Architect not giving my house design CAD files to me

Hey guys,
so long story as short as possible. I had my house designed by an architect and built like 5 years ago and i am looking at making some changes to my house design. However, my builder needs the original design to allocate costs and relative changes to be made to the current house design. I have called my architect and asked her to pass along the CAD files relevant to my house and shes replied back with "It's my personal work and i can't disclose those files to you". So i am at an inflection point where i have not made any decision to question her about the service that i paid for years ago and did not receive the original CAD files from her. So the question is here for people to discuss and weigh up what options i have, i do need those original designs or i will have to get someone else to redraw them up from scratch for a hefty fee.


  • +5

    1,U can have a set of PDF files to keep for free.
    2,To request a set of Cad files is generally not part of contract.
    3, In most of cases, u can request CAD files by giving extra money.

  • +5

    Architect here.

    I wont really get into the above arguments, i think Foolsgold has already touched on the key points.
    Do you really need the whole set? depending on your scope of work can't you use the PDF's and export them to DWG - quite a common practise when 'inheriting' jobs from previous designers/architects.

    If i was completing the new works i'd still be wanting to re-measure/check the major sections of the house for continuity from the old plans.

    And not going against exporting work to china/overseas but from my experience it isn't worth the trouble…

    • +2

      Exporting to CAD is what we (Engineers) normally do with architectural drawings that are not available in CAD format (common for refurb jobs). I wonder if OP has access to Autocad or similar…

      • surely even just a "trial" for a month to export CAD from PDF should work? depending on the software, a 1 mth licence ($80 or so) may save more than they realise.

        But yeah, re-measure for sure. Architect can make mistakes, builders can make mistakes… peace of mind.. re-measure.

    • If it’s relatively simple, as other posters are suggesting, to convert PDFs or other versions of the plans back into CAD then it would seem the only reasons to withhold them are

      1) to extract a few more $ from the client or
      2) spite/ to be a PITA

      the whole “it’s my design” thing smacks of being a delicate genius

    • +3

      Dont tell him that…..
      Going by the other comments it seems like OP was a complete drab through the entire process. You would still need to redraw over an exported PDF/DWG, you know to be professional and check the other persons work.

      OP sounds like a typical client who chased after the cheapest price, which couldn't allow for great resolution of design, hence the many 'holes' and 'problems' that their builder had to sort out. And similarly now wants to do modifications and looked for the next cheapest quote, who is so professional, they don't need to remeasure up existing conditions because they presume the supplied drawings are 'good enough'.

      The only thing that annoys me is that these drawings were probably not even prepared by an architect, but drag down the reputation of the industry of a great majority of good and professional designers.

  • +1

    Get it remeasured and redrafted - the likelihood with australian tradies is the as-built bears little relationship to the as-designed anyway and imagine what that's going to cost when they find out.

    And generally, architects are similar types of 'I own the IP' idiots as photographers, etc. Get a contract saying you own the lot, and if they claim background IP get them to define it, and then refuse to allow it. Its work for hire, but they try and claim way beyond anything reasonable.

  • Sorry but this is standard for design work, unless you lock it in up front as part of the price.
    If you have raw PDF versions a newer copy of AutoCAD might be able to open them, or there is free conversion software. Your new drafty or architect should know this

  • -3

    What intellectual property is there in the design of a house? Is your house a revolutionary design that stunned the world? Has it turned the rules on their head?

    • +4

      As I understand it the Revit file will have lots of specific information embedded in the file such as the size and construction of all the joints and connections (metal, wood, glass, concrete) that would be developed by the archetect. On the plan this might look like a simple join of two lines but under the hood there might be years of experience needed to ensure those lines actually connect.

    • It's called copyright dude.

  • +2

    Sounds strange why a builder would need the designs. How does he manage when someone wants an extension to a house that’s 50-100 yrs old? How will he get plans then? Surely, any experienced builder/estimator can come up with a reasonable quote or an idea of effort to undertake the work.

