What do I need to tell my architect?

26 October 2021 by Simon Drayson

george and james architects v2

When meeting with our prospective clients for the first time, they often ask us “what do you need to know?”. The answer is “everything” – from what brings you happiness at the macro level, to whether you use a manual or electric toothbrush at the micro level!

Of course, this is rather a lot to squeeze into an hour’s free consultation, so this post aims to focus the mind into our ‘Top 5’ conversation starters. We will listen intently to your answers to our questions, making a mental note of what you do - and don’t – say.

One of the most rewarding parts of what we do is when our client says some lovely things about us, including when something said in passing our first meeting finds its way into the finished project months down the line.


When would you like to move into your new space? You are probably not surprised to hear that “ASAP!” is the most common answer, with “ASAP!... but we know good things take time” coming in a close second. It might well be the case that there is a baby on the way, or that you are expecting a windfall from HMRC in the next tax year. These variables may have an impact on the design and build process, or sometimes vice versa preventing your proverbial ducks getting in a row (random fact, you cannot adopt children unless you have a bath in your home!). Is now really the right time for you to embark on this?


What is your budget? We hate that question. Try answering these instead: How much do you want to spend? How much do you need to spend? How much could you spend?  Does that figure include VAT? Is there a separate pot of money for the kitchen? What about your professional and statutory fees? How are you funding the project? As you can see, the answer is rarely ever as straightforward as “my budget is £X”, so worth discussing frankly. Last but not least, remember to factor in contingency of roughly 10%, especially if your project involves an existing building, for peace of mind.


This is the probably the easiest topic for you to talk about, especially when discussed separately from the unsavoury themes of time and cost. Where do you place real value? Do you want to keep up with the idiomatic Jonses, or create a happy, healthy place for your loved ones? You might prefer natural materials that age gracefully with time, or be more concerned with how they will withstand toddlers. Whilst the notion of quality over quantity most certainly rings true here, it is also useful for your architect to know numbers too sometimes, such as how many books you have in your - presumably growing! - collection. A client once told us that they needed 10 linear metres of wardrobe space for shoes!


To those of you reading this who are familiar with project management, you will recognise items 1 to 3 above as the ‘triple constraint’. The theory is that despite time, cost and quality being equally important to you, you will only fully achieve two of these at the expense of the third. Let’s say you might want a house of high-quality built for a reasonable amount of money, but are prepared for it to take a bit longer whilst you save up or the market stabilises. You need to decide for yourself, along with any other people involved (your spouse, for example!), what your ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ are.


We all have them, and the same is true of potential sites, some more than others! Maybe your house is Listed or in a Conservation Area, or maybe it is in a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty? Perhaps there is asbestos or a history of sinkholes in the area, as was the case for two prospective clients I met with yesterday. It could be a simple as you have a cat, or can’t stand the neighbours’ dog barking in the garden. However significant or insignificant you consider the quirk, please tell your architect sooner rather than later, otherwise you will only have yourself to thank later on.


A good starting point before you talk to your architect, is to read this guide put together by the RIBA, and complete this form published by the Architects Registration Board. A good architect should be able to build trust quickly, meaning that their clients feel very comfortable talking to them, resulting in a smooth design process and a great product.

Take the first small step.

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