Vic Chapter Odd Spot


Practice Odd Spots


Weekly anecdotes from the field

Practice Odd Spots are kindly brought to you by the Victorian Practice of Architecture Committee. For the most relevant and up to date advisory material about managing an architectural practice and projects please refer to Acumen.







86. Beware emails received from your Director, CFO, Payroll Manager, Office Manager, in fact anyone asking you to transfer monies, pay invoices, buy ‘gift cards’ as surprises for staff etc. Before you action any of these requests, check the email address of the sender. Many bogus emails use the name of a Manager so the instruction may seem legitimate, but the email address will not be correct which exposes the fraud.








85. If you ever need to check what building code requirements existed for older projects, you can access archived versions of the national construction code for free on the Australian Building Codes Board website.







The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) makes it illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability, including in the use of public premises. The National Construction Code includes provisions under the DDA for access to premises, but does not include egress from premises for people with a disability during an emergency. Lack of egress provisions may still be subject to discrimination complaints under the DDA. The use of lifts is an option available for the provision of accessible evacuation.






Ensure that secondary consultants on the project all have the same level of PI cover as your practice and that any exclusions are disclosed and acceptable, even when the consultants are engaged by the client.







A 3% increase to the award rates will come into effect from the first full pay period from 1 July 2019. The rates, which apply to a 38 hour week, attract statutory superannuation of 9.5%, overtime, penalty rates and leave loading of 17.5% and are referenced in the Architects Award 2010 (Modern Award) MA000079. It is illegal to pay under these minimum rates. If you are not sure how you, or your staff, are affected by the increase, call Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94. See the Award here.





All practicing architects are required to maintain registration with the ARBV or relevant registration board. With renewals due soon, architecture practices should make sure architects in their employ are up to date with their registration details and payments.





The Revenue To Staff factor (i.e. total practice income divided by the total no. of staff including owners) within the recent Victorian Medium Practice Forum was $121.6k.

The Staff Payment Average (including staff on costs – super, work cover, tax etc) & not including owners over 254 staff across 22 medium sized practices was $68.3k – indicating an average experience level of an Architect of approximately 3-5 years experience. 





An analysis of proportional Architectural Service Stage splits at a recent Medium Practice Forum found the following average results across the 4 main service stages:

Schematic Design:               21.4%, 

Design Development:         18.1%, 

Contract Documentation:  38.3% 

Contract Administration:   22.2%.

The trend this year saw an increase in the Schematic Design stage, proportionally up 3% on last year – perceived due to the extra time involved in the additional tasks that can come early in a project such as necessity for early authority approval, energy resolution, greater pressure to have a resolved design conceived earlier & client expectation due to technology. The other trend was the removal of Contract Administration services out of a % fee system and rather handled under a time based fee arrangement such as hourly or monthly rates /retainers.





At the most recent Medium Practice Forum a review of office management software showed that there was no silver bullet when it came to a software solution that catered for businesses that arrange their service and sales by % fees & rolling budget adjustments (i.e. most of us). The most popularly used were WorkFlow Max, Harvest, Coincraft & MS Excel with no system standing out as the most popular. Many practices used a combination, with Excel still widely being used if not as the primary system then as back up or in combination due to its ultimate flexibility. 

Others used included Union Square, Total Synergy, ProWorkFlow & ArchiOffice. Xero remains by far the most popular Accounting package. Trello, Slack & Asana were used for internal Project Team & Task management.







Of those practices recently surveyed at the Medium Practice Forum – most have residential as the base typology of their practices. Most practices however did have a variety of 2 or more typologies.

70% of the Medium Practice Forum did some form residential work whilst 30% did not do any residential work at all. Of those that did residential work, 80% have single residential as their predominant line of revenue. The second most prominent form of work outside Single Residential work was Multi Res., followed by Institutional/Educational followed by Commercial /Retail. 2-3 practices did over 5 typologies.






In the recent Medium Practice Forum Benchmarking Survey 2018 the number of practices that had ‘Associates’ or named positions increased on last year. There was 1 Associate (or named position staff member) per 6.8 of non-owner staff on average. Most practices didn’t commence having an Associate or named position outside of the practice owners until they had grown to 6 or more staff.

A total of 74 named positions (including the practice owners) existed across 297 staff of the practices surveyed – approximately a quarter of the practice size on average.


The smallest practice surveyed was a team of 6, the largest 30, the average no. of staff of the practices that attended the Medium Practice Forum was 13.4 staff. The average no. of practice owners was 1.95 with a clear majority of medium sized practices (77% of those surveyed) containing either one or 2 owners.




