The role of the Client in Building procurement…

What can you do as the client to assist realisation of your project?

  • Be as clear as possible about what you want to achieve, what you need and what you can afford.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask about the client/architect agreement before you sign the contract to clarify what will be done for what cost
  • Changes are best made early so make sure your architect explains early sketch designs. The later in the process that changes are made, the more likely it will have a cost implication.
  • Be clear about the responsibilities of the architect, builder and sub-contractors.
  • If your architect is administering the building contract, avoid three-way confusion by dealing with all queries through your architect who will deal with the builder. This ensures your early discussions on what you wanted from the project are built-in all the way through.
  • Keep your own notes of meetings, either in the office or on site. When decisions are flying, it can be useful to record them.
  • Talk about timetables; be aware that many factors can affect these including delays in Council approval, unseasonal weather, disruption in the supply of materials and delays in construction due to matters outside the control of the architect.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions, be involved, but allow your architect to do their job.
  • Be aware of your rights as a consumer of architectural services. Professional conduct of architects is governed by the NSW Architects Code of Professional Conduct. Familiarise yourself with the Code which is available in our downloads section.

If you have a problem, firstly talk to your architect and try to resolve these problems. Be open. But if you have a complaint or need advice about the professional conduct of an architect, contact the NSW Architects’ Registration Board.



Interest rates have hit 18%


I came across a Lotus 123 spreadsheet that I had prepared on a PC back in the mid 1980’s carefully detailing how I might purchase, in thirds with my girlfriend and her sister, a modest property in what was then, truth be told, a hovel, in a suburb known as Newtown. We were proposing to borrow at investment property rates which were then 16%. At the end of the 1980’s investment property rates exceeded 18% and it seemed reasonable at the time to lock in a fixed rate loan for five years at a ridiculously high 15.5%.

The Sydney property market is an investment market like all others. There are winners and there are losers. More than a few baby boomers like me struggled to purchase a home or an investment when the big banks were offering low interest rates of over 18% per annum. We knew then, just as it is today, that it is very difficult to buy into Sydney and should you sell and move to another city, it is next to impossible to buy back in if you have to.

Nothing has changed really. I know my parents really struggled to build their first home in the western districts of NSW back in the fifties. The two of them were making the concrete blocks on site with little more than grunt, a larry, a wheelbarrow and a formwork mould that they had made for themselves.

I wonder how different it would have been for Baby Boomers if interest rates were at today’s record lows below 5%? If the fifties are any guide, probably no different to today, I guess. If I had bothered to research it, I’d probably find that home ownership has always been a struggle.

Now, Architects are not economists. I apply the kiss principle to stuff outside my area of expertise for my own sake, so bare with me. For all the economists and other punters with a point of view… bring it on.

Record low interest rates simply mean that people can, for the time being, service a loan of significantly higher value using their income cash flow. I think a competitive and limited property market that is Sydney, reacts to this by rapid price increases. These circumstances lead to higher risk.

One obvious risk is that interest rates will rise leaving many punters in the situation that they cannot service their loans.

Perhaps equally obvious, but directly connected is that the lenders won’t like that situation at all because their share of the equity in your investment will be put at higher risk in those circumstances. What lenders will do to protect themselves is that they will limit their exposure by increasing the security required to obtain such loans. The banks will do this by requiring more equity from you, regardless of your cashflow capabilities.

To compete, however, the Banks are likely to assign a market value to your prospective property at a figure which is lower than the amount you have to pay to obtain it.

Essentially, it’s the banks who control the rate of growth of the Sydney property market, unless of course, everybody is so cashed up that they don’t need to borrow… which is the case when people downsize from their baby boomer home to a smaller property to live out their retirement.

What is the current situation so far as that is concerned? Well, there’s tonnes of cashed up prospective retirees downsizing, competing against tonnes of cashed up private super funds investing. It’s hell out there.

If you’re one of those people who is thinking of borrowing at record low interest rates and is also thinking how clever it is to be negatively geared, why not try a humble renovation project on your existing home instead. Just sit it out and let the punters fight it out in the trenches until the cashflow settles down.

If you’re in the unfortunate situation of having to purchase into the Sydney market for the first time, then I suggest that you be prepared for the Bank’s valuation to be lower than what you have to pay to buy in.

Back in the day, before capital gains tax and you could see INXS play in pubs we used a PC that had no hard drive. It had 640k of RAM if you were flash, and you put the program disk in one 5″ floppy drive slot and your files disk into another floppy drive slot. It was still pretty good for figuring stuff out.

Gary Finn

Charles Correa (1930-2015)

Charles Correa (1930 – 2015)

Charles Correa was perhaps India’s foremost Modernist. However, he did not simply adapt Western practices to a subcontinental version: he transformed Modernism and owned it.

As a student in the 1980’s I had the benefit of hearing his guest lecture at the UTS International Series. Mr Correa must have been around my age at the time. I was inspired by concepts of community empowerment by involvement and his self determination to make designs local, and paradoxically in the one moment, internationally relevant. I saw India’s struggle to embrace a modern art movement similar to Australia’s struggle to find an artistic expression that is peculiarly Australian, at a time when Glenn Murcutt’s tin roof pavilions were leading the way.

As a student at UTS, our job was to serve the red and white wine which we had especially labelled for each guest speaker. I lament not retaining just one bottle of the Charles Correa labelled Mudgee Shiraz and the fact that those international series talks are rare events.

RIP Mr Correa.

Gary Finn
Architect Partner
Sydney Access Consultants

Shop 7/438 Forest Road, Hurstville NSW 2220
Phone (02) 95863111 Mobile 0414 414101
Member of Master Builder’s Association Associate of the Australian Institute of Architects
Accredited member of the Association of Consultants in Access, Australia

Renovate, knock down and re-build or Relocate?

