Other than the financing of your self build, hiring the right architect is one of the most important aspects of your project. You want to be able to trust an architect with delivering designs that meet the needs of you and your family. Approaching a specialist self build architect offers many advantages — and it is always worth remembering that the architect you choose will be part of your life for at least 18 months. So how do you decide which architect to work with in the first place? And what can you do to get them on board? 

A barn-style self build

An energy-efficient home designed by Allan’s practice

Relationship First, Self Build After

Being an organizsd client is a sure way to get the right architect for your project. Just as you would expect to trust your architect to work to your needs, it always helps when an architect finds a client they feel motivated to work hard for.

Before you hire an architect to design your dream self build, you need to prepare a design brief for them to work with. Creating this brief is one of the most important things a self builder will do, and not taking time to consider it carefully can be detrimental to the success of the project.

Briefing the Architect

The brief is an ever-evolving document, which first sets out a ‘wish list’ of priorities your dream home should include. As a minimum, it should cover your self build design basics — such as the number of rooms required, or the architectural styles you like (or dislike!), for example.

How you and your family live in your home is an important factor to keep in mind too. For instance, do you come home from work and all congregate around a breakfast bar in the kitchen, with the kids completing homework whilst mum and dad cook dinner? These types of scenarios are fundamental to thinking out your design brief criteria. Consider how your self build will function as a family home, and what spaces need to be your priority.

To provide your architect with a stronger understanding of your lifestyle, compiling a folder of magazine clippings goes down well — or utilise an online collection through the likes of Pinterest, to share your inspiration via a virtual inspiration board.

It is also recommended you match the scale of your project with a practice with the required experience. For example, if your project has the potential to be a large-scale one, finding an architect with a good track record of bigger projects is sensible.

Choosing a Project Management Route

Then, consider the exact level of service you will require from your self build architect. You may be an architect yourself, or already have some drawings prepared, and are just looking for someone to lend a hand with project-management. As well as producing drawings and 3D models which give an image of the proposed dwelling, specialist self build architects are also capable of organising planning permission which is a legal requirement. Planning permission is granted by your local authority, so despite being unable to guarantee that you obtain it for your plot, the experience of a specialist self build architect – who knows what the authorities might expect – will go a long way when submitting an application.

Self build architects are quite versatile with regards to the types of buildings they can design and project-manage. Whether it is a new build or a renovation, an extension, or an eco-friendly project, practices specialising in self builds have that extra bit of know-how when it comes to each individual stage of the build process.

What Are The Fees Like?

As a guide, the Royal Institute of British Architects suggests that a full service for a new build home is approximately 8% of the total construction cost. However, you should look for a practice that offers a fixed rate, meaning that you know from the beginning how much to expect to pay at particular stages of the project, and can therefore budget accordingly. Keeping an eye on the budget is difficult, so hiring an architect who gives you the numbers upfront can really make a difference.

Appointing Your Architect

If you can find an architect who takes an interest in your ideas, and shows that they want to learn more about your lifestyle, the better your chances will be of achieving your dream self build. By hiring a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) chartered practice, the management of your self build project will be in very safe hands. Complying with strict criteria, RIBA chartered practices ensure that insurance, health and safety, and quality management systems are factored into the services they provide. It is also widely suggested that self builders form a shortlist of these firms before approaching with their design plans. The RIBA offer their own ‘Find an Architect‘ service, which is a useful tool for shortlisting local chartered architects in your area.

When appointing an architect, or any professional for that matter, it is important that the agreement to work together is confirmed in writing. There are several ways to do this, but the most formal approach is for the architect to provide an RIBA Standard Agreement Contract. This is filled out by the architect and the client, and forms a legally-binding contract.

The other widely-used method is via an exchange of letters. The architect would provide the client with a letter of intent – or ‘fee proposal’ – which the client then agrees to in writing.

Both of these methods form a contract as they confirm the main areas required as follows:

  • Who the contract is between
  • What it is specifically for
  • A time period for the service to be completed
  • The cost of the service

Whichever way you decide to appoint your professionals; it must be in writing!

By hiring a specialist self build architect, your project can benefit from the expertise of someone who is used to working with one-off homes, and is experienced in the different stages involved. From applying for planning permission, to creating the initial designs – and from engaging with subcontractors to working to your budget – a self build architect has a breadth of experience to guide the self builder through their project. These architects can add that crucial personal touch to your project designs, planning a bespoke home that is tailored to all of your requirements.

But What If It All Goes Wrong?

If your choice of architect isn’t the right one, then make a change. All too often the relationship between architect and client becomes a very close one, and the client might not wish to take the required action if the project is not working out. There are a number of things to consider if it gets to a point where you can no longer work together:

  • Have you or the architect met the obligations of the project?
  • Have you advised the architect (on more than one occasion) that you are unhappy with the service they have been providing?
  • Have you given the architect a chance to resolve the situation?

It is widely suggested that you speak to your architect face-to-face, to try and iron out any issues before taking steps to dissolve the relationship. If all else fails, the next step might be to ask advice from RIBA, RIAS, or ARB, to review whether you have grounds for terminating the contract, as it is a legal agreement.

After this, if it is found that you do indeed have grounds for terminating the contract, again you should put this in writing. If emailing, always ask for a response, and if sending a hardcopy, use recorded delivery for posting.

Photographer: Keith Hunter c/o Allan Corfield Architects

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