In the recent Medium Practice Forum Benchmarking survey of medium sized practices in Victoria the financial ratios as an average of proportional total practice income were:

Employment Expense:   46.2%
Owners Salaries:             15.8%
All Overheads:                 23.2%
Profit:                                14.8%

The average number of staff per practices with the Medium Practice Forum was 13.4, the average turnover $1.635m and the average years in practice was 14.3. 2018 saw a rise in both Employee Expenses and Owners Salaries as an average across the board whilst a reduction was seen in Profit (EBIT) levels of businesses – this years’ profit proportion was the lowest as an average for the last 5 years that the Medium Practice Forum had been doing this survey.





The Oaths and Affirmations Act 2018 and related regulations commenced on 1 March 2019 to revise and update laws about oaths, affirmations, affidavits and statutory declarations in the state.  Architects are now amongst the list of people who are authorised to witness the signing of a statutory declaration in Victoria.

This follows changes at the Commonwealth level last year, where architects registered to practice in Australia were included as one of the additional occupations authorised to witness Commonwealth statutory declarations.  The changes also permit any person authorised to witness statutory declarations to certify copies of original documents.

For further information >>>





Be aware that when building on the boundary of an inner-city site, the Building Surveyor may want calculations to demonstrate that the stormwater drainage capacity of the adjoining property can cope with the increased volume of water draining off the surface of your boundary wall. If this can’t be demonstrated, you may be required to upgrade the neighbour’s stormwater capacity.





When renewing Professional Indemnity Insurance, carefully study the list of exclusions in the policy. Recently the list of exclusions on some policies has extended to not cover the insured for loss, defence costs or other amounts in respect of any claim arising out of the use of non-compliant or nonconforming building products. The definitions of non-compliant and nonconforming building products may also place unfair responsibility on the architect.





The current lending conditions imposed by banks for domestic building work are increasingly problematic.

Advise your client early to contact their lending institution to inform them of the intent to use an ABIC contract. This allows your client time to consider other lending institutions if theirs does not support an Architect administered contract or if additional costs to the client for bank approved quantity surveyors are required.




New Acumen Practice Note! What advice should you provide to clients who live in a bushfire prone area? It is wise to be extremely careful and risk adverse about what you say. Read more here >>>




It’s Christmas Party season!

So that everyone has a good time, a framework for appropriate social media behaviour to help protect the reputation of your employees and company should be part of your party preparations.

Ideas include encouraging positive and appropriate posting or nominating a social media representative for the event who can receive photographs, edit and manage on behalf of your practice.

You may wish to also use the below staff memo:
Please consider that some people let their guard down with a few festive drinks – and may not want this recorded on social media… 
Please be respectful of this.






Although there are strict planning regulations controlling the overlooking of private open space, there are no regulations preventing security cameras on a neighbouring property from being directed at your private open space.






Errors and Omissions / Acumen Practice Note Update

This note is about managing client expectations around discrepancies, who bears the cost of their rectification and how related cost increases can be managed through a project budget contingency sum. It is important to ensure that your client understands and allows for a contingency sum in their project budget to cover such discrepancies.

Click here for the full Note on Acumen.







It’s World Mental Health Day!
Help reduce the stigma around mental health, we all play a part in creating a mentally healthy society.

Click here for further information from Mental Health Australia.

Some further helpful resources:
HR+ Wellbeing – accessible to A+ and Graduate members
Beyond Blue
Australian Men’s Shed Association
Black Dog Institute
Mental Health at Work






It is common for municipalities in coastal regions to refer planning applications to water authorities for comment on ground floor levels relative to the anticipated rise in sea level at 2040.

This criteria is often being used instead of 50 or 100 year flood levels. It is recommended to check with relevant referral authorities at the early stages of design.

Click here for further information from Melbourne Water.




The ABIC 2018 SW Housing contracts will allow for providing a deposit to the builder.

If the preferred position is to have no deposits this should be stated on any “Information to Tenderers” as part of the tender documents and struck out of the contract.




From 1 August 2018, and as required by Fair Work, employment awards will be varied to give employees access to 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year. The leave can be taken by employees to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence. Visit to find out more.

Confidential information, counselling and support for people impacted by domestic and family violence is available at the 1800 RESPECT website – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service –




Did you know that UNPAID interships are only legal when the intern is part of a vocational placement (accredited by the learning institution) or in an observation role only. If an intern is undertaking productive work of benefit to the company, that could otherwise be completed by a paid employee, they are eligible for an employment contract and to be paid in accordance with the minimum award rates and employment standards.