You may live in the perfect spot for your lifestyle, friends, neighbours and family, so there is no “right” answer to this question. You’ll need to weigh up all your options and FS Architects recommend that you get good advice, perhaps even exploring each feasibility without committing too much, so that you can make a learned decision that assists you to generate wealth and well being. We understand that wise decisions can take time.

The article below sets it out in principle for you, though seems to be weighted on the side of renovating. In our opinion, some homes have done a good job and are at the end of their lifecycle, and really ought be replaced by you, or the next person. Whatever your choices, we are here to assist.

Gary Finn


*Article below is copyright to Archicentre

It is a question all homeowners have to face at some point and there’s no easy answer as every situation is unique.

Families who live in the right place, but in the wrong house have found a solution in renovating.

“Prior to finding the right house, home buyers seek out neighbourhoods for qualities they can check off like items on a wish list. They consciously select areas close to work, near schools, public transport services, shopping facilities, parks, restaurants and intend to have a long involvement in the community. If special needs are required, they renovate.

“Building has been expensive over the last few years however, with the current economic climate now and relatively low interest rates, renovation or building a new home is an attractive financial proposition.”

Of those people who do move, they don’t move far, often remaining in the community or a neighbouring area. “Moving is an expensive exercise with moving costs up to $50,000 including loan fees, agent fees, removalist fees, and stamp duty costs. These are expensive fees and charges where the funds could be put to better use paying for renovating your home to improve your lifestyle.”

The Three Big Questions

The easiest option to consider, but potentially the most costly. This may require a further extension on a mortgage thus loan approval needs to be sought from the financial institution.

Knock Down and re-build?
Knock it down provided you’ve received council approval. Pay a visit to display home villages or peruse standard house plans, but keep in mind, it’s rare to find a house that totally suits your needs and taste (and alterations to standard plans can be disproportionately costly).

If you want to maximise your property’s potential and you are not sure if it can be modified, whether it’s feasible or within reach of your budget, Renovation has a threefold advantage. Investment in the family home does not attract capital gains tax when it is sold; people get to enjoy a better lifestyle; and they could turn part of their home into a future revenue stream by creating a self contained living area for rent.

Do you Collect old Technical Drawings?

a photo of young GarySitting here looking at a 3d model this morning I was contemplating how much things have changed since I commenced my first job. I realise that younger architects will have had no experience of earlier practices as many of our processes have completely disappeared from the industry.

My first day in an architect’s office was interesting. I had only ever prepared technical drawings using a clutch pencil on bond paper so everything was new to me. First job for any junior was nearly always “print boy” and the architect’s text book was a copy of Sir Bannister Fletcher’s “A History of Architecture”.

Week 1: Printing Processes
Plan copying was laborious. Architect’s either used an ammonia machine or a dyeline machine. Our office had a dyeline machine. These large machines had two roller feeds, one for reproduction and the other for developing. The process involved taking plans drawn on transparency, overlaying that sheet carefully on canary yellow chemically treated matching size paper (up to A0 size) and running them through an ultra violet light to produce a photographic reproduction. Then the “print” had to be developed through a bath of chemicals and hung on a line to dry. Managing the print machine meant topping up and mixing various chemicals.

A large print run was quite a process with paper draped on every available space to dry, and this process could take days to complete. For the inexperienced, it was easy to mess things up and on one occasion I accidently ran a negative through the developer… but as luck would have it, the lines didn’t bleed and weeks of drafting time was not ruined, and even though I feared it, I did not lose my job.

Most of our documents are not printed at all these days because they’re issued electronically as PDF files. You’d think we are paperless, but I think we use more paper now than ever before.

Week 2-3: Colour rendering
Nobody had a colour printer that I knew of. If the project was say, an alteration and addition.. all of the proposed work on a plan was highlighted by a particular colour coded to denote the materials to be used. After printing, my role was therefore to prepare coloured sets of the plans. Coloured sets were prepared for Council applications and for tender process as well as for the client and for the file archive. I was required to mix enough water colour of the same colour to paint every print so that the finished sets were consistent. In my first days of employment, I remember spending two weeks preparing water colour washes over 15 sets of A0 plans, elevations and the sections. A task I did many times over in the ensuing years until well after the advent of the Mac or PC.

The drafting board had to be at the right angle so that the water colour would flow evenly down the page. The brush had to be flooded just right so that the finish was evenly distributed. Each set had to be completed exactly the same, in exactly the same blend of colours. A beautiful set of brushes and high quality water colour paint was essential, as was the mixing process and these wet prints were strewn all over the office to dry before collating.

My practice today uses the same colour coding in our CAD drawings but sadly the process of preparing a drawing to be issued in colour is not as therapeutic as it was with a brush in hand.

Week 4: Architect’s tools
Does anyone prepare technical drawings by hand these days? An architect’s kit consisted of a set square, an adjustable square, a scale rule, a razor blade, a soft rubber, a hard rubber, a clutch pencil, an eraser guard, some lettering stencils, some blotting paper, masking tape, a strong light, a cedar drawing board laminated with green vinyl, an adjustable chair with footrest, an assortment of Rotring pens of various sizes and the all important pen holder with damp foam in the bottom of it. These essential items were used just about every day to prepare drawings on transparency film or velum tracing paper.

The pens have to be held just so to get a consistent line and can never be pushed up the page, you had to use blotting paper to avoid getting any oil from your skin on the paper or else the line would be inconsistent and your sheet grubby. Mistakes were undone and changes made using a razor blade following which the surface of the paper had to be repaired. For beginners, scratching holes in your work was common, at which point the drawing would have to be re-traced. However I once saw a guy spill a bottle of ink over a perspective he had spent 2 weeks working on, so he went home early and spent the next day picking out the spilled ink with a razor blade, good as new. That was impressive!

