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Architects

Although architects have been quite slow on learning about green design principles there has recently been a bit of a scramble to catch up and they all now claim to know about the subject. In fact most architects practices leave the technical work to architectural technicians they employ. It may pay to ask quite detailed questions about what sort of experience they have actually had with green design.

On a good day

an architect will be able to –

  • get your wildest designs approved by the local planning committee
  • read your mind and turn your dreams and ideas into beautiful practical realities
  • coordinate all the other parties such as engineers and other consultants
  • find and help organise good friendly honest hard working cut-price builders
  • oversee the whole process for not too much money

And what to avoid

On a bad day an architect will –

  • hate the idea of working on a job as small as yours when designing a shopping centre is more lucrative
  • impose their taste and value system all over yours
  • either get at horribly cross purposes with your builder or acquiesce to everything they suggest
  • introduce extra fees at every possible point

Somewhere between the two scenarios lies the typical self build project!

Typically

on a simple job, an architect will draw up plans for outline and detailed planning approval. They will then maybe get quotes from various builders unless you want to do that. After that they might keep an eye on the work as it progresses and issue a certificate of completion when it is all satisfactorily finished.

Their professional associations

Architects are often (but not always) members of an association such as

and you can find lists of local practices from these links.

You can also find an architect on the Architects Registration Board

The range of what they can do

Explaining an architect’s services gives an overview of the broad range of services provided by architects. It’s OK to pick and mix with this providing you agree clearly about it beforehand.

Fees

Architects fees will be around 7% for new build and 11% for existing buildings (that is as a percentage of the total building cost including labour and materials – but not land). RIBA members may use the Architect’s Fees toolkit but it is kept secret from the public. This kind of shadowy practice comes in for criticism by those not totally enamoured of the way the profession runs itself

However it’s worth bearing in mind that in the UK, architecture is not a particularly well paid profession, especially where small jobs are concerned. The partners in large practices which work on huge projects can make a great deal of money (usually by employing other architects to do all the donkey work) but small practices often struggle to do well out of small but possibly complicated jobs (watches are not necessarily cheaper than clocks because they are smaller). One of the fears of architects is that they spend a great deal of time and creative energy helping get a project off the ground only to find that the client/customer then changes her/his mind or doesn’t go ahead and all the effort was wasted. (or that they take the good ideas off to someone else). There are however a few architects who are progressive in their thinking and are willing to move things forward.

Communicating

As with everything, what matters most is the quality of communication you have with your architect. This is not a simple matter and it has to work both ways. It can be quite a personal thing. There are several ways you can express what you want:

  • verbally – talking about what you would like
  • with pictures – moving or still – drawings, videos etc.
  • by sharing an experience – e.g. visiting a house or building you like

It can get deeper and more personal than this and you might want to share a broader range of experiences to see if you are on the same wavelength.

As your design progresses your architect can respond to your requests in a variety of ways. This will probably start with sketches and move on to drawings and then maybe a model and possibly computer simulations such as walk-throughs of a design. Remember that these can be quite expensive to produce before a final design is arrived at.

The architect’s skill lies in being able to present an evolving picture of what you are asking for, including how feasible it is and what the cost implications are. If you keep changing your mind as the design process goes along then your architect will probably start increasing the fees.

Keep asking how things are going on this score because there can be a big but not always obvious difference between what constitutes a simple change and what constitutes a complex one. Changing the colours of the paint in each room might only involve a few quick changes to a decorator’s schedule. Moving a wall slightly might mean complicated changes to all kinds of things such as how it affects other rooms, the roof, structural calculations, fire regulations etc. Try to spot the look of anguish on your architect’s face when you suggest it, and they think about how to explain to you the high added cost of what seems like a very minor change.

2 comments to Architects

  • Paul Testa

    I would also echo Ian’s comments above. Employing an Architect is a big deal for most clients and they may only ever do it once. It therefore pays to take your time making this decision. Employing a good Architect will likely add value to your project whilst saving you money in the long run.

    A note on professional bodies: all Architects must be registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB). If they claim to be an Architect but are not on the register they are breaking the law. This is the body that offers clients a certain degree of backup should an Architect fail in their duty to you. The RIBA, ACA and AA might all have codes of conduct for members, but they are not mandatory memberships and offer no protection for the client.

    All that aside, I think this is an otherwise very useful resource and an excellent website.

  • Ian Collins

    I’ve been very interested by your website, and have enjoyed looking at all the useful information you have here. You make some interesting and important points about engaging an architect, and on the profession itself.
    I would just like to say that the majority of architects are dedicated, professional and easy to get on with. We certainly aim to help, and add real tangible value to the process by resolving things in detail, saving lots of construction problems and cost, and surprising our customers with how much better their homes can be with a bit of creative input. We do this openly, and without fuss or posturing, and save people a lot of stress and money throughout the process. We do not simply employ technologists to sort it all out, we understand and work out the detail ourselves.
    As with most services, you just need to find the right person for the job, and make sure you get someone who specializes in house projects. If you hit it off together, the process is fun, rewarding and economical.
    Ian

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