Working with Architects
If your building your own home then working with an architect is one of the most important professional relationships you’ll have, so why do some of us leave hiring and working with an architect to chance? There are plenty of stories out there of home owners that have rushed into relationships with architects and designers only to watch things fall apart.
Doing your research at the start will ensure a long and successful relationship with your architect designer. A healthy relationship will mean you ensure a great flow of communication and this can help with the flow of ideas and creativity. Thus ensuring you are left with a design that you are truly happy with, a design that you could not have achieved on your own or with the wrong architect.
So what should you look for when choosing the right architect or designer?
No1. Look at previous examples of recent work.
Take a look online and look for similar home build designs close to the one you are after.
Take a look locally and see if there are any home build going on – if there is one you like then perhaps get in touch with the home owner and see who they recommend.
No2. Communication is Essential.
You are going to be talking to your architect or designer about your dream home and you have to be able to translate all the things in your head to someone else and they are going to be interrupting everything you say – so make sure you are clear. Your design will have to match your plot, your budget and any structural requirement you may have. You have to feel you can talk freely and that your are being listened to and understood. This doesn’t always happen naturally and sometimes there can be clashes of personality. If you book a consultation you be able to get a feeling for how you will get on with each other. Make sure that the person you are talking to is the person that is going to be in charge of your project.
It may be appropriate, (and on some projects it may be extremely important) to match the right architect to your project. Specialist briefs, such as meeting PassivHaus standards or successfully replicating certain period styles, can be beyond the call of a lot of architects. If this is the case then you’ll need to look for specialist architects that cover your requirements, many of which will be much more suited to helping you.
No3. The Right Brief
As a general rule architects require a wish-list before they begin work on your project – this is a comprehensive list of all your requirements. This list will most likely be split into two.
1. The more factual information and your objectives – i.e. how many rooms, their functions, the essential items that need to go into certain rooms, i.e. dog beds and fridge freezers etc.
2. More information about the look and feel of the home. (This part of the list is usually longer!)
Scrapbooks are helpful as you can bring these along to meetings and the architect can keep them on file. Make sure to include things that you dislike as well as things you like. This will ensure the architect gets to know your taste and style.
You also have to remember to allow room for the architect designers to do what they do best – design. If your list is too descriptive this can lead to a choking of your designer and you want to make sure they feel in a position to have some creative input.
No4. Remain open to ideas.
If you ring your favourite architects and say “I know exactly what I want and just need you to draw up my plans” then you’ll most likely be disappointed. You have to be willing to bend and shift and remain open to new ideas. A great architect will bring fantastic ideas to your home build project and the result may just be better than you had imagined. Try and avoid a final polished design before you make the call the architects.
No5. Be fair and happy with the fees involved.
You might not start talking about fees when you first meet with potential architects but its good to start exploring the costs and get a realistic feel about how much they charge. Its worth noting that fees charged by architects vary very significantly, and since the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) abolished their indicative fee scales, there is very little benchmarking information freely available.
Fees will vary based on the following…
- The architect appointed (a ‘specialist’ architect may charge more’).
- The type of building required.
- The size of building required.
- The complexity of the building required.
- The quality of the building required.
- The location of the architect and of the project.
- The amount of bespoke design required.
- The level of service required (from basic planning drawings, through to a full design service, site inspection and post occupancy evaluation).
- The amount of information available (about the nature of the project required, the project brief, the feasibility of the project, the site conditions and so on).
- The state of the economy (in times of recession, architects may struggle to find work, and can offer lower fees simply to keep work flowing through the office, conversely in boom years, they may not have enough staff to meet demand and so will push fees up).
- The perceived risk to the architect of undertaking the project.
Trying to save money by pushing fees down can sometimes be counter-productive. Fees represent a small part of the whole-life costs of a project, but poor design can have a long lasting (and expensive) impact on your dream home.
Fee surveys carried out back in 2007 suggested that architects were receiving fees of between 6-11% on private housing work. For example, a £150,000 build contract for a house averaged 8.7% in design fees (£13,000).
Architects often price jobs in whatever way suits them best, whether it be:
- an hourly rate
- percentage of the build contract
- or fixed fee
Fixed-fee design work is a more attractive option for self-builders and renovators. You can raise your chances of agreeing a fixed fee home build project if you can reduce any uncertainty surrounding your home build project or if you require minimal design work and you have a small amount of design requirements and minimal complications.