Rotring pens have a colour band representing the thickness of the line that they produce. In our CAD practice today, we use line colours to code the resulting line thickness, matching the colour code to those old rotring pens. This helps us to ensure consistent documentation and backwards compatibility with our archived CAD files and I guess it’s a bit nostalgic and ritualistic!

Week 5: Documentation coding

Because some of our documents were to be archived on microfilm it was prudent to complete text on a drawing using a lettering stencil matched to the rotring pen line thickness. This ensured consistent readable lettering and fonts, but it was a cumbersome process, one letter at a time, sometimes taking days to complete the text for one drawing alone.

to speed up the process some offices employed a code system, for instance, using two letters to denote a finish or material (e.g. NF) and those two letters were referenced back to a table where you would find that NF actually meant “New 1800 high colorbond metal fence …. etc”. I still see drawings produced today in CAD using similar documentation methods although it beggars belief that they do so, as it is a simple matter of typing it once using a keyboard and then you can copy and paste that same note in a matter of seconds across numerous drawings. These documentation methods should have become one of the curiosities of past practices but still seem to hang around. I suppose people who do that have their reasons.

Week 6: Plan Drawers

Remember them? We used to put our drawings away every night so that the humidity didn’t distort them. In a large office it was a logistic nightmare keeping everything important safely filed away and protected should there be a fire…. and just about everybody smoked cigarettes.

Workstations and office space requirements for Architects have become significantly reduced, than was previously necessary and now we have staff who telecommute and work interactively on BIM models across the web from the comfort of their own homes. I guess at one stage staff wore slippers and dressing gowns to their home offices, although iChat has put an end to that little perk, although they obviously have to buy their own coffee.

How things have changed.

Feng Shui Architecture ~ What is our Philosophy?

object003Refer to “legals” tab. Authorship and copyright in the images and text remain the property of FS Architects Pty Limited. (refer to exceptions listed in footer).

Studies show that in excess of 90% of experienced Australian and Hong Kong architects (122 senior architects responded) with no formal training in feng shui at all, use their perceptions and skills to locate a building on a site and provide the interior layout in a way that concurs with the ideal Feng Shui model of the “form school”. Architects are not instant feng shui grand masters skilled in the ways of taoism, but are extensively trained and skilled to provide a practicable and comfortable living and built environment. It is simply trite to say that architecture can provide good shelter for humans.

* 8 * Alfred Street Hurstville NSW

Humanity enjoys the freedom of fantasy and desire and dwells in the subconscious and the unconscious as well as the conscious mind. Can architecture in its earthly context adequately house our humanity, that is, our humanity in the sense that Heidegger would mean when exploring the question of being?

Architecture is more than shelter, more than Viollet Le Duc’s romantic sketch of the primitive hut in the landscape, more than just a dumb box in a form derived singularly by its function. It is also more than a built form carefully positioned in the landscape by poorly informed feng shui advocates.

It is a fundamental precept that all buildings communicate and that is, I think, unavoidable. Architecture is an art that communicates ideas. It is in contrast to the vernacular by expressing a heightened understanding of the devices that it has employed to share its message. At a basic level for example, architecture will attempt to express the character of its occupants and to communicate its function. It expresses feelings and emotions and it promises sensory experiences to those who would interact with it. Architecture, like much art, poetry and music, is an empathic pursuit.

Complimenting the pragmatic pursuits of building design by reference to program and function, Architects concern themselves with trying to communicate their art through built form, relying on human interaction. However, communicating clearly in built form is not an easy task because both space and form are abstract ideas requiring an understanding that is sophisticated and at the same time primal, it is concurrently sensual, emotional as well as intellectual. To “get it” requires a holistic understanding of the language of architecture and its context and cultural constructs current at the time.

Architecture engages memory and metaphor, syntax and symantics and it is interlaced with science, ecology, sociology, history, philosophy, art, music and poetry for instance, with potentially all of the mythical, ritualistic, sexual and theoretical human intellectual pursuits. It can incorporate indulgent conversations between architects and indeed other artists or disciplines, or heaven forbid, conversations in built form with its patron. Furthermore it’s intellectual pursuits are not limited by the constricts of time. It can involve discourse with the past and at the same time influence the future. It can be real or virtual or both real and virtual. It can be as ephemeral as an unrealised idea or as permanent as the pyramids.

More easy to appreciate, is the idea that communicating using esoteric signs and symbology, form and space, is likely to be communicated in a dialect that will inevitably be lost in time as entropy overpowers it. To take the simplest example, the function of a building could change with the next occupant but the building form will potentially remain the same, that is, meanings derived from function in architecture are notoriously dynamic whereas buildings are inherently permanent, therefore the communication of the intended meaning is easily obscured by change over time.

Not the least unexpected is that communicating function and intent may be far from clear from the resulting building from the outset.

In the case of a building’s function, vernacular architecture might resolve such issues simply by changing the sign over the door. That in itself is fascinating given the current propensity for architecture to be graphics driven. However, placing a sign over the door does not answer “why” a built environment has been constructed in the manner and form that it has.

1 Alfred St Hurstville NSW

A discontent man will be troubled with these questions but understanding them might effortlessly flow with an existential approach. Our true nature is that we are essentially limited participants, not masters, of the world which we discover. These concepts become intelligible by virtue of being part of an ontological world. We find understanding by accepting a holistically structured background of meaning rather than chasing meaning from ideas that are pigeonholed and then picked apart and perhaps examined piecemeal by reference to a set of pre-determined feng shui rules found on the internet or in a book.

Architectural concepts can only be disclosed through practical encounters with the built environment, its context and through a growing awareness of the language of architecture.

