How to choose an architect
Deciding to build or renovate a house is very exciting but can also be a little daunting. For many people, a new home signifies a large expense. With such high stakes, it is important to choose an architect who will deliver something great: both your vision of a home and value for money.
Why choose an architect
An architect will be able to take your ideas for a project from your imagination to the drawing board and make your vision concrete. They will be able to create a design which is tailored to you and consider all possible obstacles, including some you may not have been aware of, so that you will hopefully sail through planning permission and move forward to building stage. An architect will add value to diverse areas of your life. Not only is it very likely that they will increase the value of what is probably your greatest financial asset – your house – but the design they deliver will also add value to your quality of life, sense of wellbeing and emotional attachment to your home. Their knowledge and expertise can be the making of a project – after all, what they design will be the place you call HOME– so choosing the right architect for you is perhaps one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
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.
Chartered Architects are corporate members of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the acronym RIBA appearing after their names. Membership of this professional body signifies further assurances. Although the term ‘architect’ is a legally protected title, there are many unqualified designers who proffer their services as if they were architects. Steer clear of these – 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.
Before you even begin to approach architects, you need to have a brief in place. An architect will want to know what you’re after so they can determine whether the project is a good match for their skills. Some may only deal with certain scales and types of projects. Not everything on your wish list must be set in stone, but an idea on the following would be useful to steer your architect in the right direction. The next step is to identify your style preferences. Even if you already have a good idea of what you like, it is always useful to have examples to hand. The easiest way to do so is by creating a mood board, whether on Pinterest, or simply using the more analogue method of cutting clippings from magazines.
Finding an architect
There are various sources you can use:
- Word of mouth: ask homeowners in your neighborhood or request recommendations from friends or family.
- Contact the RIBA and use their service to find an architect: they hold a directory and will help you compile a list of practices according to your requirements.
- Online: browse social media sites or Google
Once you have found a selection of architectural firms, invite them to meet you at the site to discuss your project. Ideally, you will want to interview at least four architects to see what design proposals they can come up with, judge whether you will get on and be able to work together, see whether they can produce the kind of home you are after and be able to gauge better whether your dream home is realistic and affordable.
Do You Get On?
Your architect is the person you are entrusting to design your dream home. You will be investing a lot of money, not just in the project but in the design stage itself, and need to be able to feel you can approach them about anything.
When interviewing various architects for the job, one of the deciding factors should be whether you get on, and whether you feel confident enough that you would be able to speak with them openly.
Discuss expectations with your architect in advance on the:
1. How best to communicate (email, phone, texts).
2.Who will be communicating with the architect (for projects in which there is more than one individual client, it is important to nominate one person only as a contact. Of course, everyone will be copied into the communication).
3.Expected response times (on both sides) and work/communication times. I often receive phone calls or texts in the late evening or even in the middle of the night or over the weekend, when people are thinking about their projects. Clients may wish to consider if this is a time to talk to any other professional, such as their lawyer, dentist, bank branch manager or their child’s school teacher…It is important to remember that architects are also professionals.
A successful project is usually the result of an effective collaboration between client and architect.
Do you like their previous work?
These days, one of the easiest and quickest ways of viewing an architect’s previous work will be via their website.
This will give you an indication as to the caliber of work they produce, the architectural styles they might specialise in, materials they’re familiar with and the construction methods they are used to working with. It is important you like their work and know they can deliver the style of home you are after. It is, however, possible that they have worked on projects in other styles that are not pictured on their website. Ask for examples if you can’t see them online.
Do they listen to you?
When interviewing different architects for the job, you will discuss your brief, and chances are they will present various ideas there and then. Be careful, though, that when you are discussing your must-haves and like-to-haves, they don’t steer you away from your desired plans. Their role as creatives is to develop your brief, but to also make sure they listen to what you want and don’t try to change it. Many homeowners will express their delight that their architect was able to design a home better than they could have imagined; just be careful that things don’t get carried away and you sacrifice certain elements you have longed for.
Do they respect your budget?
Designing your home will take up a chunk of your overall budget — which is why it is so important to get this part right and make sure you are happy with it.
What you have to remember, however, is that, unless you have unlimited funds to throw at the project, you need to be sensible and on top of your budget.
Be upfront with your architect from the outset and they should be realistic with you in terms of what can be achieved within your price range. Also, don’t let them talk you into architectural features that will add to the overall cost, but that perhaps you don’t really need. It’s worthwhile having a list distinguishing between ‘must haves’ and ‘like to haves’.
Ask them directly about their fees, as different architects charge not just different amounts, but in different ways – they can charge by the hour, a flat fee (usually for smaller jobs), and as a percentage of the total build costs (usually for larger jobs); with a payment upfront (30%) to cover initial design work. They might give a vague estimate about expected costs, which you should push them on. If your shortlisted architects give wildly different fees, you should ask them to explain the costs.
What can you do to make the process easier/smoother?
To make things go as smoothly as possible when working with an architect, there are a few things you, the client, can do:
Choose an architect 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, before meeting again to discuss them.
Don’t be driven only by cost in selecting an architect – the architect’s fee is a small percentage of the project cost, so choose by reputation, personality enthusiasm and skill set.
Communicate regularly and openly. Ask questions – it’s a complex process. Talk, talk and talk! Design is an interactive process and you must be a part of it all.
Limit your changes – make sure you are happy with the plans and the design before you develop it further. Whilst some things may inevitably change, it’s important to understand this could have cost implications and may impact the project timeline.
Be collaborative – a client’s views are hugely important but remember that an architect brings years of professional experience and expertise to help guide you.
Enjoy the process!