    • I believe it's to make his, and everyone else's life a bit easier when cost estimating as DWG files contain far more detail for quantity surveyors.

  • +2

    20 years of CAD here and still going strong.

    You can simply convert any PDF drawing you have to DXF with View Companion Pro and then save the DXF to DWG with auto cad.

    Problem solved… you dont need to have any interaction with whoever draw the PDF's

    • +1

      with the latest AutoCAD (or since 2018 i think) you can convert from pdf directly to dwg these days.

      • I'll have a look into that, thanks

        • You will probably find that what you have is in PDF shadow. These cannot be directly converted into autocad. Another protection built in to protect the original work. If you have clear PDF then you are in luck at least you can use a number of converters get dwg files. If not, at least ask the architect if they will supply you a clear PDF.

    • +1

      It's not perfect export correct? Especially if the drawings are terrible to begin with?

      • It doesn't always work, and it is rarely perfect. Better off redrawing the whole thing if you have all the dimensions.

  • Our former home alarm company used the IP argument when refusing to supply the password to allow changes to the programming of our alarm controller (work for which we had been charged by them to do initially). The new alarm mob had to reset and start again.

    • To play devils advocate, It may be possible that the password was used across all the installations, and thus may have compromised security. Perhaps they could have charged a fee to attend your premises and change it to a password of your choice….

  • This calls for a nationwide protest! We want change!

  • +2

    "Architect not giving my house design CAD files to me"
    It's his design, but your house.
    You get to keep the house. He gets to keep the design.
    Pretty common practice.

  • +2

    Unfortunately buddy it's the way it works. I'm in building too and well, it's a thing for the architects from their perspective. From yours I understand exactly how you feel.

    Normally you would need to pay for the plans, anywhere from $2000-5000k or more depending on how complex it was.

    With things going to shit in the building industry, I would think she could use the money, maybe offer $2k.

    • when $80 for a month of CAD software to convert to a workable format is achievable? Is this still OZB?

  • Wouldn't the plans have been supplied to your local council to get the permit. Get them from there.

    • They'll likely have the plans, but likely not the CAD files. Hopefully that will start changing soon though (I work in local govt and working to make CAD/3D file submissions mandatory in our Council and many others are doing the same)

      • I did that recently when querying for a pool & some reno to be done as didn't have any house plans from previous owner (that I can locate anyway). Council sent my plans for a fee and I found the plan is missing at least three rooms and no balconies showing. Spoke to the council and they've told me to follow up with the original architect who submitted it…. I tried calling them but was given the run-around as to "oh we'll look for the file" or "it's in archives".

        Council tried following up a few times with me & them and were told them the same, I only wonder what great news I'll have in future from them. (Hopefully not a knock-down as that would mean the entire house comes down - am willing to pay whatever extra they need).

        You got any clue what to do SkMed or what may happen?

        • Eek, once council get a sniff of anything they are like a pack of hounds.

        • Wow, Sounds like someone did some dodgy renovations maybe? Any idea how old the extensions are? I'm honestly not sure what would happen in that case. If its old enough they'll likely let it go i'd imagine?

        • Oh, and just a word of warning to people doing extensions without a permit, we're about to start testing change detection to buildings detected automatically from satellite photos using computer vision and aerial photos. I know iother councils looking into doing the same. So if your building outline changes then Council will know about it pretty quickly.

          • @SkMed: Without giving too much away… its a newish home (13yrs now) and there were no extensions - it was built like that new. We bought it ~5yrs ago. I think it was built that way to escape paying more council tax by the previous owner. (ie. calculation on council records its 89squares vs reality of 110+squares)
            I think I'll have to eventually get it corrected even though it's not my fault as we want to renovate. argh!
            Thx for your reply SkMed.