Feng Shui and philosophy

The practice of feng shui has ancient beginnings and is mainly concerned with understanding the relationships between nature and ourselves so that we might live in harmony within our environment. (Robert T Carroll) It naturally originates by reference to taoist philosophy, starting from the premise that everything is inter-related. Understanding taoism is necessary to understanding feng shui. Taoism is a proponent of the idea that man is inescapably part of nature and we are bound to all of her universal laws so we ought live with nature rather than against her.
Chengde, China (1984)

In his blog Robet T Caroll puts taoist gestalt well:

“It is also related to the equally sensible notion that our lives are deeply affected by our physical and emotional environs. If we surround ourselves with symbols of death, contempt, and indifference toward life and nature, with noise and various forms of ugliness, we will corrupt ourselves in the process. If we surround ourselves with beauty, gentleness, kindness, sympathy, music, and with various expressions of the sweetness of life, we ennoble ourselves as well as our environment.”

Chengde, China (1984)

Importantly taoist thinking observes that everything is so by virtue of its own, by virtue of the qualities that they possess. The chinese word for this concept is ziran.

Taoist philosophy teaches that the tao that can be told is not the eternal tao. That is by reason that everything is forced to change to a natural stasis which is always changing. The same kind of observation was made in the second law of thermodynamics.

Summer Palace Beijing (1984)

Feng Shui advocates speak of the theory of yin and yang, wu xing and the concept of Qi to describe the relationship of the parts that make up the universe. They subscribe to the idea that the wholeness of the universe is polarized into two forces, whose interplay is the base of existence itself. There is a very cyclical feel to this, for example there is creation, involution, evolution, and finally a return to the source.

Suzhou China (1984)

Feng shui advocates say that they “feel the qi lines of force” and try to predict how the proposed man made incursion will affect the qi pattern, possibly avoiding Sha Qi or bad vibes, for want of a better description in english. The concept has an ephemeral basis that is entirely sensory in the field. Sha Qi travels in straight lines and follows along straight paths such as fences, roads, canals, power lines, pointy things, sharp things, poison arrows and so on whereas shen qi is said to be more difficult to detect and flows in synergy with the environment. Apparently there’s not enough shen qi to go around. To concentrate shen qi you basically need to re-direct it, potentially at someone else’s expense. In an urban environment it’s easy to appreciate that arguments over sha qi could get nasty.

Chengde, China (1984)

Fortunately, there are things that you can do about sha qi. Hanging a large pair of scissors in the window along with a mirror for example, can apparently cut up sha qi and reflect it from whence it came. Of course, if you use the wrong symbols, or accidently deflect shen qi, then you can simply make matters worse for yourself. Clearly changes in the environment can predictably be met with much concern and potential disruption. These consequences, heated debate and unpleasantries disrupt the way. Because the environment is constantly changing, then your attention to these seemingly small environmental details must obviously be vigilant and ultimately become natural to your sense of being.

Advocates of feng shui are therefore mindful of changes they make in their environment because it could impact them. What is less understood is that instigating changes to your environment could impact on your neighbour and adversely create dispute, bringing sha qi upon yourself. That is by reason that everything is inter-related. Obviously to be a taoist, one must be mindful and considerate.

Fragrance Hill Beijing (1984)

Thinking of the Heidegger question of being, in taoist philosophy consciousness itself is probably momentary.  It is the perception of Tao that one has in this moment in time.  What my consciousness is now is not necessarily was it was a moment ago or what it will be a moment from now.  Consciousness is fluid.

Thoughts on being are not dis-similar in modern culture.

“Your atoms don’t care about you, indeed they don’t even know you are there. They are mindless particles after all, and not even themselves alive. Consider that, if you picked yourself apart with tweezers one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic particles, dust, none of which has ever been alive but all of which had once been you. For reasons unknown, your atoms will close down, then silently disassemble & go off and do other things, and that’s it for you. Survival on Earth is tricky. You must be prepared that everything about you changes ~ your shape, size, colour, species, everything. You have to grow fins, limbs, sails, you laid eggs, flicked the air with your tongue, you were furry, lived in the trees, lived underground, as big as a deer, as small as a mouse, and a million things more. Consider the fact that for 3.5 billion years, a period of time as old as the mountains, rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its quest of delivering a tiny charge of energetic material to the right partner at the right moment to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result, eventually and astoundingly and all too briefly, in you” Bill Bryson.

The latter quotation forms the basis for my understanding of being.

Summer Palace Beijing (1984)

Feng Shui however seems to take another step. It leads down a branch of what can only be described as magical thinking. It is a culturally specific version of crossing your fingers. I have no difficulty with accepting that feng shui assists those who would support it. It seems a simple case of mind over matter.

Chengde, China (1984)

Let me put it this way, if I can believe that architects can speak to us through the buildings that they design, then who am I to argue that other inanimate man made and natural forms do not tell someone with a determined sense of perception other things?

Primitive Hut source:

Ronchamp #1 Source:

Ronchamp #2 Source:


Feng Shui ~ It’s all smoke and mirrors right?

object002It is of interest because it purports to be wisdom that relates architecture harmoniously to its environment but do a quick google of feng shui and you would easily come to the conclusion that it’s far removed from a scientific method. Really, it’s the vibe of the thing. A highly tuned sensitivity to man and his environment, that is far from science, even though there may be some debatable objective rules intact.

Broadly speaking, feng shui can be divided into “Form School” and “Ancestral Hall Method” yet it is not entirely clear to me that one can exist without the other. Form school seems to limit itself to practicalities. The physical configuration of geographical features applied to the built environment while the Compass School seems a more lofty determination of the metaphysical. Feng Shui as exposed by examination of ancient Chinese architecture reveals a concern for the philosophical, for astronomy and geography, of human behaviour design psychology and natural phenomina, of ritual and process, formality and relief, a meditation expressed in built form using all of the tools of an architect, and expressed in the language of an architect. Feng Shui is a calm reflection. It exposes a vision for man and appreciation of how he understands his place in the world. In many ways, the architecture shows that people are the same all over the world, and yet culturally and environmentally specific.

