renovation architects

Renovation Architects vs. New Build Architects: Key Differences Explained

Hey there! If you’re thinking about a building project, you might be wondering whether to hire a renovation architect or a new build architect. These two types of architects focus on different things, and knowing the differences can help you choose the right one for your project.

Renovation Architects

Renovation architects are like detectives for buildings. They specialize in updating and modifying existing structures. Their job is to preserve, restore, and enhance buildings while keeping their historical or architectural charm. In New Zealand, for example, renovation architects often work on both heritage buildings and more typical older homes, dealing with a variety of challenges specific to these types of projects.

Working on renovations involves a lot of problem-solving. Renovation architects have to deal with outdated systems, structural issues, and space limitations. They need to know building codes and regulations specific to renovations, which can be quite different from new constructions. They also collaborate closely with preservationists, contractors, and engineers to ensure everything goes smoothly.

New Build Architects

On the flip side, new build architects start with a blank slate. They design buildings from the ground up, which gives them the freedom to create unique and innovative designs. In New Zealand, new build architects often focus on sustainability, incorporating eco-friendly practices and technologies into their designs.

These architects start with a detailed site analysis, looking at things like topography, climate, and the local context to influence their design. They have to make sure their designs meet all current building codes and zoning laws. While they have more creative freedom, they also need to plan thoroughly to avoid any regulatory hiccups.

Unique Challenges

Both types of architects face unique challenges. Renovation architects deal with a lot of unknowns. Once they start working on a project, they might find hidden structural damage or outdated utilities. Here are some specific challenges they face:

  • Dealing with Old or Non-existent House Plans: Often, there are no existing plans for older houses, requiring renovation architects to create new ones from scratch.
  • Old Building Methods That Are No Longer Legal: They have to upgrade outdated construction methods to meet current building codes.
  • Extensions to Homes: Connecting old structures with new additions can be tricky, especially considering existing roofing designs, cladding, foundations, etc.
  • Adding Additional Support: Removing load-bearing walls often requires adding support like steel beams, which involves working with engineers.
  • Existing Plumbing and Drainage: Renovation architects must integrate new designs with existing plumbing, drainage, and pipes.
  • Discovering Unconsented Work: Uncovering unconsented work during demolition can alter the original plan, necessitating quick adaptations.
  • Onsite Problem-Solving: Working closely with builders to resolve practical issues that arise during construction is crucial.

New build architects, on the other hand, need to ensure the site is properly prepared for the new structure. They have to get all the necessary permits and comply with zoning laws and building codes from scratch. Balancing innovative designs with practical and regulatory constraints can be challenging.

Experience Matters

Experience is super important for renovation architects. They’ve dealt with a wide range of issues and uncertainties, which makes them really good at handling the complexities of older buildings. Their past experiences help them troubleshoot problems, find creative solutions, and set realistic expectations with clients. In New Zealand, architects with a long history of working on a variety of older buildings are especially valuable.

Working with Existing Structures vs. New

Renovation architects work within the constraints of existing structures. They have to navigate the building’s layout, structural integrity, and historical significance. This can limit their design flexibility. New build architects, however, have more freedom. They can design and place everything exactly as they want, without worrying about existing limitations.

Adapting New Materials with Old

One unique challenge for renovation architects is integrating new materials with old ones. This isn’t just about matching aesthetics; the new materials need to be compatible in terms of durability and performance. Finding modern materials that look and feel like the originals, but also last, can be quite a puzzle.

Restrictions in Renovations

Renovation projects often come with more restrictions. Architects have to follow strict guidelines to preserve the building’s structural integrity, which can limit the changes they can make. Zoning laws for renovations can be different from those for new builds, adding another layer of complexity. Plus, they have to work around existing structural limitations, like load-bearing walls and foundational constraints.

Building Consent Process

Getting building consent in New Zealand can be quite different for renovations and new builds. New constructions usually require resource consent, detailed site analysis, comprehensive design plans, and thorough inspections. This process can take several months, depending on the project’s complexity.

Renovations, however, might not need resource consent unless they involve major changes to the building’s appearance, use, or heritage status. This makes the process quicker and simpler for minor works. Renovation architects need to be savvy about these regulations, knowing when a project needs minor or major consents. The potential for variations during renovations is higher, so flexibility is key.

Charging for Services

Renovation architects often charge higher rates due to the unpredictability and complexity of their work. They have to deal with unforeseen issues, like hidden structural damage or outdated utilities, which require extra expertise and time. Their meticulous planning and attention to detail can also increase costs.

New build architects, while also highly skilled, typically have more predictable conditions to work with. Their projects start from scratch, making planning and execution more straightforward. However, the overall cost can still be significant, depending on the project’s scale and complexity.

Licensing Classes for Architects

In New Zealand, architects need to be licensed to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge. The Licensed Building Practitioners (LBP) scheme categorizes different classes of licensing.