            • @khomeini: Oh right, yeah sure sounds a bit dodgy haha. I imagine since its that old you might be alright, but I really have no idea. I know there's some rules around if occupancy certificates havent been granted for whatever reason and you've been living there for x amount of yearsthey're granted automatically… might be something similar with your situation

    • The council only receives the PDFs

  • +3

    "Copyright does not protect ideas, information or concepts, nor does it extend to all features of architectural works which are generic to all buildings, such as doors, windows and roofs.

    Rather, it is the form of expression whether it be an idea, style or information which copyright protection is given. For example, if an architect formulates an idea of a open plan house with high ceilings, arched doorways and a flat roof, the idea is not in itself protected by copyright. However, a drawing or model which incorporates these features of the idea will be protected.

    In the case of Beck v Montana Constructions Pty Ltd (1963) 80 WN (NSW) 1578 (Beck Case), Justice Jacobs considered the scope of protection afforded by the law of copyright with respect to architectural plans. His Honour, noted:

    It is clear I think that the degree of protection of an architectural plan must of its nature be very limited and it seems to me that one of the reasons for the severe limitation in the degree of protection under the law of copyright is that in an architectural plan more than any other form of literary or artistic production there is a greater element which may be described as common to all plans and that the particular portion of the plan which may be regarded as belonging to the owner of the copyright, the particular features of it and of the expression must consequently be more limited."

    Architects and Intellectual Property:
    Protecting Your Building Plans and Designs

    Michael Bampton, Partner

    Got it.

  • +3

    Hi Will, speak to architect again, ask him/her to Bind the file completely and remove any xrefs. This will ensure all layers, and blocks are removed protecting his/her IP rights. This is most likely why they don't want to share the CAD file. It'll most likely be a revit export so not sure why hes so worried. My parents built with Rossdale homes, and they said no at first and once I told them what the CAD dude needs to do they sent it to me 2 days later!

  • +1


    If it's not in your contract, you can't have it.

    If you have the end result, scan them, and hire a monkey on the Internet and he will do it for a few bucks.

    I am a Software developer, I do not charge extra to give code access to my clients. There are people who charge extra for this service.

    PS: Yes, I write fracking filthy code that I can't even myself understand the next morning. But, the code WORKS. All the time.

    • +3

      the code WORKS. All the time.

      Famous last words. :-)

    • +1

      Im literally going out this week to scan new buildings that architects refused to hand over CAD files for! 🤣 Going to take me about a week each month to keep capturing and modelling them until legislation changes to make the model submissions mandatory :(

      • Do those 3D apps help? Alternatively I've seen ipads with plug-in scanners that do wonderful jobs.

        • Which 3D apps are you referring to? Yeah for small interiors there are some iPad attachments which will suffice. Unfortunately I need to capture 4+Storey buildings, some up to 12 or more! So requires a pretty pricey Terrestrial Lidar scanner to capture them. I'll need to keep spending lots of time and money on scanners and re-modeling buildings for which there are already models but locked up with the architects of the buildings who refuse to hand over the models in most cases :(

          • @SkMed: was the one I was looking at myself. I remember seeing other room scale scanners that use the newer ipads / phone to work up some really impressive results but app names escape me sorry.

            4 Storey buildings obviously a bit different, but yeah, there's only so much photogrammetry can do in that case. Especially with drone flying restrictions in some areas.

            • @Revrnd: Exactly, I have experience with drone photogrammetry, but the restrictions doing it for work and the location of the council make it pretty much impossible unforunately. Ah, yeah, I looked at buying one of these to test for other projects, dont remeber why I didnt end up trying it though…

    • What kinda software do you develop?

      • the kind that pays well :)

        Just like any other smelly dev, I can work with almost everything that ends with a ; - Java, C#, sql.. web/dtop/mobile, and ETLs, Dashboards, aws, azure… and religiously hate JS and python.

        • lol. fair enough.

          Reason I asked was that I am looking to get into AI/ML with python, and given the questions raised here about IP etc. Was curious where, as a potential future dev, that code would lie within the bounds of who owns what (ie, concept / code / outcome).

