If you have a period home in need of renovation and are thinking of using an architect, there are lots of things to consider. You might get advice from friends and people in the industry and wonder if you need a designer, a draughtsperson or an architect. It can be a hard decision because there are lots of myths and misconceptions about architects, but in essence, here are a few things you need to think about.
Do your research
This might seem an obvious question, but is the person you are speaking to actually an architect? They might call themselves an architect, but are they really? To become a registered architect on the Board of Architects, you need to have completed a recognised architectural university degree, had a minimum of two years working in the industry and have passed exams and an interview process. This is a recognised code of conduct and there are no short cuts. And this is one of the most stringent professional processes because there is a level of liability attached to being an architect. So do you really need an architect first and foremost? But also, don’t think that a registered architect is automatically a good one, there are still poor architects who lack communication skills, have poor design skills or a poor understanding of construction or budgeting. So do your research on each architect and read the experiences of past clients.
Don’t pay over the odds
An architect is not necessarily the most expensive design professional, even if myth and legend suggests they are. Ultimately it depends what your proposed renovation needs. Interior designers or building designers can be more expensive than an architect and all professions and organisations have their own cost structure anyway. So don’t fall for an architect charging top dollar just because they are an architect.
Don’t rely on an architect for accurate costs of your renovation
An architect will draw-up your plans, but they won’t necessarily cost them out. They may not even include probable costs. The architect doesn’t always see the final scheme actually built, they may have moved on to the next project, so their projections are not always accurate. The best way to get accurate build costs is to involve your builder from the very start of the design and drawing phase.
You’re in charge, so your ideas count
Your needs and wants should be prioritised by the architect and they should be interpreted to your budget. This is the remit and the scope of their work. Of course you want them to expand on your vision and bring their expertise, but this is to maximise your plans, not to fulfil their own fantasies. This understanding is perhaps the fundamental basis for building a good relationship with an architect.
What is their scope of work?
Most architects will want to be involved in all stages of the development, ie. design, approval, tendering and contracts. After that, most architects will also want to be involved in the end product, because they will want to take photos for their portfolio and show the renovation off as their own work. But this scope of work needs to be agreed upon, because some architects will work on some but not all of these stages. And if so, you need to agree whether you can use their drawings and ideas with other professionals.
Communication can be a problem
It is something of a generalisation to suggest that architects lack good communication skills, but it is very important that they do have good communication skills. You want an architect who can explain their ideas, show understanding or help you understand, and you need them to speak clearly and without using too much jargon. Also, some architects find it hard to say ‘no’ to a client and will try to fit all their ideas into a scheme in a way that the renovation becomes incoherent. At the same time, communication is a two-way process and the client has a responsibility too, so make sure you are honest about your budget, make sure you are collaborative, make sure you see value in the architect’s recommendations and advice and make sure you speak-up when you are unhappy about something. Transparent communication is a great way to build a positive relationship with your architect.
Agree on all the details at the beginning
You need to establish a timeline for the work, what deliverables to expect (drawings, models, walk-throughs), what the scope is and what inclusions there are. These enable you to understand what to expect from the architect, so you’re not being charged for extra things and don’t get hit with penalty charges you didn’t know were coming.