Here’s a breakdown of the licensing classes specific to design:

License Class Description
Design 1 Suitable for simple residential projects, such as single-storey houses, small alterations, and small extensions.
Design 2 Appropriate for more complex residential projects and small to medium commercial buildings. This includes multi-storey residential buildings and complex alterations.
Design 3 Required for highly complex buildings, such as large commercial structures, high-rise buildings, and complex institutional projects. This license covers any building that falls outside the scope of Design 1 and 2.

It’s important to check that your architect holds the appropriate LBP license for your project. This ensures they are qualified and up-to-date with current building codes and practices. You can find more information about licensing classes and check the status of an architect’s license on the LBP website.

Overlapping Skills

Both types of architects share many skills, like strong project management, collaboration, and technical proficiency with tools like CAD software and BIM. These skills help them plan and visualize projects effectively, whether they’re working on a renovation or a new build.

Versatility in Practice

Many architects are versatile and handle both renovation and new build projects. Architectural firms often have specialists for each type of project, ensuring you get expert service tailored to your needs. This versatility allows firms to offer comprehensive services, whether you’re looking to preserve an old building or create something new.

Compelling Reasons to Choose Renovation Architects Over General Architects

When it comes to tackling renovation, extension, or conversion projects, choosing architects who specialize in these areas can make a significant difference. Here are the top 10 reasons why a specialist renovation architect is a better choice than a generalist architect:

  • Expertise in Existing Structures: Specialists understand the intricacies of working with existing buildings, ensuring structural integrity and seamless integration.
  • Navigating Building Codes: They are well-versed in renovation-specific building codes and regulations, reducing the risk of compliance issues.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: Experience with a variety of renovation challenges makes them adept at finding creative solutions to unexpected problems.
  • Historical Sensitivity: They have the knowledge to preserve the historical and architectural charm of older buildings.
  • Efficient Project Management: Familiarity with renovation timelines and processes allows for more accurate project planning and execution.
  • Cost Management: They can identify potential cost savings specific to renovation projects, helping to manage budgets effectively.
  • Material Compatibility: Expertise in integrating new materials with old ensures durability and aesthetic consistency.
  • Handling Unforeseen Issues: Specialists are equipped to deal with surprises like unconsented work or hidden structural damage.
  • Collaboration with Contractors: Their experience working closely with builders and engineers ensures smoother project coordination.
  • Client Communication: They can set realistic expectations and provide clear guidance throughout the renovation process, making the experience less stressful for clients.

Choosing a specialist renovation architect ensures your project benefits from their focused expertise, ultimately leading to a more successful and satisfying outcome.

So, whether you’re aiming to preserve the charm of an old building or create a cutting-edge new structure, choosing the right architect is crucial. Renovation architects and new build architects each bring unique skills and expertise to the table. For more information on finding the right architect for your project, feel free to reach out to us at Superior Renovations. We’re here to help guide you through every step of your project.


What are renovation architects?

Renovation architects specialize in updating and modifying existing buildings, preserving their charm while ensuring structural integrity and compliance with modern codes.

What do new build architects do?

New build architects design buildings from the ground up, focusing on innovation, sustainability, and compliance with current building regulations.

What unique challenges do renovation architects face?

Renovation architects deal with unknowns such as outdated building methods, integrating new materials with old, structural limitations, and unconsented work. They often need to solve problems on-site and adapt quickly.

Why is experience important for renovation architects?

Experience is crucial because renovation architects often encounter a wide range of issues and uncertainties, requiring them to troubleshoot effectively and find creative solutions.

How do renovation and new build architects differ in working with structures?

Renovation architects work within the constraints of existing structures, while new build architects design with more flexibility from scratch.

What are the differences in the building consent process for renovations and new builds?

New builds generally require resource consent and detailed site analysis, which can take months. Renovations might not need resource consent unless major changes are involved, making the process quicker for minor works.

How do renovation architects charge compared to new build architects?

Renovation architects often charge higher rates due to the complexity and unpredictability of their work. New build architects typically have more predictable conditions and costs.

What licensing classes should you consider when hiring an architect in New Zealand?

The Licensed Building Practitioners (LBP) scheme includes Design 1 for simple projects, Design 2 for more complex residential and small commercial buildings, and Design 3 for highly complex structures. It's important to ensure the architect has the appropriate license for your project.

Can architects handle both renovations and new builds?

Many architects are versatile and work on both types of projects. Architectural firms often have specialists for each, offering comprehensive services tailored to client needs.



If you’re looking for “specific” cost estimates, try our Renovation Cost Calculator Tools


Need more information?

Take advantage of our FREE Complete Home Renovation Guide (48 pages), whether you’re already renovating or in the process of deciding to renovate, it’s not an easy process, this guide which includes a free 100+ point check list – will help you avoid costly mistakes.

Download Free Renovation Guide (PDF)


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