Architects and contractors: A complementary relationship

Architects and contractors: A complementary relationship

When exploring solutions to make your renovation project as cost-efficient as possible, you may find yourself inclined towards hiring a general contractor directly and going without an architect.

Surely cutting the expense of an architect would significantly reduce the overall cost of the project, right? Although we cannot dismiss our evident bias towards the benefits of architects, in this article we aim to disclose a reality based on years of experience in the industry.

This is not to discredit the contractors’ profession in any way! Instead, it is to illustrate the crucial aspects in which the work of architects and contractors is highly complementary. This article explores the potential risks of pursing a renovation project without the foundational support of this complementary relationship.

How are architects and general contractors complementary?

Firstly, it is important to understand the role of contractors. They are responsible for the construction work on site, overseeing and coordinating the crew of builders who are physically executing the construction of the project.

An architect, on the other hand, is responsible for creating the design plans that the contractor traditionally follows for the build. Creating the design plans includes planning, looking for the most suitable solutions and evaluating alternatives before taking a hammer to the walls. Architects are also usually the point of communication between the contractor and the client.

It is important to note that if you only need to have a simple project carried out in your home (such as moving a boiler, or opening up one partition) it may be perfectly ok to work with a contractor only. When it comes to standard home improvements, general contractors are a great option for fast and cost-efficient results.

3 reasons why working with only contractors may not save you money

While it may be a good idea to just work with contractors for simple projects, sometimes it is not the most cost-efficient way.

1. Contractors tend to work without drawings

One major disadvantage of working with a contractor only is that some do not use plans or drawings, preferring to do the work directly onsite. An architect would usually be responsible for creating the detailed, thoroughly checked drawings that a contractor would work from. There are three main issues with this scenario of working with no drawings:

  • Contractors can only see the things obvious to the naked eye, so it is probable they will miss hidden but critical elements.
  • The best solution may not be reached; drawings often encourage creativity and innovation, so working without drawings may not lead to the best solution, but instead to the most obvious solution, or the first one that came to mind.
  • The contractor’s intentions and thinking may not be easily communicated to the client; with a lack of visual aids, misunderstandings and potentially unexpected or undesirable results are likely.

2. Deviations in the renovation budget

Although they may start from a budget or a cost estimate, contractors tend to operate by carrying out the work first and sending you an invoice afterwards. Therefore, clients are likely to be faced with an element of financial surprise.

Generally, contractors work with a budget that includes their labour and the cost of materials. It is then their responsibility to acquire said materials and carry out the work. When the material and labour estimates fall short of reality, and contactors need to do more work than expected or materials are more expensive, they will likely ask the clients for additional budget.

However, if materials can be acquired cheaper than anticipated, few contractors would revise their budget to reduce it and give the difference back to clients. While there are many honest contractors that may not subscribe to this practice, there may be a tendency toward pocketing the difference in opting for cheaper materials and cutting corners.

Architects, on the other hand, have no incentive to cut corners, as their interest is in seeing a beautifully finished long-lasting project. Therefore, architects are incredibly useful for keeping an eye on the actual materials purchased and their quality in relation to the price that clients are willing to pay.

3. Lack of communication

One of the biggest issues when it comes to working with contractors alone is the lack of communication between the client and the contractors themselves. The client is usually not knowledgeable about building technicalities; therefore, contractors tend to make technical decisions without consulting the client beforehand, or without even informing the client of the potential consequences of such decisions.

Acting upon their own accord in this manner may result in significant mistakes or unwanted choices that the client will later have to pay additional costs to amend.

Undesirable mistakes

The scenarios described above are most relevant to renovations or new builds which are more holistic; involving elaborate designs, new materials and structural changes. If you are undertaking a more elaborate project, the potential mistakes described in this article may be highly undesirable.

As a client, you want to be well-informed about cost and design decisions. Architects are an ideal partner to have in order to plan well, search for the best solutions before beginning, and coordinate between clients and contractors. Architects understand the ins-and-outs of your design vision; therefore, they can actively participate in the decision-making processes to ensure the effects are achieved whilst adhering as closely to the budget as possible.

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes


Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes

Architect, author, international speaker, Founder and CEO of AKKA Architects, Stephanie is part of a new breed of young visionary architects who operate beyond the nowadays restrained realm of architecture....

Read more



Leave a comment