The blueprint for a building design career

The blueprint for a building design career

Want to combine your tech skills with your creativity and play a role in shaping the future of our cities and towns? Here’s what you need to know about working as a building designer.

27/05/2021
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There aren’t many jobs where you can start with an idea and a blank screen and finish with a building that people will live and work in for years to come.

As a building designer, you’ll be able to mix your technical skills with your creativity as you work to shape the future of our towns, suburbs and cities, filling them with structures that will stand the test of time.

Chisholm building design education manager David Christy has talked us through all you need to know about a career as a building designer.

What’s the difference between a building designer, architect and draftsperson?

A good starting point when considering a building design career is to get your head around some of the different roles in the architectural sector.

The work of building designers has developed from that of a draftsperson, which David says is now an outdated title but it is still often used in the industry.

“The old term was draftsman, back when people got plans drawn up for $300 and built stock standard houses,” David says. “That has morphed into a much broader and more specialised role which encompasses design, documentation, project management and sometimes contract administration. Building designers win design awards and design lots of amazing buildings, both residential and commercial.”

Today he says building designers often have a very similar job role to architects. “Architects and building designers are very similar in terms of their workflow,” he says.

David says the main differences between the professions are their qualification and registration requirements, and these vary from state to state. In Victoria, building designers can study an approved TAFE course and will then need to gain experience working in the industry before registering with the Victorian Building Authority under the class of Draftsperson – Building Design (Architectural.)

In order to register with the Architects Registration Board of Victoria, architects are required to meet criteria including completion of an accredited degree, a period of professional experience and passing an exam.

What attributes do building designers need?

Building designers need to have technical skills and the ability to understand the structures of buildings and the compliance requirements, but ideally they also need a creative streak.

“It’s someone who has a technical mind but wants to use that to create things,” David says.

Building design courses

The Advanced Diploma of Building Design – Architectural will give you the skills and knowledge you need to design both residential and commercial buildings.

David says the course content covers the creative, technical and business sides of the job. “People are attracted by the word design and you learn design processes, methodology and the aesthetics,” David says. “You also learn about sustainable building design, town planning, how to meet compliance and the nuts and bolts of the construction process. You can design the greatest building in the world but you’re in trouble if doesn’t get a permit.”

An important aspect of the course is the time the students spend learning to use 3D building information modelling software REVIT. This type of software is known as BIM in the industry. “They learn to sketch and draw like a designer, write like a designer and create a 3D virtual model,” David says.

So what does David love most about teaching the course? He says it’s seeing his students learn such a breadth of information, even just in their first year. “It just blows my mind that after six or nine months, students who didn’t know one end of a building from another have learnt so much.”

A typical day for a building designer

In their first few years in the industry building designers spend a lot of time at their computers working on plans, but they’ll likely also conduct building site visits to take measurements and document conditions.

More experienced building designers who are running their own business spend a lot of time on the phone with town planners, building consultants and surveyors. “Design stuff is discussed but not as much time is spent at the drawing board,” he says. “Usually building designers are coordinators, they’re kind of like the nucleus, they deal with the clients and all the consultants to get it completed you’re right in the centre of the action.”

Building designer salary expectations

In Victoria, the most common annual salary for building designers is between $65,000 and $75,000. Salaries increase in line with experience and registration.

Building designer job opportunities

Australia’s construction industry is growing and jobs growth for all architectural, building and surveying technicians is expected to be very strong in the next five years.

David says building designers can find work in a variety of settings including within architectural firms, for volume building companies or for manufacturing suppliers to the construction industry.

Building designers often work on residential or commercial projects which they follow through from conception to building handover.

“There’s not many jobs where at the end of the project you can look back and see something that will be there for a very long time, with people living in it and enjoying it. It’s something real you can touch and feel and you know it’s the client’s dream. You go through that journey with them."