Doubtless, that there seems to be no proper subject of study, each feng shui school has its own methods of doing things and there are no basic standards even amongst the practitioners of the same business. Most of the time its determinates are highly questionable wherein apparently every evil thing can be solved by appropriate decorating according to advice received upon receipt of the fee for services rendered. It is an easy target for the cynical.

In ancient times wise men offered advice to fellow villagers on many aspects of his life and his environment. This wisdom was apprenticed generally within families so that succession was ensured. Villagers acted in reliance of the Master’s advice, successfully or otherwise. Clearly one ought source advice from the Master who’s experience and wisdom can specifically apply to one’s circumstances, thereby providing a general path along which one is urged to follow. But, obtain advice from two “masters” and the likely outcome can be two conflicting paths.

How this ancient practice can be applied today is perhaps worthy of serious study and no doubt is studied seriously. In the last 70 years the Chinese government has had a substantial influence, I think on the dis-use of feng shui practices and beliefs, and most especially under Mao, and indeed much ancient knowledge may have been obliterated during the cultural revolution. Knowledge of the practice of feng shui has obviously survived in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan for instance as well as the general knowledge of ex-patriot Taoists in the west, Australia and the USA for example. These practitioners however are not necessarily architects. Their language is not necessarily spoken in language of architecture, leading to poorly expressed spacial configurations. In my experience at Tsinhua University, Chinese schools of architecture do not teach “feng shui” and the words of one professor ring clearly in my head “we do not teach architects to believe in fairy tales”. Thus Chinese architectural education follows under toe of the communist party philosophy.

However, China is always changing and perhaps, hidden in foot lockers across China are the various notes of architect great grandfathers everywhere which will, in time, surface and educate us all. I doubt it. In any case, the lecture series I attended in 1984 did, in time, discuss the aesthetic relationship between building and surrounding hills, of surrounding trees for relief and protection from undesirable elements, deriving an association with water which might best be predominantly pooled quietly to the south (North in Australia), relationship with courtyards and open spaces, sense of protective enclosure, privacy and belonging, passive solar energy concerns, all of these being the pragmatic but important elements for the ancient chinese architecture, and indeed architecture generally, for which examples were examined, presented, visited and explored.

My first thoughts were that I do not believe in fairy tales, but fairy tales in western culture have always been a means of communicating life’s lessons verbally, so superstition should not be considered at face value, but by reference to its origins.

What then can be learnt from studying ancient chinese architecture if its highly esoteric and artistic origins are obscured, forgotten and expunged, its written records obliterated and its leading architects purged or re-educated?

Well, let’s forget about trying to work out if its all hocus pocus, because we can still look around at ancient chinese architecture, some of it still in its natural environment, and we can try to see what they could obviously see, by the vibe of it. The origins of fung shui are there written in the language of architects waiting to be recovered.

Self represented Lawyers and the benefits of privilege

IMG_30381. Solicitors rarely get involved in the costs argument, preferring instead to leave that to specialist costs consultants, rather that is, to other lawyers who are experts in costs claims processes. We can share our limited experience in the costs process by reference to an unreported District Court decision that can be downloaded here: FSA
2. Too often people become adversarial and run to their lawyers but before they do, it is well worth looking at the process from the back end. Ask yourself what happens if you “win”? Will you really be adequately compensated? When should you stand or co-operate? When should you settle? Obviously you get a lawyer to tell you your rights, but having rights and proving them are worlds apart. Enforcing them still further away and being adequately compensated when your rights are traversed is all but a dream to the average punter. You should do whatever possible to manage that risk and avoid construction disputes. Our industry doesn’t need lawyers. We need participants who faithfully uphold the bargains that they have made and accept responsibility for their allocated risks, even when it might cost them more than they expected.

Construction Disputes.
2. According to Paula Gerber the critical areas leading to construction disputes are:
o Defective Work
o Variations
o Latent Conditions
o Delays and extensions of time
o Superintendent’s decisions
3. You would think that it ought to be simple to resolve right? After some time in the industry an Architect providing a full range of services is confronted with these potential causes for dispute time and time again. It ought to be a simple matter of procedure to resolve them, but then it never is.
1. Should you settle your dispute without lawyers? Our advice is to do whatever is reasonable to avoid the dispute or settle it without intervention. Construction law is complicated, not only by the number of people potentially involved in such disputes, their insurers, banks and agents, but by the complexity and diversity of the applicable laws involved. These considerations complicate the issue. A construction team does not need to know the law, they should know how to recognise when legal issues arise, how to respond to those issues, how to protect their interests, and how to best assist their legal team to deal with problems when they arise. (See PG1) Knowing when to introduce a legal team though is the critical deliberation. Involve your lawyers too early and you risk generating polarised positions, a costly adversarial culture of case building until completion and potentially beyond. Involve them too late and you risk the negative impact of prolonged and arduous dispute mechanisms that benefit nobody but the lawyers involved. It is a delicate balancing act.
2. Having a good set of construction documents and a co-operative team of experienced superintendents and builders can help avoid disputes, but even then, parties to construction disputes inadvertently depart from the documents, disputes develop and the co-operative culture can sour. At that point nobody wins unless you resolve your differences amicably. That is why a group of construction experts who have done the hard yards, can communicate well and work as a team is most desirable. A co-operative nature is always more productive than an adversarial one.
3. Failing to reach agreement will escalate the dispute and you need to seek independent professional advice from a construction expert as well as a opinion of the legal position from an experienced construction lawyer’s point of view. Either way, there is no “win”. You will be spending money you did not intend or budget to spend and you may be feeling terribly bitter about the whole process.
4. Usually as a litigant, even when you win such disputes, you will never actually win. That is because the legal fees you have remitted to your lawyer are not entirely recoverable from your unfortunate opponent. That is, if you are lucky and your opponents have not already divested themselves of every asset with which they might have compensated you.
6. In NSW, legal costs are usually assessed by a Costs Assessor to calculate an amount that is reasonable for the work performed by the lawyers in your particular case. Lawyers of course will have no sense of humour when you suggest that your lawyer should only have charged a reasonable amount to begin with, but therein lies the rub, you will usually be charged and bound to pay more to your lawyer than you can ever recover for legal costs from the other side.
1. There is no doubt that the arguments surrounding your simple construction dispute will twist as if the argument has a life of its own and the home truth is frankly that lawyers driving that seemingly weird course on your behalf invariably always win. You can sit in on a session in any civil court in NSW and you will not see construction litigants winning anything. You will see lawyers arguing the point over seemingly silly details ad nauseum at the expense of construction litigants.
2. That’s the culture that has developed from the legal system currently in place, and lawyers have established for themselves an apparently privileged position in our legal system. They are privileged because their interests are protected more than any litigant’s interests. Successful solicitor litigants for example are entitled to be compensated to represent themselves whereas any other litigant is not.
3. Let’s therefore look at this situation in detail by examining the Court’s purpose for awarding legal costs and the apparently anomalous exception to it applicable to solicitors. In their ball park, we can say very confidently that usually only lawyers win and here’s the evidence.

