Do you need to find an architect to work on your home? If you are a homeowner and have never used an architect before it is a confusing situation to be in. Do you look in the Yellow Pages? Do you search online? How do you know what you need and what to look for?
Here are some tips to help you know what you should be looking for and where to begin. Let us start with the obvious – an architect must be…
1: An architect
This might seem like an obvious suggestion, but not everyone who will get you planning permission, for example, will be an architect. So whats the difference?
The title ‘Architect’ is protected in the UK, which means that people who call themselves ‘Architect’ or whose business name includes the word ‘Architect’ or ‘Architects’ must be registered with the Architects Registration Board (the ARB). The ARB protects the title and requires that its members adhere to a code of practice and carry at least £250k of Professional Indemnity Insurance. Members must also have undergone a programme of design-led training on prescribed architecture courses. There are around 33,000 architects in the UK.
Most UK architects practices comprise between 1 and 10 people, many being in the 3-5 band. Conventionally you will have one or two fully qualified architects on the staff, plus part qualified (graduate) architectural assistants and technicans. All the work on your project won’t be done by an architect, but they will be your main contact and manage the job, and you’ll be covered by the practice PI insurance.
By using an architect rather than someone who provides ‘architectural services’ you have the benefit of customer protection (such that it is) that the ARB provides. You will also know that your architect has carried out four or five years of training in design history, theory and practice.
How to do it?: Look up your architect on the ARB Register. Search for the person you are looking for by name, and also look for the practice name to see how many ARB registered architects there are in the practice.
2: Able to Solve your Design Problem
I call this the George Clarke effect, bless him. George Clarke has a programme on TV in the UK (The Home Show) where he helps homeowners understand how they are using their home, and then designs a better way to use it, that works exclusively for them. Rather than just adding on rooms, George looks at the big picture.
Being a TV presenter, George has his team paint the whole house interior white and then draws on it with a big black pen whilst the client looks on. But of course you don’t need to go to those lengths with your architect. The point is, an architect is trained to problem solve with design. This is therefore, the best reason to employ an architect and not just ‘someone to draw up some plans’. By using an architect you may find you get more constructive use out of the space you have.
How to do it?: Make sure to find out how your architect works and how they involve you in the design process. A good first step would be to look for case studies on their website and try and find out how they approach similar problems. Have they worked on projects like yours before? If you can, talk to the architects’ previous clients.
Using an architect in your local area makes a great deal of sense. They will understand the locality and buildings, indeed they may have worked on homes very similar to yours. They will also understand local planning issues and have a working relationship with planning officers. They may also have completed projects nearby you can go and see, and they won’t charge through the nose for travel expenses.
If you were looking for an architect for a larger project, such as a housing site or commercial building, then the location of the architect is debatably less important. But smaller, domestic work just amplifies the benefits of having a local architect.
Aim to have a shortlist of 3 architects you want to meet, and look at many more.
How to do it?: Go to Google and search for ‘Architect [local area name]’. Google Places will probably bring up a map to get you started, showing the location of nearby architects offices, links to their websites and so on. Don’t forget to check them on the ARB register and make sure they do the work you’re looking for.
You can also search the RIBA directory of UK registered Architects for your county, town or borough. All RIBA Chartered Architects practices have at least one Chartered architect per 10 staff. The directory isn’t great (as I’ve said before) but it will give you more background on some firms. It is worth remembering that the RIBA it is a members club and many architects won’t be on it, so start with Google first.
To sum up, your architect must be local, must be able to solve your design problem, and must be an architect (d’oh!). So look for some local architects, see what you think of their websites, and look them up on the ARB register.
More next time – what things do you think a domestic architect should be?