How do I work with an architect?

The relationship between client and architect can be very productive – or destructive. Getting it to work well can make the difference between a project being a success, and a nightmare

The relationship between you and your architect

Having a good working relationship with your architect will give you peace of mind about your project, and ensure you get an end result you want. They are the professionals on your side, who can make sure you get what you want, and that the whole process runs smoothly and to budget.

Be prepared that you will be required to make lots of decisions and sometimes quickly in order not to slow down work on site – eg where should the socket go, to how high the counter should be to how should the banister look. This is on top of deciding door furniture, flooring, colours etc.

Sometimes however, problems emerge, relationships deteriorate and people end up dismissing their architect half way through a project (and even hiring another one).

The best guarantees of a good working relationship are:

  • a really clear brief that sets out exactly what is expected
  • a good contract that sets out what happens if the project changes or problems arise
  • absolute clarity on the fees, and how much you will be expected to pay when
  • mutual respect and frequent communication throughout the project

Architects are highly trained professionals who know far more about building and design than you do, but you are the client. Ultimately the final say is yours, but you should respect their advice and suggestions.  Architects usually take real pride in their work, and some can be quite resistant to doing things they don’t like. But you are the one who has to live with it, and you should make sure you don’t end up with something you regret.

Choosing the design

Once you have appointed an architect, he or she will draw up the plans for your project:

  • This will most likely be an iterative process as you hone in on the final design
  • Ideally, they will produce several options, giving you some choices, although usually the architect will make clear their preferences
  • Once you have agreed the overall plans, they can be used to get planning permission if needed
  • Once that is done, then the architect will produce the very detailed plans which are then the instructions for the builders and illustrate how the building regulations will be met

Minimise the changes

  • What often causes most stress in projects is the client changing their mind about what they want to do – or simply not making decisions
  • Some changes are inevitable in big projects as it takes shape, but any big changes will set the project back and add to the cost
  • So you should make sure you are clear what you want before building work starts. Make as many decisions as possible before going on site. The more the design is settled the fewer unwelcome surprises there are.

Should I get the architect to oversee the building work?

Once you have the detailed plans, you could decide to manage the rest of the project yourself, but unless you are very experienced at this, there are a number of reasons why it would normally be much easier and less fraught having the architect project mange it for you.

  • While it will cost a bit more, they know all the pitfalls, and in particular, should not let the builder take advantage of you. They want to see their vision and design realised
  • In all projects, problems arise, and architects are professional problem solvers – it will be their problem, not yours (unless it is really big)
  • They will help you through the planning process, obtaining planning permission if necessary and dealing with building control
  • They should also put the construction work out to tender, getting quotes ideally from three different building firms, from which you will choose the final supplier
  • They will then handle the relationship with the builder on a day-to-day basis, ensuring that the work is done according to plan, that standards are maintained and short cuts avoided, and that it is completed on schedule and on budget

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4 comments on “How do I work with an architect?

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  1. I am finding it difficult to deal wth my architect as he keeps asking for more money I have gave him £300 for sketch drawing which were subitted to the housing executive. Is the common practice to pay for plans befor they have even been started

  2. Two essential components of your appointment agreement with your architect are a) exactly what they are being appointed to do/what services they are providing, and b) what they are charging for those services and at what stages these fees will be charged. It is usual to invoice either monthly or on the completion of agreed stages of work (planning/building regs/detailing, etc). Fees may be charged in advance if this agreement is made at the outset. I tend to charge an ‘advance’ fee on appointment these days as it helps with cash-flow and establishes a commitment to the appointment from the outset.

    With regard to additional charges, if the services that are included in the architect’s fee are clearly defined at appointment, then it should be straightforward to see whether or not the additional fees being claimed are justified or not.

    I would advise that if the above terms were not clearly set out in writing at the initial appointment of the architect, the questioner should go back to the architect now and insist that the terms of the appointment are clarified and confirmed in writing before any further services are undertaken. Without this, there will only be further confusion and bad feeling. Not a recipe for a successful relationship with your architect!

  3. I would really appreciate some advice, we contracted an architect a few months ago to help us with a house remodel/renovation. At the time of the contract we agreed our budget was £200k inclusive of VAT. He came back a few weeks later with a very grand plan for a double extension and reassured us that he thought it would come in around our budget, and would be around a 6-7 month build. We moved to the next stage which was a basic cost plan, and he produced two numbers estimating the cost of the project either using an on site builder with site agent or a jobbing builder with no site agent. These 2 numbers came in at £170-210k but ex VAT, ex- contingency and ex-architects fees. Also ex some bits and bobs like flooring and landscaping. When all of these are included the cost of the project is £70-100k OVER budget. This is before going out to tender. The estimated length of the build also went up to 9 months.
    We asked him to produce something more in line with our budget and he has basically produced the same plan but just as a single storey extension. The range here was £120-170k, adding in the extras means we could just about come in on budget if we didn’t have a site agent. Presumably the real cost would come in somewhere between the 2 figures.
    We asked to take Christmas to think about our options and over this period I have found out that one of the most expensive things the architect has recommended – insulating render – is really not needed as we already have cavity wall insulation. Had I not checked this it would have been 20k down the drain.
    We are not experienced at house projects and feel we don’t know how normal it is for all this to happen, but we do feel that we have lost trust in the architect. Moreover I think there are some flaws in the plans (eg a main room has doors/entrances on all 4 sides making it a corridor). I came up with some simpler suggestions that the architect resisted strongly. I am now fed up and just want a simple process whereby someone draws something we can like and can afford and helps us manage costs through the process. Our relationship with the architect is genial but I would be constantly worrying about costs if we continued to use him.
    I would be grateful to get help to understand what our options are from here and what readers would do in our position. We have already paid the architect about £3k for their services, but haven’t got to the planning permission stage. Total fees are £14k incl of VAT.
    Thank you and happy new year!

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