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10 things to ask your architect

An architect can be invaluable in delivering a successful project, but it is vital to identify the right one to suit your scheme. Follow these tips to discover the right questions to ask and you’ll be able to hook up with the best architecture firm to get your project off the ground.

Architects working on a project

Is there a fee for an initial meeting?

Once you have two or three architects’ firms in mind, get in touch with them about a meeting. Most architects will offer a free, one-off hour long consultation to discuss your project, giving them the opportunity to outline what they could offer to make your building scheme a reality. Meetings with different architects will help give you guidance on the best way to take your project forward, from design and total project cost, to planning and construction.

Are you registered with the Architects’ Registration Board?

According to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), someone may only use the title `architect’ if they have undergone training and are fully qualified. Some architecture firms may call themselves `architectural designers’ or use similar phrasing, which may indicate that they are not qualified architects.

Ask about your potential architect’s experience and find out if they are registered with the Architects’ Registration Board; this means that they must comply with regulations including health and safety and Professional Indemnity Insurance.

An architecture firm may also be accredited by RIBA and work according to its code of practice; RIBA chartered practices are quality-assured, committed to design excellence, they employ the required number of chartered architects and have the correct Professional Indemnity Insurance.

If the architect has neither credential, they may be operating on an unregulated basis and therefore cannot provide guarantees of their ability to carry out the work you need. Whichever architecture firm you choose, ask for proof of insurance and find out whether the firm is involved in any legal challenges (which may jeopardise its future).

Your potential architect must know the local planning rules and be up-to-date with the latest building regulations.

Choosing an architect with relevant experience can produce amazing results

Can I see examples of your work?

As most architects will have a signature style, it’s important to get the right architect with extensive experience to suit your scheme. Before hiring an architect, ask to see examples of previous projects to assess whether they are familiar with the type of work you are looking for.

If possible, visit similar projects that the prospective architect’s firm has worked on locally, or look at their portfolio further afield.

Are there any potential problems with my scheme?

The first time that you meet, discuss your project fully, including the total budget, making sure that important issues are made clear by presenting a straightforward vision. Describe any challenges that must be overcome and clarify the scheme’s `must haves’ to give an exact idea of what you want in the long run.

Make your reasons for embarking on the project clear; these might be to create more space, get more natural light or for greater flexibility of use. If the project relates to a listed building, a conservation area or a renovation project, or if you are concerned about environmental impact, explain this.

Ask your prospective architect if they see any potential issues and get an idea of how they approach problem solving; evidence of a creative solution they have devised would be interesting to see. Ask your architect how much time the following stages will take: the design and build process, applying for and obtaining planning consent, drawing up plans and Buildings Regulations drawings and hiring contractors.

How will you manage and monitor my project?

Services may include purely a design stage and obtaining planning permission before handing over to the client; creating detailed drawings for a contractor to work from, or a full management service including taking responsibility for finding a good builder, managing contracts between contractor and client and keeping track of the design and construction process.

As this role may involve instructing any additional work required, it is important that the architecture firm is local enough to make regular site visits. Ask how many site visits will be required during the entire project.

RIBA has a checklist called a Services Schedule which architects can use with their clients to keep everyone informed of progress. Find out how the firm complies with health and safety obligations: the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM 2015) cover the health, safety and welfare of construction projects, and apply to both commercial and domestic clients.

They place a duty on the client to ensure that arrangements for a project are made and duty holders such as a principal designer and contractor are appointed.

How do you communicate with clients?

Discussions need to cover how often to meet, whether this is possible outside office hours, is email or telephone contact preferred and perhaps a monthly face-to-face meeting for monitoring progress could be factored in.

Also, find out if you would work directly with the same person you are speaking to at the initial meeting, or will you be assigned to someone else whose work will be overseen during the construction process. Ensure that your personal preferences are met and that everyone is on the same page regarding certain updates.

What is your success rate in achieving planning permission?

If you anticipate difficulties in securing planning permission, ask what the architect’s approval rate is for submissions with the local planning authority. Often, an architects’ firm will be familiar with the local authority’s policies; ask about local authority timescales and his or her relationship with the planning department and how creative solutions may have been arrived at.

Many building schemes don’t require planning consent and can be carried out under Permitted Development rights; your architect can advise on this. To find out more about planning permission in your area, information can be found on the Government’s Planning Portal website.

How does your fee structure work?

According to RIBA, architecture firms generally offer a wider range of services for schemes with a budget of £50,000 or more, while they can also help with smaller schemes at the early stages, whatever size. Fees will vary depending on the complexity of the scheme and the location.

Ask whether the firm usually works to a fixed price or is it possible to make payments at regular intervals. A chartered architect may work on an hourly/day rate basis, or according to a percentage of the total building project costs.

To work out total project costs, ask what potential expenses are not covered and find out how many of the prospective architecture firm’s building projects come in on-budget.

Do you have preferred builders and tradespeople?

If you need to find a builder, an architect’s firm may have preferred builders and tradespeople that they have a history of working with; an established relationship may be helpful to your scheme. It may also be useful to talk to established local builders to see if they have worked with a good architect.

When planning permission is obtained, an architect can prepare technical drawings and recommend an appropriate building contract for chosen builders to cost.

Can you supply recommendations from clients?

It is important to establish trust: to assess a potential architect’s track record, ask for recommendations from past clients; follow these up with a visit to a client to view the work and find out how well they got on with the architect from the early stage to the finished project.

Ask your architect if the project was delivered on-budget. If you need to identify an architect with particular skills, it may be useful to use the RIBA’s free to use `Find an Architect’ service which will give a shortlist of practices to match your needs.

For details visit the Find an Architect webpage or email clientservices@riba.org. For smaller building projects, often involving a client’s home, RIBA publishes the Domestic Professional Services Contract.

The RIBA Concise Professional Services Contract has been created for business or commercial schemes and their Standard Professional Services Contract is suitable for large projects requiring detailed contract terms.

An architect at work.

Next steps

When you have decided on hiring an architect, agree an initial plan and timetable. Ensure that fees, timeframes and methods of communication are set out in writing. If the architect is to carry out project management duties, clarify the extent of the remit to avoid disputes: if, for instance, they are to instruct work on your behalf and are tendering for builders and handling contract management, make sure you both know the parameters of the agreement.

Project management duties include dealing with queries, regular inspections of the project progress, certifying payments to the builder and keeping track of the total budget.

Have you found these questions useful?

Perhaps I have missed a key question to ask?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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