Visit for further information.




A new note for ‘Non-complying building products’ has now been added to Acumen.






Your client has just forwarded current photos from the building site posted on Instgram by one of the sub-contractors…

Consider adding a clause to your Specification to include requirements or restrictions for posting photos or other project details on social media platforms.






Before arranging client and neighbour meetings to discuss objections, check if there has been previous unfriendliness and find a safe place to discuss the issues. It might prevent this situation…

A client was on extremely bad terms with the neighbour. A meeting was arranged at the client’s workshop, but the moment the neighbour entered, the client rushed at the neighbour with a steel-headed mallet.

The architect leapt forward (and wrapped himself around the client) to stop something terrible. The neighbour ran for it and was never heard from again.

It’s not quite the way to get rid of an objection. We encourage a more constructive and conciliatory way of dealing with objections between neighbours.






Do you have clients who request meetings after hours or on weekends?

Make it clear at the beginning of the project when you’re prepared to work, to set your clients’ expectations early.






If you uncover unusual materials such as extruded plaster blocks with wheat aggregate when renovating a building, make sure they meet current standards. See here.






Town Planning: If there are two or more lots on a title, the permit requirement for the construction will be assessed against each of the lots, not just against the title.






Having trouble with issued planning permits for overlays not being approved by Building Surveyors?

On some occasions a planning permit may be triggered by one specific overlay and Council approved, without assessment of all relevant building regulation and their ResCode equivalents.

If there are any non-compliance issues, any variations to the regulations (Part 4 Building Interim Regulations 2017) will subsequently not be approved by the Building Surveyor without a dispensation or an amendment to the planning permit.






To assist with getting your invoices paid without lawyers becoming involved, obtain professional advice on the preperation of your invoice templates.

Your invoice (which you have issued at regular intervals commensurate with the services provided…) will specify the services you supplied and the amount claimed. It should state “This is a payment claim made under the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment (SOP) Act 2002 Victoria” or words to that effect.

The SOP Act is designed as a “fast and inexpensive process to recover payments due under a construction contract, without the need for lawyers to become involved”.

Obtain professional advice on the preparation of your invoice templates.








Your intellectual property rests within your CAD drawings or BIM model so make sure your client architect agreement stipulates who retains copyright over them.





The use of the terms ‘architectural services’, ‘architectural design services’ and ‘architectural design’ are also protected by the Act.

Be sure you are a registered architect if you are advertising these services. Visit to find out more.





Did you know that representing yourself or others as a ‘Graduate Architect’ or ‘Student Architect’ is prohibited by the Architects Act?

Be sure to use the title Graduate of Architecture and for students either Student of Architecture or Architecture Student. Visit to find out more.





Don’t wait until the end of a project stage to render an invoice, do so on a monthly basis.

This will help with your cashflow and reduce the risk of a build up of unpaid fees.





Signing and dating samples approved for finish and colour is a useful way to verify client approval.

Try taking it back to the studio and keeping it with you…it can avoid it being lost on site or even built in!





Town planning: State and Local planning schemes can change regularly, so make sure you double check the zone and overlay requirements on your site prior to submitting for planning approval.





Do not let clients convince you to give advice (e.g. meter sizes) and/or assume responsibilities (e.g. fill in application form or phone calls) on utilities application or upgrades.

It is outside the architects expertise and should be dealt with by other consultants or registered service contractor.





When in doubt add 50mm! A lot of appliances give overall dimensions, but fail to mention the ‘bits’

Adding contingency space, especially in concealed cupboards will avoid crawling into cupboards to realign the nightmare of hoses and cords behind, in order to fit it in.




If you’re at all concerned that a client may not pay you for services rendered, make sure you obtain payment prior to releasing end-of-stage drawings.





Read the fine print when purchasing software! You may not be allowed to retain previous versions, unless you still have a current subscription for it.

Under certain License Agreements you must cease using any previous software version and uninstall it.





Did yu know minimun pay rates change from 1 July each year?

Current ENTRY level wage for a full time (38 hours) Graduate of Architecture is $49,295 plus statutory superannuation at 9.5%. Employees cannot be paid less than their applicable minimum wage – even if they agree to it.

Overtime and penalty rates also apply.  If you are unsure about how it applies to your situation refer to the NATIONAL ARCHITECTS AWARD 2010 (MODERN AWARD) MA 000079 or the relevant Pay Guide or you can call the Fair Work Ombudsman Infoline on 13 13 94.






“Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions experienced by people in Australia, and tend to affect people during their prime working years (16 to 64 years).” (Beyond Blue – Heads Up)

Does your workplace help, hinder or ignore this fact? Start the conversation and let’s break the stigma around mental health.

Find out more:





Where a Planning Permit for a residential project does not comply with Victorian Building Regulation siting requirements, you will need a report and consent for dispensation.

If this does not align, you will need the Planning Permit amended to conform with the report and consent.





Do the fees you are charging reflect the value of your professional services?

Consider the architect’s experience, reputation or method of operation and the type and complexity of a job when calculating fees.





September 4th was EQUAL PAY DAY. A timely reminder that gender pay equity is about ensuring that all staff are paid fairly for the work they perform.

Fair Work notes that equal pay is not only wages but takes into consideration: discretionary pay, allowances, performance payments, merit payments, bonus payments and superannuation.





Tomorrow is R U OK? Day – how about taking a colleague, friend or family member out for coffee to ask R U OK?





No matter how minimal or preliminary the project, fee or no fee, get it in writing and assume nothing.

Under the Architects Act an architect must provide a written agreement with the client for the provision of those services.





Before choosing a business management system, take time to think about your needs five years from now. Will the software grow with you?

It may be that there is no single product that will give you everything you’re looking for but a combination of products might work.





An inner city Council has agreed to reduction of car parking if the developer provides one bicycle with each apartment.

When writing specifications make sure to include a description of the bicycle or you may end up with small pink bicycles with plastic streamers and training wheels.





The Practice Odd Spots are brought to you by the Victorian Practice of Architecture Committee.

If you have any contribution to Odd Spots or practice issues you feel need addressing in the Acumen Advisory notes, email




Do you feel like you are always creating new letters, templates or pro formas?

Check Acumen first – there are many guiding documents, templates and content suggestions already there for members to adjust and use.





Always nominate a specific date for practical completion in the ABIC contract.

This will avoid ambiquity should there ever be a dispute about liquidated damages.





Acumen Practice Notes are constantly being reviewed, merged and edited to ensure up-to-date and comprehensive information is available.

However, if you do come across a glitch or missing piece of information, don’t hesitate to notify the Acumen Content Review Panel:





Many building surveyors issue inspection notices to the builder only.

When administering the contract ensure the appointed surveyor copies inspection notices to you. This will allow you to be across any issues arising well before Practical Completion.





It is generally accepted that the allowance for liquidated damages should be a measurable cost to the client should the project be delayed.

If delays potentially impact your fees, it may be worthwhile encouraging the client to include the cost in determining the rate applicable.





Be diligent with your network security and ensure IT systems are password protected. Use a secure combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols (no commone words).

Complex passwords can be simple to remember e.g. name of your first pet and it’s birthday (Pepsi020278*).





It appears some members are using out of date contracts!

As of 1 Sep 2016 your client must be provided the Domestic Building Consumer Guide before they sign a domestic building contract. Ensure you obtain a current ABIC contract which includes the Domestic Building Consumer Guide & updated checklists requiring your client to confirm that they have read this document.





When commenting on work of other architects or architectural practices on social media, consider your ethical obligations to the profession and the public.

As parents always say “if you have nothing nice to say, it’s best not to say anything at all!”





Communication on social media should be considered in the same way as any other form of written communication.





Strongly request to proofread any article or media release that your name (or company) may be associated with, prior to print.

Information interpreted incorrectly or enriched carelessly by the journalist can result in damage to your reputation, uncertainty for staff or alarm a client.





Be aware of residential projects not requiring planning permission because the variations to the standard Rescode still apply under clause 54 & 55.




Trust no one!

Beware when you inherit project information from another party, particularly when you take over a project from a previous team of consultants.

When levels or dimensions are critical, best check them yourself and preferably engage your own land surveyor.




The Client Architect Agreement is clear that percentage fees are calculated on Cost of Works, exclusive of GST.

Choosing to charge a percentage fee on the GST inclusive figure is your own business decision, but we suggest you seek legal and accounting advice beforehand.





Even if it is only for a residential kitchen renovation, make sure to prepare a site plan including adjoining neighbours structures and habitable/non-habitable windows, while applying for a building permit.

Engaging a land surveyor early and advising your client diligently at the beginning, would avoid whole lot of delay and costs that might occur!




