7. Finding an Architect

What to avoid: Housing without Architects
Most of the homes we buy today lack the input of an architect. Much like car-production lines, the developer-led building of houses is part of the consumer market - and shares many of its worst aspects. The design and construction of mass housing is rudimentary. Standards are minimum; Materials are the cheapest to do the job; The home owner is unknown. The result is an anonymous box that barely pleases anyone very much, but does just enough to sell.
Unlike the housing developer, whose client is the estate agent, the self builder is his/her own client. Of course, the main motive for building your own house is that you get exactly what you want. Whether it’s the style, the spaces, the materials or the performance, the self builder is alone in being the decision-maker.
To get the absolute best out of this arrangement, the use of an architect is highly recommended. This is particularly so when dealing with the high quality, high spec, Green / Eco building you’re setting off to construct.

Architects who specialise in the design of Green / Eco buildings are becoming more common. An easy route to finding one to help you can usually had from visiting the ‘Green Register’. Most, but no all those listed will be architects- some might be building technicians, but all will be well-qualified to deliver your home to a high standard. www.greenregister.org.uk/
Of course other types of building designer can put in a good effort, but they will lack in the high degree of training and qualification that architects have (7 years of university). Architects are also be obliged to carry their own insurance. The term ‘Architect’ is a protected title in law. Variations such as ‘architectural designer’ or ‘architectural consultant’ are unqualified.
  • An architect is trained to turn your ideas into reality.
  • They will guide you through the process of getting your house built: from coming up with an initial design to seeing the project through planning and construction to completion.
  • Apart from detailed and expansive knowledge of building construction, architects are distinguished by their ability to apply impartial and creative thinking.
  • Architects can add value to your ideas by maximising the impact, functionality or marketability of your building.

Stage 0/1: Preparation and Brief

  • This is the most important part of the project and where the architect can add the most value.
  • The architect will undertake some preliminary appraisals to assess the options and feasibility of the project. This can range from a sketch design solution to a full feasibility study and will enable you to decide on the best way forward.
  • They will identify the need for any approvals and other consultants, most commonly a structural engineer.

Stage 2: Concept Design

  • Using the initial project brief the architect will develop outline proposals. An architect will present a number of initial concepts for you to choose from. They will also liaise with local planners as a priority. The final design brief should reflect your aspirations and provide you with a home that adds value and improves your quality of life.

Stage 3: Design Development

  • The architect will spend more time at this stage transforming ideas into something that can be built. This includes coordinating the work of other consultants into the designs. Once agreed, between you, the design proposals will then be submitted for planning approval, if required.

Stage 4: Technical Design

  • The architect will now prepare the technical drawings and a specification and/or a schedule of works that will be used to price the tender and construct the building.
  • The architect can then invite and appraise tenders from builders and administer the building contract on your behalf.

Stage 5: Construction

  • Throughout the construction phase the architect will administer your contract with the builder, carry out regular inspections, deal with queries, instruct any additional work required, monitor progress on site, keep track of cost, value the works and certify payments due to the builder.

Stage 6: Handover and Close Out

  • When the project is ready to handover the architect will inspect and value the works and issue a certificate.
  • The architect will be available after handover and during any defects period to arrange for certifying the final payment.
  • Do a bit of research and select 2-3 architects to talk to. Have a look at the Green Register. We’ve also listed a few that might fit the bill.
  • Architects will be quite happy to chat about your project, so give them a ring, pop around to their office to see how they put buildings together or ask them to visit you.
  • Take your time, don’t feel rushed. From understanding a bit more about the architects you’ve talked to, you should be able to choose one that suits you best.
  • Let the architect you choose know of your decision, preferably in writing. Drop a line to the other architects to let them know as well. Lots of potential client interviews don’t go anywhere, so they won’t be offended!
  • Now’s the critical bit. Agree with your chosen architect what he will be expected to do for you, and agree a fee for the work. You don’t have to commission all of his/her services if that’s what you want to do, but do make it clear.
  • The agreement can be made by a simple exchange of letters. However, a more useful document is the RIBA Domestic Agreement. This is a tried and tested agreement that sets out all the potential services to be provided and the obligations of each party. Ask your architect for a copy or visit www.ribabookshops.com/agreements
Fees are not always straightforward. The architect will calculate according to:
  • The complexity of the project
  • The level of service they will be expected to provide.
  • Location (London and SE is the most expensive)
Fees can be agreed in different ways. Discuss with the architect and find one that suits you best:
  • Fee based on a percentage of the final contract cos
  • A fixed price lump sum agreed at the start.
  • A time charge basis - typically £70-£100 per hour
An architect is the most fully trained building designer, but other designers can be found to do the job:
  • Architectural Technologist Though not trained as expansively or in the same way as architects, Architectural Technologists are skilled construction designers. Their professional association which monitors qualifications is the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) www.ciat.org.uk/
  • Architectural Designer / Architectural Consultant. Not a qualification, so literally anyone can call themselves one of these. In general, they can range from enthusiastic draughtsmen through to competent building designers.

Quantity Surveyor

  • The Quantity Surveyor (QS) will produce a very accurate cost of your building in advance, based on the architect’s design. Though an extra cost, the advantages of knowing what everything costs will be that you can get a design that precisely fits your budget. You can experiment in using different designs and materials and still know what the cost implication is. There will be few surprises to frighten your bank manager! To appoint a QS, talk to your architect who will be able to help and advise you.

Structural Engineer

  • Most buildings will need the input of a Structural Engineer (SE) at some point of the design. They ensure that calculations to back up the design from foundations through load bearing structures to roofs will be made available for submission to the Building Regulations. Costs of using a SE will depend on how complicated the building structure is. Again, your architect will be able to advise.

Services Engineer

  • Being a Green self-builder, you might well be looking at installing renewable energy sources such as solar thermal, heat pumps and biomass boilers. It all needs careful planning and co-ordinating and so the skills of a Services Engineer will avoid the many problems that often occur. CIBSE is their professional body www.cibse.org/