Do I need an architect?

10 September 2021 by Simon Drayson

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We are often asked by family and friends if an architect is really necessary for a construction project, which has led to many a heated conversation with them down the pub or round the dinner table. The short answer is “it depends”, the long answer is as follows. 

I will start with an anecdote involving my own parents, in relation to their previous house before their current one. I was just a teenager at the time, but remember this as if it were yesterday: our neighbours had just finished building an extension designed by an architect, which inspired my parents to do something similar to their own house. They contacted this architect, who came round for a cup of tea, before proposing his fee; I do not recall the exact figure but the words “thousands” and “waste of money” were bounded about. They went on to hire a draughtsman through their builder, who went on to design them a perfectly satisfactory extension. Did they save money? Of course! But did it inspire them? Not at all!

To help you decide if you need an architect, it would help to define what one is and what they do. Architects have something called ‘a protection of title’, which means that they must be registered with the government (via ARB, the Architects Registration Board), to be able to call themselves an architect. Unlike doctors for example, Architects do not have ‘a protection of function’, meaning anyone – and I mean anyone – can legally do the job of an architect.

That said, ARB-registered architects must abide by the Architects Code, which sets out standards of conduct and practice to follow, in order to protect their clients as consumers of their services; this includes the need to carry professional indemnity insurance to cover negligence. Whilst certainly not mandatory, most architects choose to become members of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), which has its own Code of Professional Conduct.

To become an architect, students typically complete 7 years of education: a 3-year degree (Part 1); a year in practice; a 2-year masters (Part 2); and finally, another year in practice culminating in written and oral exams. Over this time we get a broad and deep architectural education covering design, technology and environment, history and theory, representation and communication – and later – practice management, law and contract, professional experience and practice.

Let’s first consider the advantages of working with an architect, in addition to the reasons above. As highly skilled and trained professionals we can guide our clients through the process of designing and building a new-build house or adapting an existing one. By bringing impartial and creative thinking to everything we do, we add value for clients to projects of all scales. In addition, we are well-versed with working in challenging contexts such as Conservation Areas, and using specialist materials such as reclaimed bricks.

Let’s now consider the disadvantages of working with an architect. There is no denying that architects can be seen as a luxury service, which can carry a hefty price tag when it comes to the associated fees. By our own admission being perfectionists can drive the build cost up, although we will always be open and honest with you on this. Just like Mies van der Rohe, we believe that “God is in the details”, and make no bones about it. As such, we can be quite stubborn when it comes to design, but neither us nor our clients would consider this a bad thing. In the long run the attention to detail can make a project, adding value to your property in terms of how you use it and also monetary value.

So, what are the alternatives to an architect I hear you ask. You could hire a draughtsperson like my parents, or an architectural technician (who have their own professional body). You could seek out a design and build contractor, who – as the name suggests – take responsibility for both designing and building your project, which can give you greater certainty in terms of cost and time but with a compromise in terms of design and quality. There is also the self-build route, as popularised by TV programmes like Grand Designs, if you are feeling really brave!

And so, do you really need an architect? It depends… on where you place true value. To use an analogy: if you subscribe to fast fashion over haute couture then the answer is probably a ‘no’. If you are interested in creating a bespoke design for you, your exacting needs and your site then please feel free to get in touch with us to discuss in more detail.

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