Where do I find an architect?
You need to do your research if you want to find the best architect near you. You can start by asking people who have had work done if they would recommend their architect, as nothing can beat the recommendation of someone you trust.
You can also use online databases to get a list of architects. Each architect practicing in the UK must be registered with the Architects Registration Board, so that can be a good place to start the search.
How do I shortlist architects?
When you’re trying to find an architect, the number of varying job titles can be misleading. If you’re looking to find an architect to complete a larger project, you’d usually want a Registered Architect, while smaller home improvements would typically be handled by Architects, Architectural Technicians or Surveyors. But there’s no hard and fast rules.
You should consider these factors when shortlisting architects:
- Are they registered with the Architects Registration Board? All architects must be, by law, so make sure you shortlist one that is. This guarantees a certain basic standard of work, and means they will have professional indemnity insurance in case anything goes wrong and you need to pursue compensation
- Are they a chartered architect? You may prefer this, as chartered architects are bound by a strict professional code that means they need to act honourably, independently and efficiently.
- What type of architect are they? Do you need someone more creative to bring your space to life, or someone who will execute your idea perfectly?
- What level of service do you need? Are you looking for creative designs to determine budget and get planning permission, do you need full detailed architectural plans, or do you need someone to oversee the entire process until completion?
- Are you likely to run into problems with planning permission or building control? If so, it’s a good idea to shortlist architects that are familiar with local planning policy and attitudes in your local authority, and can show a track record of successful applications
- Do you live in a listed building? You’ll want to get an architect with experience of them, if you do.
- Are you worried about the budget? If so, get an architect who is strong on managing costs and doesn’t keep trying to push expensive extras on you
How do I choose an architect?
Once you have found a shortlist of architects, it’s important to contact them and make sure that they are available for your project. If they are, you need to give them a brief and then arrange interviews.
The ideal process for choosing an architect is in done across a handful of steps:
- Give each architect a brief of the work you want done, a rough budget and ask them if it is the sort of work they do, and whether they are available to do it (the good architects are often the least available). The clearer and more precise your brief is for the architect, the less likely you are to be disappointed by the outcome
- Aim to meet at least three architects at your home to discuss the project in depth. You can download a free form that will help you structure this conversation and ask clever questions from the architects.
- Ask to see their portfolio, visit their website, even visit other houses they have done – and ask to speak to past clients (if they say no, ask why!)
- Make sure you like their style – different architects’ work have different feels.
- Check how they engage with you – do you feel confident you can work well with the architect?
- Ask them directly about their fees, as different architects charge not just different amounts, but in different ways – they can charge by the hour, a flat fee (usually for smaller jobs), and as a percentage of the total build costs (usually for larger jobs); with a payment upfront (30%) to cover initial design work. They might give a vague estimate about expected costs, which you should push them on. If your shortlisted architects give wildly different fees, you should ask them to explain the costs.
- Find out what their level of involvement will be. How much detailing will they do? For example, will they establish where the walls will be but not the thickness or detailing like where the electrical sockets will be located?
- Compare like for like – fees compared to level of service that will be provided.
Once you’ve chosen an architect, it’s time to instruct them.
How to instruct your architect
Its usual for you to instruct your architect in a meeting. This is when you need to be really clear about what you want them to do, the timings and your budget. You will also discuss the payment schedule, and any penalties for missing these.
Following the meeting, your architect should send you a detailed appointment letter. It can span many pages if the project is complex. The appointment letter should include:
- A detailed breakdown of the work
- Budget estimates
- A preliminary programme of work – what will happen when
- Details of fees and payment schedules
- Details of what will be claimable on expenses and costs involved
- Whether you will need planning permission, and what their services will be in this respect
- Whether their services will include submission of information necessary to meet building regulations
- Whether or not you will be affected by the party wall act
- The extent of their professional indemnity insurance
With this letter the architect should also enclose a detailed contract setting out terms and a tick box list of services. If the architect is a RIBA member these will be called “Conditions of Appointment for an Architect for a domestic project” and “Small Project Services schedule”, respectively. Check carefully and ask questions before signing it.
And before you proceed to the construction stage, make sure you read all about how RIBA building contracts can help you stay in control of the project and protect yourself in case anything goes wrong.
You may want to understand more about how to work with an architect, to make sure the process goes as seamlessly as possible.
How do I know if I need an architect?
- There is no law saying you have to employ an architect – it is up to you
- Some people successfully undertake quite major works – including whole house refurbishments and extensions – without architects
- Others employ architects for comparatively minor jobs, such as redoing a bathroom
- If you have a very clear idea of what you want, or a builder whose judgement and vision you trust, then an architect is less necessary
- If you don’t know what you want, then an architect can help give you ideas
- If you don’t trust builders, or are busy or inexperienced, an architect can help you keep an informed eye on the builders and make sure the project stays on track
- Speak to an architectural designer or technician as well that also have experience designing small and medium sized home renovation projects but will not cost as much to engage with
- If a fully qualified architect is what you want make sure you get one: they must be registered with the Architects Registration Board which has a publicly accessible database
- An architect can also be very helpful in managing the whole process. If you need planning permission (or even think you might), then an architect can be invaluable in successfully navigating the local planning authority. A planning consultant or a structural engineer can also help.
What are the advantages of having an architect?
- If you engage an architect, you will pretty much always end up with a better end product
- Architects are highly trained and are especially good as seeing the “big picture” – in making the best of the space you have, in getting interesting designs, in ensuring the light is right, the feel is good, and that the house works.
- Architects are usually good at ensuring the work is professionally done – that it meets the requirements of building control, that you have a structural engineer if you need one.
- Architects are generally (but not always) good at the detail that most of us rarely think about and which, if done wrongly, can end up being costly mistakes – which way should the door open? Should we have recessed lights? Where should the outlet pipes go? Should you be able to see the toilet when the bathroom door is open?
- An architect can also help you find the best builder, project manage the whole works, and keep within budget. The architect is the expert eyes and ears, whose job it is to represent your interests with builders and local authorities.
- Architects are also subject to a statutory code of practice and have Professional Indemnity Insurance to protect their clients.
What are the disadvantages of having an architect?
- The architect’s fees generally add about 15% to the cost of a project, and as much as 20%. If you are on a really tight budget, you will be tempted to try to do without. However, a good architect can also save you money on big projects – it doesn’t make sense to cut corners on design
- An architect is also one more person to deal with, and another relationship to navigate. If you have a very trusted builder you are close to, then you may feel on smaller projects that an architect gets in the way
- Sometimes architects don’t give you what you want, and push you do things you don’t want to
- Sometimes clients fall out with their architect, which can make the whole process agonising