The Indemnity Principle
1. .1 The indemnity principle is intrinsic to the concept of costs. An award of costs should not exceed the amount of costs the receiving party is required to pay, i.e. what it cost. Anything in excess of what the case cost would be profit and not costs.
10.2. The indemnity principle, as a long standing legal doctrine, has been stated clearly and succinctly on numerous occasions: Harold v Smith (1865) H&N 381 per Bramwell VC:
““Costs” as between party and party are given by the law as an indemnity to the person entitled to them; they are not imposed as a punishment on the party who pays them nor given as a bonus to the party who receives them… Therefore if the extent of the damnification can be found out, the extent to which costs ought to be allowed is also ascertained.”

10.3. The comparatively recent judgment in NSW of Hamilton J in Grynberg v Muller; Re Estate of Bilfeld [2002] NSWSC 350 is equally lucid and consistent:
“It flows from this principle that for a costs order to be made there must be some liability, satisfied or unsatisfied, to indemnify or compensate for.”
10.4. Most recently, Fullerton J in Coates v Harbour Radio Pty Ltd & Anor [2010] NSWSC 796 also summarised the indemnity principle:
“35 The uncontroversial rationale behind the operation of the indemnity principle is to ensure that the successful party to litigation is indemnified against the costs they have incurred in vindicating or upholding their legal rights. Equally as plainly, if the successful party to the litigation is not liable to meet his or her lawyers’ costs, the compensatory aim of the indemnity rule has no function, since in those circumstances a costs order would serve to unjustifiably enrich the successful party.”
10.5. The indemnity principle must still be satisfied even though its application is not always in every instance immediately obvious.

The Liability Component
10.6. The effect of the indemnity principle when practically applied is that it clearly establishes that a successful litigant can recover no more costs in relation to proceedings, than the litigant’s liability extant at the date of the assessment of costs. For convenience, I have referred to that determinate of costs as a “liability component”.

The Chorley Exception
10.7. The Chorley exception applies to law firm litigants. It has been said that the Chorley exception is a rule of convenience. The rule has had a convenient application when determining the liability component in exceptionally limited circumstances, rather than it being a rule of general exception to the concept of indemnity.
10.8. However, the application of the Chorley exception requires considerable discretion. Basten JA said:
The exception, where the litigant is a solicitor, suggests that the availability of costs to a litigant in person depends upon a different basis for recovery, namely that costs may extend beyond those required to pay a lawyer if they are otherwise properly capable of assessment. In that case, the courts have adopted what may be described as a rule of convenience, namely that the time and expense incurred by the litigant personally will not be recoverable unless it is ‘capable of’ assessment as professional fees or as witness fees: see Guss v Veenhuizen [No. 2] [1976] HCA 57; (1976) 136 CLR 47
10.9. Basten JA inferred that he doubted the logic. The High Court doubted it in Cachia and the majority in that dispute went on to reject the proposition that a litigant in person should recover the cost of time in representing himself or herself.
10.10. The logic of the Chorley exception should be doubted in NSW. From the highest authority, the law is that a self represented litigant should not recover the cost of time in representing himself or herself. The suggestion derived from Cachia is that without enacting expressly worded legislation and Rules to that effect there can be no general rule that costs extend beyond those required to pay a lawyer if they are otherwise capable of assessment.
10.11. That a costs assessor can measure the time and expense incurred by a layperson speaks for itself because he could do so on a fair and reasonable basis for the work done. The premise that it is only a lawyer’s fees that are capable of quantification is illusionary, anomalous and it is obviously and plainly wrong.
10.12. However, that the time and expense of a litigant should not be measured is a legal precedent that has remained undisturbed since 1278.

