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WHAT DOES AN ARCHITECT ACTUALLY DO?

A GUIDE TO ARCHITECT’S SERVICES

Architects draw plans. But we don’t just draw plans. Other people just draw plans but read why you should consider hiring an architect here.

When asked to describe what I do and how I help people, I think of myself as a kind of troubleshooter, helping my clients to overcome a wide range of building – related problems, such as: 

  • A lack of space.  
  • A cold, damp house which is expensive to heat. 
  • An awkward layout. 
  • A great location but no view.
  • No connection to the garden.
  • A building which is no longer needed for its original purpose and needs to be adapted to suit a new one.

Sometimes the solution may involve a new extension, sometimes it may involve a series of small alterations. Read about how an architect can help you improve your home without extending it in our Small Moves guidance article.

Architects usually follow the same standard process for finding solutions to their clients’ problems (prescribed by the RIBA’s “Plan of Work”) and this can be applied to any project. This is the process in a nutshell:

Step 1 – The Brief

The first stage is about defining the problem, listening to the client, developing an understanding of their needs and gathering as much information as possible about the existing building or the site. It will also involve explaining the process, the timescales and the potential costs involved in achieving a solution. 

Step 2 – Designing

Once the problem is defined and the necessary information has been gathered, the architect will work with the client to find the right solution, bringing in other expertise as required. The solution will address the various constraints which apply (such as energy efficiency targets, a limited budget or a challenging site). The outcome will be a completed design for a building (or alterations to a building) with all necessary approvals (such as planning permission and a building warrant) in place. At this stage the client will have a very clear understanding of the end result, helped by the architect’s deft skills in communicating their ideas. 

Step 3 – Building

This stage is about turning the ideas on paper into the real thing. An architect will help the client find the right contractor team to deliver the building and, crucially, pin down the cost of the project before any building work starts. The architect will establish and administer a building contract which sets the terms of the relationship with the contractor (including when they get paid). As the building takes shape, the architect will follow progress closely and ensure the bespoke solution is delivered and meets the client’s expectations.

Architects can be engaged to complete steps 1 and 2 only, with the client dealing with the contractor directly during the construction phase – known as a limited architectural service. A full architectural service involves guiding the client through the entire process. For clients who have never done a building project before, I always recommend a full service. 

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