          • @Revrnd: That is a very interesting question. Especially considering the fact of how programming is evolving from monoliths to an orchestration of components developed by many developers and companies ranging from freelancers to service providers. I think by the end of the day, you will only own the orchestration and all underlaying components will be 'rented'.

            • @choopachups: Curious. Thanks for your input. Certainly something for me to think about when it comes to compiling my own ML models.

  • At this point I guess not much you can do rather than try some suggestions above by the community. Pretty crap practice tbh regardless of how you describe it. I guess next time make sure it’s in contract.

  • +2

    Don't be surprised if there are legislation changes soon which stipulate architects and building designers need to hand over 3D/CAD files to relevant parties. I work in local government and most inner city local governments and the state governments are currently pushing for changes to make 3D/CAD file submissions mandatory to be granted planning permits and occupancy certificates, this mostly applies to large scale developments but hopefully will filter down to smaller developments eventually.

    I'm part of a team developing guidelines for this at the moment and were hoping to send out draft documents to architects and building designers very soon so they're across the changes. These changes will help local, state and federal government to build and maintain digital twins so we cab design better/smarter cities which benefits everyone.

    • +2

      This is the way to go forward. There are no good reasons for not providing the CAD file to clients. The drawings either in hard or soft prints is just one representation of the design. Even though the CAD files are accessible to other parties, the copyright is still with the designers by default.

  • This is just like photographers charging hefty bucks for the digital files..

    • You're paying for that particular photographer's skill, experience, look/mood/vision.

      Otherwise, you'd just get uncle bob to take photos at your wedding and you'd be sweet.

  • Maybe ask if there is a middle ground where you can use the files for this project specifically - pay her $xx/hour to get the files to you, and have you and the builder sign an contract/NDA that you will not use/redistribute the files for any purpose other than the xx alteration/repair project.

  • I had the exact same conversation with my architect, however there is a way around this. Assuming your architect is sketching everything in Autocad, if he/she publishes your plans through PDF via Autocad, you can turn that PDF back into Autocad. You can import a PDF into Autocad and then all you will need to do is scale the drawing and you will be fine.

    [UPDATE - Irrelevant now after reading other comments]

  • +2

    I was recently in the same boat. I bought my house newly built in 2010 and was given printed house plans with the purchase contract. I needed the CADS for some new work to be done about 18 months ago. I could see the architects name on the drawgins. I looked him up on google, found him, and emailed him requesting the drawings. The architect replied within a day. he asked for a fee, which i think was fair of $200 for his time to download all the drawings, and the engineering disgrams, and a couple days later I had them in my hand.

    FYI there is another option - Go to council. I also went to council and they had the drawings also. As I was the home owner I could request the drawings from them which they also had. but this entailed forms, and a few weeks wait. Depending on how your council archives their records, this may be a possibility for you

  • Did you ask to "buy" a soft copy of them>

  • +2

    A photographer doesn't provide their clients with RAW Files. They provide them with web or full resolution JPG's. Same thing.

    • Only distinction I would make is often people want RAW files of all the photos, even though you may have only edited 1

      The architect only designed 1 house,

      • Not a logical comparison.They can argue that 1 house is presented in a set of several drawings.

  • Under copyright laws they don't have to supply them unless you specified in the contract that you want the CAD files. That's their original artwork.

  • +7

    From the Australian Copyright Council…

    If I pay for an architect to design my home who owns the physical CAD files?
    Copyright ownership is different to ownership of a physical item, such as a CAD file. Ownership of the physical file is a property law issue and is not related to copyright. Even if you own copyright in the house plans, the Architect may be under no obligation to provide you with the physical CAD files unless this was specifically set out in your agreement


    • But isn't the explicit point of 'copy right' in that you, as the IP holder, can dictate who can possess and create more copies of your work? Including copies for yourself?

      If I own the copyright of plans (assuming I provided the 3D plans/renders to them, that they converted under contract) that my architect refuses to provide me, is that a breach of 'property law' then? That document was not really specific.

