James Roberts from ROKE Design

House Designer talks to Niko in this Podcast

James Roberts is an accomplished house designer. He spends his time talking to his customers to get a clear idea of what they are expecting so that he can provide his best work for them.

Watch the video here:


Niko: So y­­ou said you’re a building designer, is that right? So what’s the difference between a building designer and an architect?


James Roberts: Yeah, pretty much. Look, architects tend to work on larger projects, so they’re doing sort of more hospitals and schools, high rise buildings and that type of thing. Whereas, building designers tend to be sort of smaller projects, like small scale residential developments unit, so, apartments, new homes, renovations, and that type of thing. So, that’s probably the biggest difference between the two. And then, we quite often get asked, “What’s the difference between a building designer and a draftsman?” So, building designer sort of sits in between an architect and a draftsman; so we do a lot of the design work ourselves. And then for instance, I’ve got draftsmen that worked for me, which do the sort of the permit drawings and things, or more of the technical drawings, where I’m more of the design focused side of it together with my business partner.


Niko: So how did you get into it, James?


James Roberts: That’s a good question. I always had a fascination with building, even when I was young, I remember riding my bike around and watching builders build houses.


Niko: Yeah, I’m fascinated by it as well too.


James Roberts: …and I always had this love of scale and…how things go together. So I was always into my Lego and my mechano and all of those types of things. And technical drawing and art, I always had a sort of a love for, so the two sort of went together.


Niko: That’s brilliant.


James Roberts: I did a lot of graphics at school and that type of thing, and I liked that technical drawing and that precise drawing side of it. And then, obviously over time you pick up the design side of it, so design, a lot of that comes with experience.


Niko: Yeah, definitely.


James Roberts: A lot of draftsmen don’t become designers because they’re not interested in that. They’re happy just to do the technical drawings, whereas I love more of the design side of it.


Niko: What happens if someone comes to you and says, look, I want to build a house. What do you do then?


James Roberts: Yeah, we work with one-off clients or we might get a job through a builder, so we’re referred. Most of our work is referral. We don’t do a lot of advertising, which is great because obviously, you build a reputation, both with builders and local council and that type of thing because we’ve got to work within that space all the time. But basically, someone would come to us and say, “Okay I want a new house for instance,” and they would give us a design brief. And they might say, “You know, I want four bedrooms and a study, and three living areas, and a balcony to pick up this Bayview, and three car garage, and whatever.” So, we do what we call schematic designs based on their brief just to put their ideas together and look at scale and functionality and how all of that works.


But at the same time, we’ve got to be aware of their budget as well. So obviously we don’t want to be designing something for someone and then it doesn’t meet their budget expectations. So, budget is a big side of it as well. So, it’s a bit of a Tetris if you like, you’re sort of getting their budget to work in within their design and what their wishlist is. You can’t always meet a client’s wishlist and that could be for several different reasons. They might be site constraints or regulations that won’t allow us to do that, but more often than not, its budget.


Niko: Yeah, definitely. Does it ever get to the point where you’re actually sort of like, you’ve designed something and then the civil engineer or the– is that where it goes to next? Is that correct?


James Roberts: We work with structural engineers, we work with civil engineers, we work with energy raters because houses have to have energy ratings and things like that now, so we work together as a team. There is land surveyors involved for instance. A land survey would go out initially and give us all of the topography of the site and adjoining dwellings and setbacks and all of that type of thing, which way they need in order to start to put together the design brief and making sure it fits within regulations. And then, once we get sort of through that design brief, then they’re starting to talk to structural and civil engineers and things like that to work out the technical side of the building and how it all goes together and the energy rating component of it as well, you know, with double glazing and that type of thing. So, there’s a bit involved; we’re only one small piece of the overall process of obtaining a permit, but we tend to manage that whole process at the same time.


Niko: Yeah, that’s fantastic. So, are there any times like when you actually design a place that you go to the civil engineer or the structural engineer and he goes; “Hey, what are you doing here? How are you going to do this?” Sorry?


James Roberts: Funny you should say that because that happens more often than not. Designers always have these grand ideas of what they want to do or the client may. And then, the engineer looks at it and scratches his head and thinks you know, “How am I going to put this together?” The interesting thing is nowadays though; the engineering has come so far that you can pretty much build anything. You can pretty much engineer anything, but at the same time, the client’s got to be able to afford to build it.

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