Do I need an architect for my project?
- By: Ashley Saunders
- June 2018
When you think about architects, you might believe they draw for a living. It’s easy to imagine them surrounded by endless drawings of bathroom or kitchen extensions as well as complete new builds. However, you might wonder do I need an architect and what their role and responsibilities are.
Architects do indeed spend a large chunk of their time drawing. However, they do so much more and are an integral part of the building process. And so, you just might need an architect for your project.
Without them, our streets wouldn’t be as interesting, there would be less innovation in materials and design, and understanding planning law would be very complicated, especially on larger projects.
It’s critical to understand what their role is and whether you need an architect for your project.
What’s the architect’s basic role?
At their most basic level, an architect interprets your rough idea into usable plans and documents.
They will take your big picture idea and fill in the details you might have missed. They also will be able to suggest how to improve the flow or the light in the space.
If your project requires planning permission, then you’ll likely need an architect. They will be able to help you manage and navigate the planning process from application to approval.
Your architect will submit paperwork, provide details of the materials you intend to use and deal with the local planning authority. Also, they will ensure their plans conform to current building regulations and the planning framework.
Another reason you need an architect is they can suggest new materials and techniques and are typically ahead of many local builders in this regard.
Finally, they will have good relationships with local builders and trades-people and so can provide recommendations.
“A good architect actually pays for themselves – more than once. You will reap the reward and the building will be hugely better and deliver much better value for it.”
Kevin McCloud, Grand Designs
Finding your dream architect
As a profession with a wide skill set, no two architects are the same. Some will only work on small residential projects such as extensions or restorations. Others will focus solely on large scale commercial or residential developments.
It’s important that if you need an architect that you select the right type for your project. The same idea applies to builders and tradespeople.
The best place to start if you need to find an architect is by asking friends and family for recommendations.
In the UK, all architects by law have to register with Architects Registration Board. Thankfully, they have an online directory of their members which is easy to search. Of course, you should still research any firm and read independent reviews.
You’ve likely heard of RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects). While this is a voluntary trade association, members can call themselves chartered architects. They can also form a chartered practise, which means they are subject to random checks.
Directories like Houzz can be a goldmine if you need an architect or local tradesperson as well as ideas. They offer a superb way to view different companies portfolios and start to understand how they conceptualize design. Plus many have real customer reviews, which can help you make a better decision.
Write up a clear brief
After deciding that you need an architect, before meeting them, spend some time to form a clear idea of what you want.
It’s easy to say the words kitchen extension or new garage, only to look confused when you’re asked some simple follow up questions. Here are a few things to consider before stepping into the architect’s office.
Start by getting inspired. Websites like Rightmove are fantastic at enabling you to peek inside other people’s home and gather lots of ideas. Also create a Pinterest account and start saving inspiration and ideas in one place.
Another place that’s full of inspiration is Instagram. What makes it superb is users generally post picture of their project you can usually gain some insight into their process and pitfalls. You’ll find many users are happy to help with advice and answer questions.
Driving around your local area is also a great idea. If you do, remember to take some photos, so that you can store all of your ideas.
And, of course, if you do all of these and you have some skills in the artistic department, you could draw a rough idea on paper.
Financing your project
While your architect can’t help you with funding, they will want to know what budget you have. So you need to consider what your budget is and how you plan to finance your project.
If you’re planning on borrowing some of the money either through a loan or equity release, then talk to your bank first. Having a solid financial plan in place will make it easier for you to start and complete the project.
By now, you should have a clear idea of what you want, a file of inspiration and a budget. You might also have a clear idea of timescale or have an important date you want the project finished by.
Considering that you have all of this in place, it’s time to make some calls and create a short list of local architects.
Using the list created from your research, start calling firms. Key questions to ask include:
- Do you undertake these sorts of projects? (especially critical if your home is listed or in a conversation area)
- Are you currently available for new projects?
- What are your strengths? (such as design / project management / planning)
- Do you also offer a build service as part of the package?
- What are your typical fees?
Once you have talked to a few local architects, then take some time to reflect on how well they communicated. It’s worth remembering that most issues arise from poor communication. So, you’ll want to remove those who were poor communicators at the start then you have a better chance of success.
Finally, remove all the firms that didn’t fit within the scope. Now you should have a nice short list of local architects.
What to expect at the first meeting with your architect
Try to treat the first meeting as an interview, especially as we’ve tried to weed out the firms that aren’t a natural fit.
As you need an architect that you feel comfortable working with, don’t be afraid to walk away from the company if you don’t gel. There’s plenty of firms available, who would be eager to take on your project.
Start by asking questions similar to what you discussed on the phone. It’s worth re-checking that they still match your criteria.
Ask for examples of similar projects and how they solve problems. Issues will occur at some point but by knowing someone’s approach upfront you could save you time and money.
If you feel comfortable, start to discuss your project and why you need an architect. Show them your inspiration file and mention your budget.
Ask them if it’s possible to achieve your outcome within your budget, timescale and local planning framework.
What will the architect cost?
When you’ve chosen the right architect for your project, then it’s time to work on the details.
Firstly, discuss the architect’s fee structure. Having a figure enables you to budget better. Make sure you nail now the details of their quote.
For example, paying for design only will be cheaper. However, you’ll be left alone to oversee the project build. Whereas if you choose a design and project management service then your architect will be involved from start to finish.
Does the proposed time frame for the project seem reasonable? Also, how will cost overruns and delays will be handled.
You may wish to draw up a contract with your architect. This should outline the project, timescale and budget. As well as who is liable for certain things, like overruns or delays.
With your initial ideas, your architect will draw up the first set of plans. In addition to a 2D plan, most architects will include a 3D CAD-CAM design of how your house will look on completion.
Ensure that you spend lots of time going over the plans including the measurements. If there is anything that you are not happy about, ask your architect to change it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a multitude of changes if the work does not meet your original brief.
Architect and planning process
If you require planning permission, then you’ll probably need an architect to help you jump through all of the hoops. Your should be able to explain the process and give you a rough timescale.
Sadly, it can feel like pulling teeth as it takes as long as it takes. Be wary of anyone who can guarantee planning results or claims to be able to speed the process up.
You should get a decision within 8 to 16 weeks. However, it’s not uncommon to be waiting up to a year for a decision. Sadly, there’s is little you can do to speed up the process.
If your planning permission starts to drag, then your only action is to appeal to the Secretary of State. That said, this itself can take some time.
Should the local planning office refuse your planning application, your architect will be able to advise you what to do next. This can include appealing or resubmitting revised plans.
When you do have planning permission, the architect will create a booklet of instructions and plans. This document is the builders’ instruction manual and contains all they need to start working on your project.
This is not a contract with the builder, so you’ll need a solicitor to draft one. It’s worth having a contract in place even if the architect is managing the build process.
You might think you only need an architect to design the project. However, many architects also offer a project managing service. While you still have to be hands-on, the architect is there to solve the majority of the problems and issues.
While having someone manage your project might seem like a great idea, if you do go down this route, negotiate a fixed payment contract. This way if the project overruns, you aren’t left paying for someone else’s mistakes.
It’s also worth asking your architect for trades recommendations. They might have a team in place already or have preferred contractors who understand how they work. This team should be able to execute the plans faster.
Why do I need an architect?
Good architecture is often wrongly attributed to those who built it rather than the architects who designed the structure. You likely need an architect as they highly skilled craftsmen who can make or break a project.
The right architect is worth paying for as they’ll be able to translate your rough sketch of an idea into a buildable scheme that complies with any rules and regulations.
There are many reasons why you need an architect for your project and you should choose one carefully to ensure you get value for money.