  • +3

    I can produce a nice MS Paint drawing for you if that helps?

  • I was in somewhat similar position paid $20k to National builder to build a second dwelling at back of my investment property back in 2010.
    Their third party town planner gave me plans.

    They went broke and then I was approached by at least 10 builders from their "administration" advising me that I have no choice and have to go through them

    I had no dealings with them whatsoever whilst contract was made.They were at least 50K expensive than what I got quoted.

    I was sent a letter that plans belong to them and it's their IP and if I use them with any other builder they will take me to court.

    Imo I paid for service which was only for me and not specific to anyone. In the end I gave up let the plans expire and sold the property.

    Sorry to say but the building industry is bit of a grey area and specially the insurance part.They have been under scrutiny for so long, the building insurance is pro builders and claim approval rating as I heard is worst in the insurance industry.

    • +1

      They were at least 50K expensive than what I got quoted.

      That's on you mate, you need to stop and think - "Why is this company $50,000 cheaper than everyone else?"
      you chose the dodgy people and paid more in the end.

  • I've just wondered something…

    If I create sketches/3D models/renders of my house, which I then supply to an architect or draftsman to modify/update/align to construction codes, would the root IP ownership (and therefore copyright) of the house's design therefore still belong to me?

    The argument might be made that their CAD files are theirs, but if I'm the one suppling the 'unique design' then it would also seem valid that all derivative works would also be mine (assuming a contract wasn't specific enough from a legal standpoint). Therefore, wouldn't the IP be fully mine regardless?

    (The Architectural IP link earlier was a fascinating read, and the 'implied licence' seems to fit the OP's situation, which was discharged after completion of the property.)

    • IP and Copyright are not the same thing. The Architect would retain the IP for the design changes they have made. The original files you provided are source material you willingly provided with reliance which they do not own. But no, the derivative works would not automatically be yours unless explicitly specified in agreement, the new drawings and content is theirs.

      • The original files you provided are source material you willingly provided

        In the context of my original query, they are my copyrighted files I have asked a draftsman to modify. They are not being tasked with creating a new idea. I am paying for any and all of their potential IP within the contract, am I not?

        If I swapped the roles - I cannot use and modify an architect's designs, and then claim 'derivative works' for my own protection. Why would they be able to do the same?

        • +1

          In the context of my original query, they are my copyrighted files I have asked a draftsman to modify. They are not being tasked with creating a new idea. I am paying for any and all of their potential IP within the contract, am I not?

          If it's a drafter just doing basic CAD work based on your own design or ideas or sketches then yes as you're paying for their time, not a product. If it's an Architect or Engineer taking your files and designing upon them, then no, unless explicitly agreed.

          If I swapped the roles - I cannot use and modify an architect's designs, and then claim 'derivative works' for my own protection. Why would they be able to do the same?

          Correct. Because you were not given a license to use their copyrighted design. If you were given the OK, anything you modify or design is your IP.

          • @Hybroid:

            Correct. Because you were not given a license to use their copyrighted design.

            That makes sense, yeah, BUT if I supply an idea + drawings to an architect, I'm not automatically supplying a licence for them to create derivative works.

            Or am I?

            • @Switchblade88: I think you are because you've essentially passed it on to a designer to produce a detailed design for you. This will contain their own design IP like models, fixtures, fittings, specifications etc.

              • @Hybroid: So if I willingly supply an idea and/or designs, I've licenced them to derive anything they like? Even if I plaster it with copyright logos etc?

                In contrast, an architect explicitly denies derivation because… their plans are exclusively provided under a contract that says 'no derivation'?

                • @Switchblade88: I'm not a lawyer but logically, you're asking a designer to design something else you wouldn't be going to them. The fact you have an idea or concept doesn't mean it's only your design. There's plenty more detail, calcs, specs etc they need to come up with and provide to ensure something is buildable, safe and works. That detail is part of their IP and can reused in multiple scenarios.

