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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

Looking for an architect to help you with your project? Use our find an architect service to receive a full list of suppliers in your area


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4 Comments

  1. We need advice please. We have an issue with our architect who we engaged in Aug 2019 for the extension of our semi-detached property to include rear extension and dormer. Our first neighbourhood consultation for permitted development was refused:
    The reasons for the Council’s decision to Refuse to give prior approval for the
    development are:
    1 It would not be possible to erect a structure that accords with the
    submitted details due to inconsistencies with the maximum height and
    eaves height measurements on the application form and as shown on the
    submitted plans. The development could not therefore comply with
    Schedule 2, Part 1, Class A.4(11) of the Town and Country Planning
    (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.
    2 The proposed single storey rear extension would have an eaves height in
    excess of the eaves height of the existing dwellinghouse and project
    beyond the plane of a side elevation of the original dwellinghouse and
    have a width greater than half that of the original dwellinghouse, and
    would not therefore represent permitted development as it would breach
    the restrictions of Schedule 2, Part 1, Class A.1(d) and (j) of the Town and
    Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015
    (as amended).
    So the issues were addressed and resubmitted; refused on overshadowing from neighbour objection.
    So we revised our plan, with the architect, and resubmitted for Lawful Development Certificate. So far we have had several objections raised by the council; the most important being that the dormer is too big with a volume of 51.5 cubic metres. Our architect has tried to address this by submitting revised plans but the council won’t accept this. Our issue is that the volume should have been correct in the first place, we think the architect did not revise it from the neighbourhood consultation to the LD application. The architect is blaming the council and saying they just refuse LDC’s where a quick search of the planning portal shows >90% granted for similar plans to ours. The mistakes with the first application are also weighing on our minds, as are repeated failures by the architect to send the correct version of plans to the council, which have been picked up by us and we alert the architect. We feel torn between continuing with the architect for the LDC with all the corrections, then leaving him, or leaving him now and engaging someone new. We have lost faith and confidence in him and have already spent almost £3,000. Any advice, different perspectives gratefully received.

    Comment by NM — June 1, 2020 @ 11:23 am

  2. As an architect I can comment on both these experiences in detail, albeit a bit late in the day in both instances but may help others in the future!
    For Cath, in view of the mistakes made during tender I would consider it reasonable to ask for a reduced fee for any future phases of assistance or ask for a partial refund on the fee for the phase where the error occurred. If however they have gone out of their way to put right the mistake and assist in making sure the correct tender figure was negotiated then that would seem to be a reasonable solution. What they should not be doing though is asking for additional fees over and above the fees quoted if you have not altered the scope of service that you have asked of them. They should have made it clear in their initial terms of appointment exactly what you were getting for the agreed fee. The architects code of conduct is quite clear about this. If they have given you more than you asked for then that is their lookout and you are not obliged to pay more.
    With regards Richards situation I am not entirely sure what the problem is here. The problem with the windows was brought to the attention of the builder who agreed there was a problem and proceeded to correct the problem, albeit not as quickly as you would have liked. I don’t really see how the ARB agreeing with your position as to whether the architect is at fault would have affected how quickly the builder addressed the problem? Having an architects certificate does not mean that there are no problems, just that someone is taking the design liability for any problems. If the problem turns out to be an installation or manufacturing problem then the architect is not responsible for that, it would be the builders problem, which I am assuming is what happened here, and why the builder dealt with it.

    Comment by Andy — October 15, 2018 @ 9:07 pm

  3. ur experience of the Architect’s Registration Board has not been as good as yours. We bought an apartment in a new conversion which was covered by an Architects Certificate. On moving in, it was immediately clear that, despite the Certificate, the windows had not been refurbished to a satisfactory standard. The builder accepted this and there was then a long saga of getting the windows put right. We complained to the Architect but to our surprise he said the windows were not covered by his certificate – despite Construction Industry Council guidelines which specifically state that any exclusions must be itemised on the Certificate. We complained to the ARB but to our amazement they decided the architect had not done anything wrong by failing to itemise this exclusion. Frankly, based on our experience, the ARB are biased in favour of Architects and not fit to regulate the profession.

    Comment by Richard Patterson — October 21, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

  4. Architect gave us quotes for packages of work eg planning application: £x, drawings £x, negotiating with builder £x. However when they put together the spreadsheet that tells builder exactly what needed to be done, they mistakenly duplicated several items, meaning the price offered to us was £100,000 over the original estimate. We obviously panicked, and spent hours going through spreadsheet cutting things out and getting quotes for things to reduce costs. It was through doing this that we noticed all the duplications and informed the architect who then had to go through the spreadsheet again and discuss with builder, but in the end we negotiated with builder directly. Anyhow, the final role the architect has is to oversee the build/troubleshoot/release our payment to the builder. For this they charge an hourly rate dependent on how much input they need each week, but suggested it would cost around £750 per week. We asked if, in view of all the personal time/stress/effort the duplication issue had caused, and with tight funds, they could offer us a fixed price of £5000 for the final overseeing part to stop costs spiralling. He responded to say they couldn’t offer a fixed price (fair enough), but also (and this is the bit I need advice on) that the drawings given in the “tender package” (the bit where they draw things to show builder what we want and allow builder to cost it) were basically more detailed than necessary for the tender package, and are more “construction drawings”, therefore he wants an additional £2500 on top of the £12000 we are already paying on the tender package. I feel this additional £2500 has been sprung on us,and as we had no idea there was a difference between tender and construction drawings and therefore would never have asked for such! Are we obliged to pay? How best should we manage this?

    Comment by cath — February 9, 2016 @ 10:58 am

 
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