06 Jun 2020 - Architects, Self Build

How to find and brief the right architect

If you’re hoping to kick-start a self-build project later this year, it’s vital you find the right designer for the job – and provide them with a thorough brief. Here, we take a look at why choosing the right architect for your build is the most important decision you’ll make and consider exactly what should be included in their brief.  

If you’ve taken the decision to build your own home, it won’t be one you’ve made lightly. You’ll have no doubt spent hours upon hours of time on initial research and will probably understand that along with the financing of such a huge project, finding the right designer is your top priority. Getting the right architect on board to help your vision become reality is crucial – but even before that, you need to ensure you have finalised ideas to be able to create a firm and thorough brief for your chosen architect.

Here, we discuss why your ideas and understanding of self-build principles will dictate which architect is right for you and outline the key considerations for creating the ideal brief to ensure the smooth running of your project.

What to look for in an architect

Talking to an architect in the earliest stages of your build will ultimately prove invaluable. In those early days, an architect can evaluate your proposed site, assess your ideas for feasibility and advise on cost, planning permission and build. Further to that, they’ll generally manage the project from concept to reality. Your chosen architect will be in your life (potentially) for years as the project is under way so finding the right one is crucial.

A good architect will design a house that works for you and the family and ensure your budget is used to its maximum potential. Look to the Royal Institute for British Architects (RIBA) for qualified and reputable architects with extensive experience in self-building. It’s wise to look for an architectural company with experience in the type of project you’re preparing for so do lots of research and check out any portfolios of work available to you. Discuss your build with them to get a feel for how they communicate and manage a project – and ask them for references for projects similar in design that they’ve worked on. And it all starts with a clear, thorough brief to ensure your architect understands your vision in the same way you do.

Providing a clear brief

Prior to hiring an architect, you’ll need to devise a brief for them to work with. This is the very beginning stage of the project and not taking the time to explain your vision fully may impact on the success of your project. You’ll likely have initial consultations with several architects or architectural practices to work out which one you’d work best with and it’s during these meetings a design brief becomes so important.

Start by analysing your family’s lifestyle and getting it all down in a wish list. In the early planning stages, the brief is simply just this – a wish list. It should feature the number and size of rooms you’d like and carefully consider how they will complement each other to support your way of living. It’s important to think about your current lifestyle and how you use spaces and arrange your newly designed rooms in a way that best facilitates that. Consider open-plan living and areas requiring privacy, how many floors the rooms will span and think about your ideal features and smaller details that would bring each space to life. Think about whether attic space is important to your family and whether you require a cellar. Consider the need for a garage too and think at the brief stage about favoured architectural styles as well as bespoke features you’d like around your dream home. Collate your thoughts on green technologies and sustainable ways of living. If this is important to you, it needs to be incorporated into your brief as it will partially determine which construction systems you use in the build.

Include as much detail as possible in your brief to help the architect get on the same page and thoroughly understand your vision. A detailed brief is vital to help them design your wish list and, importantly, design it according to your budget.

Appointing an architect

Share your brief with a couple of architects to get an understanding of which is most aligned with your vision and has experience in similar projects. Self-build architects are quite versatile in their approach to such projects so whether you’re planning an entire new build, extending or keen to focus on niche features, your chosen architect will have the expertise to guide you.

Architect chosen and design agreed, you’ll need to discuss timescales. Question when they can start. When you’re happy you’ve found an architect who thoroughly understands your vision and you’re confident they’ve got the know-how to make it reality, hire them. Ensure you do this in writing or via a Standard Form of Agreement.

Getting the right architect on board with your self-build project is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Be upfront and clear about your vision from the outset and they’ll tailor design that’s suited to your budget. Work together and you’ll quickly see your once-in-a-lifetime project take shape.

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