How to Find an Architect – Choosing The Right Architect

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Written by Dan Marks

June 2021

Written by Dan Marks

June 2021

Here are our 4 tips on finding the right architect for your home extension or renovation project:

Tip #1 It pays to Plan

No one sets out to make a film without a script, a budget and a program. This might sound obvious but building is no different, though we so often see people making it up as they go. It’s a recipe for disaster, or, at the very least for things not turning out the way you imagined.

To ensure the end result aligns with your expectations and that you make the most out of your project, give yourself enough time to plan. Start by being realistic and honest with yourself about the constraints. What is your budget? What are your priorities? What would qualify as a successful project outcome? Then work backwards; what needs to happen to make that successful outcome a reality? Write this down. Everybody has ideas and some form of brief in their head. By putting these into words on paper you will be improving your chances of a successful project immeasurably.

We don’t often get a written brief from residential clients. However, on that rare occasion that we do, it helps us hit the ground running. In this instance the client has already framed the conversation, highlighted their aspirations, high level goals, constraints and budget and anything else that is important to them; inspirations, aesthetic preferences etc. All of these, if set out from the go, give us a great head start.

Apart from providing guidance to your architect (helping to get the most out of them), the act of sitting down to write a brief will help you define what is important and what you want to achieve with your project. Try to imagine how your extended home will change the way you live at home? How is the current layout impeding this? It’s worth thinking about this in detail, particularly in relation to family life; where does the family spend most of it’s time? Are there certain activities you would like to be able to do at home? Work? Host dinner parties for 15 people? Managing messy arts and crafts for children whilst preparing family meals? An improved connection with the garden? These are just a few examples.

It’s worth starting a Pinterest page too. Include images of precedent projects and inspirations. As you continue to add to this it will form an invaluable catalogue for yourself and your designer.

Define your maximum budget and be realistic about this. More on cost control in in this article. [LINK]

Finally, be careful not to get too prescriptive with your brief. You want to define priorities, goals, inspirations but leave it to your architect/ designer to respond creatively with their own design solutions.

The benefits of a well thought out and written brief include:

The act of writing a brief will help sharpen your awareness to what you are looking to achieve with your project and, in turn, what sort of architect you are looking for. For instance, is it purely utilitarian or are there certain design criteria you want met, in which case you would go looking for architects who have demonstrably fulfilled those criteria in the past.

A brief saves time. You don’t need to have lengthy conversations with your long-list of potential architects to explain the project. A short conversation on the phone followed by an email with the brief will do.

A good brief will get the attention of the right architect (and conversely, not get the attention of the wrong one). It will serve to attract like minded people.

Download our Residential Project Brief Template (right) to help you start planning your project.

How to find an architect

Tip #2 Create a shortlist of architects to approach

Spend some time researching architects. The RIBA’s online database of chartered practices is a useful resource; https://www.architecture.com/find-an-architect/.

If you want to find an architect near you, look out for architect’s signboards on building sites in your local area. This indicates a level of local experience and relevant local planning knowledge.

Look for precedent projects on Instagram, Pinterest and generally online that resonate with you. Precedent projects don’t necessarily need to be the exact same property type as yours, rather, look for a design sensibility that you can relate to.

Recommendations/ referrals from people you trust are also valuable of course. Make sure though that you are picking someone for the right reasons. The fact that a friend raves about his/ her architect is a very good start but you still need to check that you are compatible. Are you on the same wavelength? Does this architect share your design sensibilities? Are they someone you can get on well with?

Finally, it’s worth checking that architects on your shortlist are in fact architects. You can do this by visiting the Architects’ Registration Board (ARB) online register to check names on the list. The Architects Register is the definitive record of all UK architects. If someone is not on the Register, they’re not an architect. Check names against the register here:  https://architects-register.org.uk/

Now, equipped with your project brief, you’re ready to approach architects on your longlist. Using your project brief will save you time as you can send the same enquiry email with the brief attached, sit back and wait for responses.

How to choose the right architect

Tip #3 Interviewing architects

In response to your email enquiries and brief you’re likely to have a number of telephone calls/ virtual meetings with prospective architects. Use these to gauge their appetite and enthusiasm for your project. Do they have the resources to carry out the work? What comparable precedent projects have they carried out? How would they approach the project and your brief? What opportunities do they see? What risks/ pitfalls? Be open about your ambitions and budget and find out what they think about these. The answer may not always be what you want to hear but sometimes it can be what you need to hear. For instance, where there is a gap between aspirations and budget (an issue we’ll often encounter), you’re better of hearing that sooner rather than later and then you can refocus your priorities. A good architect will steer you toward the most effective priorities – achieving the most impactful change with less.

Interior visualisation of a large single storey rear extension at O-House, South London. The client came to us with a brief to open up the ground floor layout as far as possible to create a large, free-flowing kitchen and living space for entertaining whilst maximising opportunities for daylight and sunlight where the rear of house is North-West facing.

Next, make sure you meet and speak to two or three architects in person before making a decision. You’re about to embark on a journey with this person and their team so, in addition to their capabilities as an architect/ designer, you’re looking for someone compatible for a professional relationship, someone approachable whom you can envisage working closely with over a sustained period. You’ll often meet a director at this stage. Will they be running the project personally or hand you over to another architect further down the line? If so, it’s important to understand this and may be worth visiting the office to meet other members of the team and get a feel for the practice ethos. Smaller practices like MATA will invariably have greater director/ owner involvement in your project than larger practices. Find out more here about the benefits of working with smaller practices.

Ask to see case studies of similar projects and how information was managed in the pre-construction phases and on site. Ask also to see examples of ‘work in progress’ reports. You want to understand how the evolving design is communicated to client’s at each stage of the project. For example, are ideas communicated via 3D visuals or only 2D drawings? VR? How accessible are they making the design process to the client? Are they empowering their client’s to make decisions (through clear visuals and presentations) and to be an integral part of the design process? 

Finally, gauge their capacity to take on your job and their appetite for it. You’ll sometimes be better off, we’d argue, appointing a promising up and coming practice that showed real appetite for your job, over an established one that’s delivered multiple projects like yours. What the former lacks in experience it will often more than make up for with attitude, going the extra mile.

How to instruct your architect

Tip #4 Consider a limited engagement as a trial

Depending on the scale and complexity of your project you could consider a limited engagement in the form of a feasibility study. This discrete piece of work can be a good way to explore your project brief and it’s viability in relation to budget, town planning and other constraints together with an architect. It can be an opportunity to ‘test drive’ a working relationship with an architect before diving in to a bigger commitment for the whole project. If it doesn’t feel right you will at least have gained some deeper understanding which you can take with you to another architect and the cost is a small one compared to fees for the entire project.

If you want to find out more about the feasibility studies we offer with the associated deliverables and costs you can read more here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to hire an architect?

Costs vary depending on the size, complexity and location of the project. This question is answered in detail in our article about Architects Fees.

What are the important questions to ask an architect when considering working with them?
  • How long have you been an architect and are you registered with the ARB and RIBA?
  • What does the architectural process look like if we worked together?
  • Do you see any additional opportunities outside of my brief to improve my home?
  • What will be some of the main challenges and risks for my project?
  • Do you have experience project managing and administering the contract during the construction phase?
  • What will you charge, and will that be based on an hourly rate, a percentage of the project cost, or a fixed fee?
  • Can you recommend builders and contractors in my area?
    What is the timeline for this building project?
  • Does the budget include VAT?
  • How will this impact the value of my home?
  • Do you have any references I can speak to?

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