Not as convenient as it once was.
10.13 A succession of law reports have struggled to justify the Chorley exception meaningfully. The earlier law reports surrounding the application of the Chorley exception as a rule of convenience in Australia merely assumed that the exception applied but have never openly tested it.
10.14. The Chorley decision apparently involved a law firm as opposed to an individual solicitor representing himself or herself and that seems to be some significant consideration which hasn’t really been given any weight, yet it was one of the matters considered at the pointy edge of Bowen LJ’s, reasoning:
“it would be absurd to permit a solicitor to charge for the same work when it is done by another solicitor, and not to permit him to charge for it when it is done by his own clerk.”
10.15. Historians of the general practice of law in 1884 might confirm, and we can perhaps speculate, that the reference made to “another solicitor” was more particularly, a reference to another firm of solicitors. At least that would confirm the application of compensation for the cost of the time lost by a litigant’s employed solicitors without completely transgressing the intention of the indemnity principle.
10.16 However, the “loss of opportunity” reason for the Chorley exception seems to be desperately clutching at straws. The only benefit of the rule of convenience has been to line solicitor’s pockets. The law has truly struggled to justify the exception. Further, there is now perhaps a more informed public than that which existed in 1884 and a feeble line of anomalous legal doctrine drawn from the bosom is a rather poor excuse for exclusivity and privilege bestowed upon lawyers by the common law.
10.17. Just as the word “clerk” might have meant something different in 1884, the word “profession” really meant something very different than compared with today. Being included as a member of a profession was in many ways reflective of a gentleman’s integrity in Victorian times. It may have been an illusionary concept even then, however for the word “professional” to apply today, sad as it might seem, all the credentials a person apparently needs is a job. There is no longer any mystery surrounding professional lawyers because universities now churn them out in great numbers and, with exceptions, they are truly common people. The courts can least expect lawyers to behave with the independence that they ought to when representing themselves.
10.18 Finding the balance between the application of the principle of indemnity on one hand, and the practicality of costing the litigation of a self represented law firm on the other, is a fair view of the underlying pre-determinate that has engrossed a rule of convenience that provides for a law firm litigant to recover its profit costs.
10.19 The obvious anomaly in the law as it presently stands in NSW is that a litigant, such as a law firm, bank, insurance company or an industry association, who directly employs their own lawyers apparently has a legal right to recover the costs of its employee lawyer’s time whereas any other litigant whose employee’s time, being that of a layman, is thrown away.
10.20 If such litigants are indeed entitled under LPA 2004 to the cost of lawyer employee’s time in representing itself, then this provides a basis for recovery of the expense incurred by any corporation litigant in representing itself, by reason that its costs in the circumstances of representing itself are indeed costs of a kind which may be charged by a law practice for legal services. That remains arguable in circumstances where no lawyers are employed to represent that corporation because an employee does not contravene s14 of LPA 2004.
10.21 There is therefore a considerable flaw in the present line of authority supporting the recovery of costs by a self represented litigant merely by reason that it employs its own legal team or is a solicitor litigant. Furthermore, that those employed lawyers can operate with the necessary independence ought to be very seriously questioned.
10.22 There are no expressly enacted provisions allowing that a self represented litigant recovers the cost of its time, irrespective of that litigant’s profession. There are no exceptions under the relevant legislature.

The equality principle
10.23 The one rule that has been overlooked in advocating the Chorley exception, seems from the outside, to have been the equality principle which is fundamental to Australian society. All are equal before the law.
10.24 The burden, whether a difficult one or otherwise, of sufficiently satisfying a costs assessor of the cost claimed, should reasonably be vested with the party most capable of providing evidence of it, that is to say, with the litigant claiming its costs. This burden is generally applied by the costs assessment process to all litigants, yet It was ignored when assessing a solicitor’s costs for its own time.
10.25. On an ordinary basis, a solicitor litigant is apparently bestowed by court convenience and privilege, with the entitlement to profit for its time, unfettered by the usual burden of evidence, in circumstances where there is no statutory support for an exception to the liability component. Solicitor litigants are apparently being singled out for special privilege by their colleagues and, in circumstances where costs are ordered on the ordinary basis, solicitors seem to be paid in excess of the indemnity basis, by way of a profit.
10.26 The Chorley “exception” as it has been applied, is an anomalous remnant of policy from centuries past, that appears to be little more than a grubby perk conferred upon the professional colleagues of a Costs Assessor, excluding all others. Now, in those circumstances more than any other, shouldn’t the process be seen to be fair to all, rather than anomalous and exclusive?

Expansion of the Chorley exception in NSW
10.27 The High Court in Cachia made it expressly clear that the Chorley exception was anomalous and it specifically found after much consideration, that the exception must not become the rule. The implication in these words is to restrict the expansion of the exception.
10.28 Despite that authority, just 16 years have passed since the High Court made its determination, and the application of the Chorley exception is apparently expanding rapidly in NSW, from unstable foundations of logic.
10.29 At the turn of last century and for 116 years before that, the Chorley exception only applied to solicitors when acting for themselves. At the turn of this century it was said by a NSW court to apply to a bank with an in house team of lawyers.
10.30 Along with banks we can presume that insurance companies, local governments and various other sophisticated litigants can gain advantage of the shift in court attitudes. More recently, without thoroughly testing the legislation, the Chorley exception was said to apply to the Law Society of NSW and by inference, to corporations large or small, who employ their own lawyers. No doubt other industry associations, town planning firms for instance, a myriad of sporting clubs, $2 corporations and sophisticated private litigants will get savvy with the floodgates open to them. Soon enough a litigant will claim that no lawyer is necessary to be employed.
10.31 It seems from a layman’s point of view that this “relatively rare” exception will swiftly become the general rule in NSW if all a cashed up litigant needs to do is employ a lawyer, perhaps jobless and fresh out of university. The outcome must surely result in an uneven playing field between those who do and those who can’t. These circumstances must provoke a litigious mindset from those who do against those who can’t.
10.32 There is no independence for the lawyer and integrity in the developing system is merely illusionary. There is probably only one certainty if the trend of broadening the Chorley exception continues and that is that the Chorley exception will apply to all except the people with the least access to financial resources.
10.33 The anomalous nature of an exception is revealed when it is considered that a litigant that is a corporation or a firm retaining employees, who are not lawyers, also expend considerable costs in researching, preparing and presenting for litigation, and such a corporation also suffers its opportunity costs, all litigants suffer from a lost income, none of which is recognised as a recoverable cost by the court.
10.34 The exception in the terms that it is presently justified by authorities, applying to the limited few being solicitors and law firms, and now it seems also corporations such as banks, insurance companies, incorporated industry associations and the like that employ lawyers on salaries, is not laudable. That is why the exception ought to be abandoned.
10.35 The Chorley exception appears to be completely at odds with both the legislation and the indemnity principle.


