How to work with an architect

Whether you’re extending or renovating, a good relationship with your architect is key. Follow Melanie Clear's expert advice for project success

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How to find a reputable architect or designer

A fully qualified architect will be registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB), as it is illegal to trade as an architect without being fully registered and qualified after seven years of training.

You can search the ARB’s online directory, or use a similar function of the Royal Institute of British Architect’s (RIBA) website architecture.com. Both the ARB and RIBA have strict codes of conduct, so members must maintain the utmost level of professionalism. You can search for architects in your area, refining the results by project type and specialism and then take a look at the practice’s websites to see previous examples of their work.

Who will manage your project?

Most architect practices will offer an all-in service and take care of everything from planning to completion, while others may offer the design only, in which case you’ll be responsible hiring a project manager or taking on the role yourself. You’ll be responsible for managing the work, organising planning permission and trades on site, as well as ordering materials.

The option of which route to take is entirely yours, so do which suits you and your budget best. If your project is straightforward, you can work with an architectural designer on drawings and take on the rest of the project elements yourself, working with your chosen builder to create the final result.

It’s good to know that an architectural designer is different from an architect, as the former won’t have had the same level of training or be registered with the ARB, but both will be able to offer a design service with relevant knowledge of structural feasibility and regulations.

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Meet your architect in person

Once you’ve made a shortlist of prospective architects, visiting their studios should be your next step. It’s a great way to get a first impression of the practice, gain a sense of trust and see examples of similar projects they’ve worked on.

A good architect will always visit your property and assess the viability of the project before giving a fee proposal and not just give you a quote over the phone. They’ll also allow you access to previous clients so you can hear what it was like to work with them first hand.

Make your own design decisions

It is possible to design a house yourself, but the scope is likely to be limited to what you understand in terms of structural feasibility, planning restrictions and how to work within the constraints of your property type. When looking at designs, try to imagine yourself in the space and consider its orientation and layout, and think about how this will work in practice.

I’d always advise working with a qualified architect to get the most of your property’s potential, but it’s good to have your own ideas and an understanding of what’s possible, too.

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Don’t start without a contract

Every project, regardless of its size or level of involvement from your architect, should have a contract drawn up before any work commences. This will be dependent on the brief, so if you are only employing an architect to obtain planning consent, the contract will only be to that stage.

Your contract should be broken down into each stage, specifying exactly what drawings are included, fees, planning applications, number of meetings and who is responsible for what. A contract should always be bespoke to a project. Make sure you read the whole document through properly and don’t just focus on the cost.

Meet regularly with your architect

If your architect is on board for the whole project, not only the design stage, having regular meetings throughout is key to ensure you’re kept in the loop with progress and any issues that may arise.

Meetings at certain points in the project are usually included in the fee, but if there’s something you’re unclear about, make sure to ask as soon as you can and don’t let the issue drift on. If you have a good relationship with your architect, they’ll be happy to answer any queries you have.

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Don’t forget to budget for architect fees

Expect to pay between eight and 12 per cent of the overall construction cost for a good architect. So, on a £300,000 project, you might pay between £18,000-£28,000 for an architect to be on hand from plans to completion.

The cost will depend on the scope of the brief and standard service won’t usually include interior design and project management, but will include administering the building contract to make sure you’re not overpaying the builder, if you’re not handling this area yourself. Most architects work with preferred contractors, so you’ll benefit from this previous experience, too.

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Melanie Clear is the founder and director of Clear Architects.