When charging percentage fees always clearly explain to potential clients: how this is calculated, that your fees will be adjusted progressively against the Cost of Works budget, and emphasise that there will be a final adjustment against the Cost of Works, when determined.





If providing partial services where transfer of editable files is required, you can consider removing title blocks or other identifying marks, so changes to documents cannot be attributed to you.

And always provide a data transfer agreement.





Don’t let spell check take control of your documentation.

A note to say ‘the first floor would be supported with posistruts at 450mm centres’, instead read ‘the first floor will be supported with prostitutes at 450mm centres’!






Apparently the band Van Halen wrote in their contracts that M&Ms had to be provided (no brown M&Ms) as part of their food requirements back stage at concerts.

So, if brown M&M’s were present, Van Halen knew the more “important aspects of a performance – lighting, staging, security, ticketing – may have been botched by an inattentive promoter”.

Are your contracts being read?





The Manchester Unity Building was constructed in 1932 by Marcus Barlow Architect at a rate of one floor per week – without a Project Manager, or a novated contract, or a BIM model! It was also on the busiest corner of the city.

Just saying…

Have a look here!





Make sure you prepare a return brief for the client when commissioned on a project.

Take care with the wording as it could be later relied on in court in regards to the level of project you have designed.

Remember that no building is ‘maintenance free’ and the best you can achieve is ‘low maintenance’.





Did you know that representing yourself or others as a ‘Graduate Architect’ or ‘Student Architect’ is prohibited by the Architects Act?

Be sure to use the title Graduate of Architecture and for students either Student of Architecture or Architecture Student.

The use of the terms ‘architectural services’, ‘architectural design services’ and ‘architectural design’ are also protected by the Act. Visit to find out more.





Make sure you regularly refer to the scope of architectural services in your client & architect agreement and check you have completed each item before moving onto the next project stage.

Get in writing the client’s approval of each stage, along with their approval to proceed to the next stage.





A good litmus test when checking painting quality is to check the top and bottom of doors.

If painted, you can be confident that you have a competent tradesperson, if not – keep checking!





Have you considered the effects of condensation in your design?

Thermal bridging of materials; temperature differences; specified window frames not adapted for the location or environment; insufficient ventilation because you have not calculated volume against extraction rate…

If it is a design defect, it could become expensive to fix.





To stop the builder’s dog mauling the client’s cat, suggest there is a ‘no dogs on site’ policy in the tender and contract conditions.





“I have built what you have drawn!”

Be objective about how the builder might interpret and resolve your detail.

An incorrect interpretation could cost your client money and result in a claim against you and your Professional Indemnity insurer for the cost of fixing it!





Don’t underestimate the value of checking your project’s skip.

The skip contents can tell you a lot about your building if you check on offcuts, leftovers and breakages. For example: glass thickness, concealed insulation and material packaging.





For the most relevant and up-to-date advisory material about managing an architectural practice and projects please refer to Acumen.





Are you changing a roofing colour or finish to comply with planning?

For any substitution of materials, it’s worth flagging to the builder even the smallest notation or alteration made between tender documents and the contract.





Bushfire Attack Levels are a challenge.

Get them done promptly to allow early integration in the design.

Also check your building surveyor’s understanding of the applicable Australian Standard. When in doubt, and when you can, consider going above the minimum requirements.





When preparing a planning permit application it is helpful to gauge neighbour reaction prior to lodging the application.

A neighbour in an inner city suburb objected to an application for a house renovation and extension because it included a barbeque in the rear courtyard – she was vegetarian and couldn’t stand the smell of meat cooking.

Advance knowledge of this reaction could have resulted in leaving the barbeque out of the design and adding it later. You currently don’t need a permit for a typical back-yard barbeque. The project was delayed by months.





‘Look out for telegraph pole transformers close to proposed building works. Councils issue planning permits without referring to electricity supply companies so don’t assume that a planning permit will take precedence over the power regulations.

Drawings provided by utility companies locating existing services, overhead lines, power poles etc. are not necessarily accurate so make sure you use a licensed surveyor to check locations.’





‘Although it’s the builder’s responsibility to thoroughly read the specification, many do not read it carefully, particularly if it is in a template format.

Two recent tests were carried out. One added a clause to the specification requiring the builder to supply Tim Tams at all site meetings, another required the foreman to be a Collingwood supporter – neither were noticed or happened!

If there are critical items in the specification it will save arguments during construction if you point them out to the builder prior to signing the contract.’




For more information about Practice Odd Spot please contact the Vic Chapter: