How to find the perfect architect: in just ten steps

The 10-point plan to help you choose the right architect for your project.
With one in four new romances now starting online, it is no wonder that a new website promises to match home owners with their perfect architect. If your new year resolution is to build a house — or, at least, an extension — then read on.
 
The Architects Republic website, www.architectsrepublic.com, offers a free service, allowing people considering home improvements to select architects based on their location, typical budgets, skills and specialities, whether that’s designing eco-homes or restoring historic buildings. A shortlist of practices is then produced, complete with an online portfolio of previous projects.
 
All of the firms registered on the site — at the time of launch it will be about 50 — have won at least one award for their work, though these awards may be obscure, so view them with caution.

 
Peter Murray, chairman of New London Architecture, which promotes quality design in the capital, is a keen supporter of the Architects Republic site but says that meeting up with previous clients is also crucial, and it is important to decide how involved in the design process you want to be, because some architects have a clear philosophy about what they want to create.
 
“There are quite often arguments when the client wants to do one thing and the architect says, ‘That is not the sort of thing that I do,’” says Murray. Given that a major project on your home is a big investment, in both financial and emotional terms, Homes & Property has come up with a 10-point plan to help you make sure you choose the architect who is just right for you.
 
1 WORD OF MOUTH
Personal recommendation is a great way to find an architect but if your friends can’t suggest anyone, contact RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, at www.architecture.com — it will supply you with a list of architects who carry out residential projects in your area.
 
2 ARE THEY FOR REAL?
There are people passing themselves off as architects when they are not fully qualified. So visit www.arb.org.uk to check with the Architects Registration Board before signing up a practice. If you have serious problems the board can also help mediate.
 
3 MEET PREVIOUS CLIENTS
When you are interested in an architect, perhaps having viewed their website, ask if you can meet some previous clients and see their homes. Nick Willson, of Nick Willson Architects, says this will prove at the very least that architects and clients are still on speaking terms.
 
As well as seeing whether you like the aesthetic and quality of the work, Richard Hawkes, of Hawkes Architecture, suggests asking a few practical questions, such as whether the scheme went over budget, how long it took, how hands-on the architect was, and how their fees were structured.
 
4 YOU WANT FACE TIME
Don’t even think about hiring someone you have only spoken to on the phone or communicated with by email. You must meet and see if you are like-minded, says Chris Romer-Lee, director of Studio Octopi architects. “You may work together for a year or more, so communication and rapport are essential.”
 
5 DEMAND ATTENTION
Don’t touch an inefficent firm that does not get back to you immediately, or hands you over to a junior.
 
6 BUSY — OR TOO BUSY?
You might think that an architect with a busy schedule is a good sign. But they may also be too busy to give you the proper attention.
 
7 BE CLEAR, DEMAND CLARITY
Make sure you are clear which partner will oversee your project, says Silvia Ullmayer, of Ullmayer Sylvester Architects. You need continuity and a senior point of contact is essential.
 
8 PLAIN SPEAKING
When it comes to what you need to ask a prospective architect, Studio Octopi’s Romer-Lee advocates straight talking by both client and company. If you are asking too much for your budget you want the architect who tells you right away, not the one who holds back in the hope that you will “find” more cash.
 
9 THE PLANNING HURDLE
Ask your prospective architect about their experience and success rate of getting similar projects through the planning process.
 
10 OPEN HOUSE
The annual Open House weekend features dozens of projects to inspire you. It will next be held in London on September 19 and 20. Visit www.londonopenhouse.org for details.

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