                  For example, 3D models are made up of lots of smaller 'cells'. A traffic light is a cell (individual 3D model) which will have dimensions, colour, materials, screws, bolts, adhesives etc etc. Now extrapolate for everything in a house/station/road/building/bridge/tunnel etc design.

                  • -1

                    @Hybroid: architect here. the client provides a brief to the architect which the architect then interprets and produces a design (his intellectual property). the client in this case is given a license to use the design, following the plans, only for the purposes of building it in its intended location and use and thats it, unless agreed prior in the contract.

                    this is ultimately to protect the interests of the architect - means you cant take the design and mass produce it as like a project home etc., also the reputation of the architect if the architect is asked to design and then you take their design and find someone else to modify the design (lets say, really badly), ultimately the reputation of the original architect is at stake.

                    in the case of the provision of CAD files, the architect has no obligation to pass these on to the client even upon completion of the project unless specified in the contract/agreement prior, but even if they are provided there is no guarantee that they are identical to what is built, unless they are updated to be as-built drawings (builders can be dodgy). this is again to protect the architect for reasons stated above.

                    even for renovations and modifications to the original design, if you were to commission a new architect/builder it is ethical practice to notify the original architect of your intentions and proposed changes.

  • You get the drawing, not the files that produce it

  • I have architects to do designs for me all the time. I've never had issues getting the design files off them without a prior agreement. But it does come down to the purpose of you needing those files and ultimately your relationship with the Architect. e.g After agreeing to a fee and mid way into the job (after the design stage) you decide to shop their fees with another draftsmen that is willing to finish the documentation stage at a better price, the original architect is not going to be happy to give up the files. But in your case when you are needing the files for the builders to make quick design changes for modifications on your existing house, I would think they would just give it to you. Unless of course they want you to commission them to make those changes you want to do now, or they value their time so much to not bother packaging those files for you, or maybe you pissed them off at some point before. At the end of the day, there is no value for them holding onto those design files (your wife's ideas) that likely wont' be used by anyone else.

  • Do you have the pdf of the plans? Any draftsperson can trace those in CAD. For our extension I gave our draftsperson the plans to our 1970s built house which were low res scans from hand drawn plans attached to the back of our contract and they had no issue with that.

  • In the building industry here.

    Its pretty standard practice for a client to request Architectural CAD files to give to an Engineer for doing their Structural, Civil and Slab designs in planning stage. This is really the only reason why an Architect/Draftsperson would provide the CAD drawings.

  • Say…what is the average salary of an Architect? It could be that they are living from paycheck to paycheck during these difficult times.

  • +8

    I'm an architect and if I've been paid for my work the client can have the cad file. We need to release it for engineers etc to use anyway.
    There's really not that much IP in a cad file that someone couldn't copy off paper drawings or pdfs. Most of the pdfs now can be converted to cad anyway.
    And if it was a bad relationship I'd be giving you the drawings just to get you out of my hair!

    • +3

      Watch out, if you say this those out there might neg you. But couldn't agree more.

      I said this is a reasonable approach (coming from an engineering background) and my comment got unpublished.

  • -3

    I don't think you will ask the programmer to provide you with source code when you purchase the software.

    I think you should get all the drawings in a PDF or similar format, not the source file.

    • +4

      If you get a programmer to write a piece of software for you then you usually do get the source code, thats a more accurate comparison.

  • Its mean spirited of the architect and it seems almost like they regularly study your house plans, if theres any kids bedrooms etc so he knows where to go, maybe he is even selling the plans to criminals, so I would watch out. I would tread really carefully with this person. Cant think of any other reason why they would want to keep them unless they had some more serious motive.

  • +4

    The toddlers here are throwing you under the bus when in reality it’s a fair request.

    If you send me a PDF or a scan of the plans I can have them redrafted for you on the cheap.

  • Well they are at liberty to keep designs they own, but hay op should just recreate it via unreal engine. Or something I'm sure the copy will look even better.

    Cad isn't hard, computer aided design, it's not that they used a stencil.