How to produce great documents!

an isometric drawing of a house design

A well developed concept resolves all the potential construction issues.


There’s no doubting that design services are valuable. Some designers have a knack of getting it right with the swish of a pencil… an idea formulates instantly and sticks, hitting the mark in a fleeting instance, with a spark of brilliance. Alvar Aalto was such an architect. His ephemeral sketches went from whispering free hand lines seemingly on the back of a napkin to working drawings with no apparent intermediate steps. If Alvar Aalto charged by the hour, then his brilliant capacity for design was cheating himself of his livelihood! A brilliant design can reward a building owner far in excess of the cost of the Architect’s fees.

There’s also an art to producing contract documentation efficiently. The knack is knowing just how much information is required to get the building built the way it is intended to be. It is knowing how to communicate that information resulting in the least amount of conflict or error during construction. And how to document well without over-documenting. Knowing where errors or misinformation are most likely to occur and being able to prevent them before it costs money. The task required of the builder should be certain. A builder should be able to perform his contract without all the requests for information or the need for clarification along the way which would otherwise invariably lead to building contract cost adjustments.

If an architect does the documentation well enough then the task of contract administration is less obscured by the need for re-work. Ultimately, a great set of documents saves the builder and the owner money, and if done well, the savings far outstrip the cost of an architect’s fees.

As a consumer, how do you know you have a good set of documents?
Quite simply, you know you have a good set of architectural documents when there are very few questions and, if the builder follows his contract documents nothing unexpected is built. That’s usually a strong indication that everyone knows what they’re getting and knows what to do. They’re great documents!

What do great documents look like?
FS Architects do great documents so I’ll show you some of ours! We like to put all the information about a project on drawings and then append a general reference specification. People have their own ideas about what method is best but our preference is to just look at the drawing rather than flicking through a bundle of extraneous documents that could provide conflicting alternative selections so for us, putting the information on the drawings in a systematic way makes cross checking easier and more obvious for all involved.

Sample_General_Layout_Drawings.pdf (Click for sample)
For a dwelling, typically, you’ll have general layout drawings, including existing and proposed plans, elevations and sections as well as demolition drawings and any site management drawings. These are usually all the documents you need for a Construction Certificate, but obviously for great documents, the builder needs more information to construct the building you want. Unfortunately, many draftsmen finish their documentation at the Construction Certificate level of completion and owners and builders are left to work it out for themselves from there on in. If you have a very good working relationship with a builder you know, then the Builder might be able to help you along, but you face much angst if you do not completely understand the alternatives being offered to you, or perhaps more significantly, not being offered.

You could add to these general layout drawings a roof plan and a floor joist /pier set-out and slab set down set-outs for example, if they’re critical to ensuring a successful outcome.

Sample_Electrical_Fitout.pdf (Click for sample)
You might then have electrical fixtures layouts and ceiling plans, fire walls or fire services, storm-water reticulation, tanks, pits and so on located on a drawing and adequately described so that the builder is aware of them and prices to include them to your requirements.

Sample_Door_Schedules.pdf (Click for sample)
Indicate sizes and selections as well as glazing, screens and door and window furniture and lock selections.

Your wet areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundries will show tile setouts and heights as well as wardrobe and shelfing and cupboard joinery configurations, towel rails, toilet paper holder locations and so on to prevent re-work and help ensure that there is structural support installed where support is needed.

✤ Joinery Details
Kitchen and bathroom details, the barbeque area and pool surrounds and so on… these are essential to ensuring that the stove you have selected will fit next to that set of pan drawers you’re dreaming about for example. it also sows handle positions, materials selections and finishes as well as edge treatment to benchtops and the number of shelves necessary. It can be handled with a provisional sum, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what the exact cost will be from the outset?

It is prudent to detail those things that history shows consistently go wrong. Preventing leaking showers, stopping dampness, controlling movement cracking, controlled junctions between the various selected finishes, preventing condensation, preventing corrosion and so on… It is also prudent to detail anything unusual, like disability access or that secret cupboard under the stairs. We find ourselves dealing with some extraordinary requests in people’s homes, all of which are handled discretely and efficiently.

✤ Landscaping details
All those retaining walls, garden edges and fences, as well as paving detailing and plant selections… yo can wing it and hope for the best.. or you can document them and stipulate your requirements.

✤ Finishes Schedules
We like to put all the nominated selections in one place for quick reference. these selections are mirrored within the body of the documents which, prior to the advent of computer aided drafting, was fraught with potential risk of conflict.

✤ Colour selections
Nominated on a drawing for ease of reference with the rest of the set.

✤ Subconsultant’s drawings
Survey drawings, hazardous materials reports, engineering drawings and specifix… all bundled together and bound into the set.

✤ Index Sheet
A very useful guide.

✤ Specification
An industry standard general reference specification with all irrelevant clauses removed and any “special” items addded.

✤ Collated Documents
Provided in PDF format for search and dissemination to relevant parties.

What happens if I don’t provide all this information to a Builder?
A good builder will try and guide you through all these decisions as some builders are quite proficient at doing, and having priced off the documents you provided, the builder will allow additional money for his time and research required to co-ordinate these matters with you. These effectively become hidden costs. The builder will invariably modify his fixed lump sum price upwards, based on your late selections.

An average builder will ask you to provide the information without delay, or else the builder likely use one of the terms of a standard form building contract to make the choice to prevent delay, or he will delay the project and potentially charge you for the delay. He will also modify his price upwards for your selections.

An inexperienced builder will try to help, will not have allowed enough money to hold your hand through the process and this will potentially lead to dispute and dis-satisfaction from both perspectives. He may forget to modify his price and at completion attempt to recover his losses when his figures don’t tally.

Ultimately, good documents are good risk management. Excellent documents ensure that you get what you want for a fair price and they help minimise the potential for disputes.

FS Architects have put into place a systematic documentation system devised to strive for excellent documents.