development  & Annual licence & insurance renewals. 

Because it’s been an evolving role within the industry, people are generally a little less familiar with the exact definition of a ‘Building Designer’ and how it’s distinct from an Architect or a Draftsperson. The simple answer is that a Building Designer sits somewhere between those two roles, with skills in technical drafting and documentation AND generating design concepts across residential and commercial construction. 

A Building Designer will be able to help you at every stage of the design and construction process, including generating initial concepts, drawing and documentation, liaising with regulatory bodies to ensure compliant designs and managing external construction consultants. Building Designers may work directly with individuals/businesses or be employed by a builder.

While an Architect must meet highly specific nation-wide prerequisites to qualify as such, there is more variance among Building Designers. Each state and territory has different regulations around formal licensing and registration. In Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, there are specific registration codes in place. 

A Building Designer may have a university degree in Architecture and simply lack the formal licence of an Architect, or they may have chosen an alternative pathway such as a TAFE Diploma.

While the same regulations do not apply in NSW, WA, SA or NT, it’s important to note that any Building Designer must produce work that fully complies with external building and planning regulations. If they don’t, their design cannot be executed.