Does your proposed building project need an architect’s services? Do you have concerns about what an architect can do, or how much you need to know before you consult one?
The key is to choose the right professional for the project. If you want a small non-problematic extension you may not need an architect. A member of the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists CIAT will provide you with a very good technical service and some surveyors can also offer a good technical service. Look for RICS after their name.
If you require both design and management overview – whether for a site, a refurbishment, an extension or a new building – you should look for an architect. All architects have to be registered with the Architects Registration Board, and adhere to a strict professional Code of Conduct to include for example maintaining adequate professional indemnity insurance.
Chartered Architects are members of the Royal Institute of British Architects, with RIBA after their names.
Although the term architect is a legally protected title, there are many unqualified designers who proffer their services as if they were an architect. Steer clear of these if you can – you will not save money this way. Many clients need a professional to get them out of a mess caused by an unqualified designer who the client thought was an architect.
It takes a minimum of seven years for an architect to qualify in the UK, and with good reason – the qualification ensures that you will employ a professional who can help you by:
- Preparing your brief and showing what your options are all through the project – even helping you find a plot
- Controlling costs from initial stages
- Providing design flair and construction knowledge
- Managing the other consultants and helping you to select suppliers and builders
- Guiding the project though the legal framework for planning, building control, health and safety and all the other relevant legislation
- Ensuring that you get great quality and value and that the work is done to a reasonable programme to suit your needs
The key is a really well designed and bespoke solution. Success is marked by your pleasure in using your finished project, not just in the creation of an award winning design, although that is sometimes the end result!
If the project presents requires a bespoke design or management solution then an architect is your first port of call. In your first meeting you can often learn enough to decide which way your project should develop.
How to choose your architect?
The best way is by personal referral – so ask around locally. Your local estate agent will probably be able to help. If an architect has a good reputation, their work will speak for them – you can then ring and request an introductory meeting.
If you seek the eco-refurbishment of a listed cottage or a contemporary oak new build, you need to be assured that your architect has knowledge and the enthusiasm for your sort of work. You can usually check the architect’s affinity for your project by searching their website.
If you cannot get a local referral the RIBA has an excellent website www.architecture.com, which you can search to find the names of practices local to you.
Decide on which one you feel most confident with. It’s an intimate relationship – you may need to divulge some rather personal information – so you need to feel quite comfortable together.
What will it cost?
When you consider the length of time to qualify (more than a doctor for example) and the range of skills needed to manage a building project, you cannot assume that an architect’s services will be cheap. But if you get the right one you will get great value for money, heading off problems by controlling the process, and ensuring you get the right finished article.
Think appointment is an investment – the more time you can afford for your architect to put into your project the better the end result will be. You only get one go at a build and you cannot afford to get it wrong.
Fees depend upon what your project needs. An architect can find you a site, sketch concept ideas, give advice on sustainability or access, obtain a valuable planning consent, develop a comprehensive package of construction drawings and specifications for builders to price from, and guide your route to a building contract.
Architects should give you a comprehensive fee proposal with a good estimate of their likely charges throughout the various stages of the process, allowing you to stop at any point. They can charge for their services by hourly rates, by fixed lump sum fees or by agreeing a percentage of the construction cost as a fee.
The negotiated fee will be incorporated into a detailed Appointment document for both parties to sign, so that you know what you are getting and the architect knows what’s expected from your relationship.
How to control cost?
Control of building costs is a major task for an architect. If the project is small and simple they can usually give you a good estimate of build costs or ask a builder for a guide, to ensure that a design is on target. However if the project is more complex, then it is a very good idea to employ a quantity surveyor (these are building cost estimators) to check over a design and give you a close estimate of likely tenders at an early stage. With this information your architect can manage your expectations.
How can you help? By being communicative and decisive. The key is to meet regularly and make sure you sign off the work at each stage and then move on.
A huge amount of time and effort is required to produce planning and construction drawings and make changes will elicit repeat fees. However this is better than making changes on site, so spend whatever extra you need to get the details right before you pass them to a builder..
The best cost control after your Contract is signed is silence! Variations cost time and money.
What can you do to ensure success in working with your architect?
- Choose one you feel comfortable with, work closely together to create your brief, then let them off the leash to use their unique skills to suggest ideas.
- Don’t select one by price alone – the architect’s fee is a small percentage of the project cost, so choose by reputation, by enthusiasm, or by skill set.
- Be clear and objective if you can, or let your architect have time to guide you.
- Ask questions – it’s a complex process. Talk, talk and talk. Design is an iterative process and you must be a part of it all.
- Enjoy it.