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How to Find the Best Architect
We often get asked how to find the best architect. A simple enough question, however the answer is not always straightforward.
In this blog, Charlene Keen, our resident architectural specialist, shares 5 tips, to help you find the best architect for you and your building project. Hope you find them useful!
Why it’s important to find the best architect for you
When embarking on a major building project, finding and selecting an architect is the most important first step of your journey. Your architect will be your design partner. Their ability to understand your needs, as well as their design vision and skills will be critical to enable you to create the home of your dreams.
It’s a very personal choice. It’s important to choose the right architect for you and your project. When appointing your architect you should really feel there is a connection, a shared outlook. Creating your new home is a personal and emotional journey and getting the right architect is just the start. Prepare yourself, as you’re likely to experience a combination of conflicting emotions – excitement, anticipation, confidence, fear, doubt, challenge – along the way!
Here are our 5 top tips
- Choose Experience over Qualifications
- Get the balance of Design vs Practicality right
- Get Real – you need Reality Checks
- Architects are like GP’s
- Meet all of your Design Team
1. Choose Experience over Qualifications
The last few years have radically changed the architectural profession. What used to be hand-drawn pencil sketches can now be presented as full colour 3D computerised simulations. But try not to be too swayed by fancy gadgets or hi-tec equipment. It’s the ability of the architect or designer to understand your needs and what can be achieved with your budget that really counts.
Additionally, many chartered architects may disagree, but appointing the most qualified, RIBA architect is not necessarily always the best option. There are many designers working in the architectural field who are just or even more competent to design your home without the RIBA qualified status.
It’s all about work experience. Every client and project is different so the more experience, chances are the more you will get from your designer. Given the length of the course for a RIBA student to qualify, chances are that a simularly aged designer without the degree would have spent this time gaining experience working in the field. Whilst we are certainly not discouraging using a RIBA architect we would advise that this shouldn’t always be a sticking point if they are not chartered.
Instead of focusing on qualifications, do your due diligence.
Draw up a short list. You need to check the size of your project matches the size of the practice. If you are planning an ambitious £500K plus project you will probably want a very experienced RIBA architect, or a medium sized practice. A more modest £50-100K project may be better matched with a competent architectural technician or designer. By looking online at www.architecture.com you will find RIBA practices nearby. Speak to local friends and contacts about your project and get their architect or designer recommendations. If you see houses nearby that have had work done recently that you admire, then find out who the designer was. Be cheeky and knock on the door to ask. If the project required planning permission your local planning authority website should give you the designer’s details.
Next phone up the practices and check if they are available. Some of the best architects and designers are busy, so be prepared to have to wait if you choose them.
Go and meet them and chat through your project. Ask to see similar projects they have worked on and ask if you can contact former clients for their opinion on the services provided.
Have a list of sensible questions ready when taking up references. Questions like “How well did the architect communicate?” or “Did you have any problems with your project and how did your architect help to resolve these?”.
2. Get the Balance of Design vs Practicality Right
In our experience, there are normally two types of architect that you will meet. Finding a combination of the two can be difficult, but is imperative to the successful outcome for your project.
The first type is your ‘Arty’ architect. This type of architect will be more of an imaginative type. They will be very creative, and design you something beautiful and innovative. But the downfall may be that they are not as practical or technical in terms of how to actually build the thing. When people think of an architect they often imagine this ‘arty’ character.
The other, is the ‘Technical’ architect. Whilst not the most creative designer, they will probably design something practical and cleverly built. But the downfall maybe that you get a ‘box’ or something that doesn’t have that immediate wow factor.
When considering your project, you need to think about what qualities you are looking for in your architectural team. How creative do they need to be? Does practicality outweigh aesthetics? You need to determine whether the person or people you’re talking to can meet your and your project needs.
It isn’t always easy to find someone that fits both criteria. That is where the ‘design team’ works well with architects, technicians, engineers and interior designers combined to form the perfect combination. If you do find a single individual that fits all the criteria then you have hit the jackpot!
When meeting your architect, you need to check that their personality and design style is the perfect marriage with your personality and your project objectives. Remember you will be talking to this person for possibly a year or even longer depending on the size of your project.
3. Get Real – you need Reality Checks
When you plan to undertake a major building project you should always expect a few surprises along the way. These can be tiny or more significant but in most cases there is usually something that could happen that should be considered from the outset.
What your architect should be doing is advising on potential risks and the chances of any problems. They should discuss with you the resultant design options and the impact of these.
There is nobody out there that knows everything there is to know about architecture. Your architect may not be able to give you every answer. However, you should ask whether in their experience what potential risk there could be, to relax any concerns you may have.
Chances are your architect is never going to forewarn you of every possible risk. You don’t want an anxious, negative wreck of an architect either. But what you do want is an upbeat, pragmatic, “Yes, you can” architect that comes with a ‘But’.
In other words they will problem solve, challenge professionals, make design choices all in your interests, but what they must also do is give you the ‘reality check’. They must justify why they have designed something the way that they have. They need to say ‘Yes’ you can have this design but it is going to cost you extra. Or it’s going to have an impact on this part of the project or it could potentially open this particular ‘can of worms’.
Nobody likes a unwelcome surprise but to be forewarned does help soften the blow and helps to maintain expectation between all parties for a smoother build.
4. Architects are like GP’s
Architects are like GP’s in the sense that they have a good broad understanding of all elements. But they are not specialists in one field, and they will probably need to seek advice or refer you to another professional.
In my experience, if you don’t know the answer to a clients questions I don’t just ramble on or make up some sort of broken answer. The architect should say “I don’t know the answer… but I will find out and become an expert or failing that I will put you in touch with the right expert”.
All architects are continuously learning and I would find it comforting if the architect gets a second opinion, advice, suggests appointment of other professionals.
Don’t expect your architect to be able to do everything or let them try and do something that they are not familiar in doing.
If your architect advises the appointment of a Sustainability expert, a Quantity Surveyor, a Heating Engineer, or a Project Manager you should listen and take up that advice. It may well be a professional cost you haven’t considered but generally the appointment of the expert will save you in the long run.
5. Meet all of your Design Team
If the practice is medium or large in scale, the chances are your project will be assigned to a team of architects. You will initially meet the director or senior designer who will sell themselves as your architect.
Ask the question… “Will you be solely working on my project?”
If the answer is “No” then ask to meet the team who will be.
It is important that you get a good rapport with everyone working on your project. This way you’ll get the best outcome. It’s likely that your project will be designed by a junior designer with oversight from a senior.
But don’t be alarmed by this. A junior member of the team can bring fresh flare and creativity to the design. Just make sure they have a senior’s oversight.
We hope you find these tips useful! If you are planning a major building project then why not get in touch – call us on 01923 896550 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you!