An architect is defined as “a person who designs buildings and in many cases also supervises their construction”. This rather vague explanation does show how varied their work can be.
‘Architect’ is a term protected by law, and can only be used by those who have undergone a university degree and masters, as well as being accepted by the ARB (Architects Registration Board). But how do you go about picking an architect?
Do I need an Architect?
Architects are not a cheap resource, but add great value to a project. They often help with finding builders, local regulations, and knowledge of materials – and of course are able to put your ideas on paper, as well as improve them.
If you are planning a major home project, the expertise and experience that architects provide will really improve the outcome as they will spot problems you may not. Generally an architect will pay for themselves through improved design.
For small projects (under £50,000) an architect can be handy to look over the plans, and many offer a one-off consultation to give you key advice. A full design service may be too expensive for smaller projects.
Finding an Architect
First comes finding the potential architects to shortlist. It is worth speaking to friends and family as a recommendation is a great way to get ideas – and to see how they found theirs – but unless the project is very similar, they may not be right for you.
All UK architects must be registered with the ARB (Architects Registration Board) and you can search on the ARB website for architects by area – but not by project type, so you may end up with a list of commercial architects.
The RIBA offer a search engine for their members, which you can find here. This lists all their members and can be filtered by location, project type and budget – but this is a voluntary membership organisation so is not a comprehensive list.
Another useful tool is the RIBA referral service, where they will recommend 5 architects for you to consider – though remember that this will only be members of RIBA.
If you are in Scotland, look for RIAS (Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland), who work closely with RIBA.
Finally, looking in local magazines, as well as relevant publications for house building and renovations, will showcase architects residential work – as well as social media, such as Facebook and Houzz, which are image oriented and showcase prior work.
How to Pick Your Architect
Not all architects will do all types of building – and most architects will have a very different way of designing, so look at a portfolio of residential projects to get a feel for their style.
Consider what you need:
- Do you need a full design? Try a firm with strong creative and design skills.
- Got an idea and just need it on paper? You’ll need a perfectionist who looks at the details.
- Tough local restrictions? You’ll need a local expert who has had success previously.
- Want to match the traditional style in the local area? Don’t go for a modern portfolio!
Basically, look for an architect who has done projects similar to yours before, explain your vision, and ask them what their skills are.
Remember to check that they will have time to do your project – they may be booked up.
2. Qualifications: Look for Chartered Institutes and Members
Aside from the required ARB (Architects Registration Board), the main architectural institute in the UK is RIBA (the Royal Institute of British Architects), who have over 3,500 members and have been in existence since 1834.
The professional bodies are tough on members and have restrictions and requirements including ongoing learning, meaning up to date and broader knowledge.
Important Note: an architectural designer, technician, consultant or any title that is not ‘Architect’ is not the same thing. An Architect will have undergone vigorous and thorough training and be members of the ARB and often RIBA – the title ‘Architect’ is a legally restrictive term and others may be unregulated.
Do remember that some of these other titles are relevant though – an architectural technician may look at the ‘science’ part of the project instead of the design side, so have relevant skills.
3. Look at Fee Structure: Costs and Calculations
Most architectural firms will use one of these pricing structures:
– Fixed Cost – project based fee
– Percentage Cost – a percentage of the total project cost
– Hourly Cost – you pay per hour for their time
Consider which one will be best based on your individual project before picking an architect. Make sure you speak to the architect about your budget clearly so they understand the scope of the project.
4. Location, Location, Location
Many people look for a local architect as this can simplify work – for example, local planning knowledge and local styles.
If you have a strong vision, or don’t like the local ones, there is no reason not to look further afield – just keep in mind they may not be on site quite as often.
Check with the architect how they usually keep in touch – and how much contact they usually provide. If you are keen on picking an architect who is going to be on site and keeping in touch with you regularly, avoid disappointment by asking.
Remember that getting on with your architect, and feeling like you can have an open conversation with them, is vital to making sure your project goes how you want it to. Take some time to speak to each architect, arranging a meeting with each one on your shortlist.
Speak with the team as well as the managers – often they will be the ones doing the work, even though the managers are your main contact. Try to visit the offices – see if there is inspiration, how they work and what they are like.
Finally, once you have finished picking an architect, make sure you give them all the information you possibly can to avoid disputes – which are normally caused by poor communication.