Do you need an architect when undertaking a property renovation? We asked industry expert Emily Barnes founder of designforme.com an online platform to find the right design professional for your building project.
The answer to this question depends upon the size and complexity of your project and your aspirations for it. Firstly, you may not need an architect per se but your project is likely to benefit hugely from using a design professional.
Most people would deem a project successful if:
- they are happy with the end ‘product’
- they’ve kept within their budget
- the project is finished on time
- all legal and statutory requirements are met
- they haven’t had a nervous breakdown in the process/ fallen out with the builder/ neighbours etc.
By not using a design professional you are putting yourself at much greater risk of falling foul of some or all of the above. A good professional will help you find the best design solution for your brief and budget; they will advise you on where to spend your budget, and where to save; they’ll guide you through the maze of planning, building regs, freeholder consent and party wall issues; they can even help you appoint a builder, get the right price and inspect their work.
Why can’t I just go to a builder?
If your project is really minor and straightforward, and there is little margin for misinterpretation of what’s required, then a design professional may not be necessary. For example, if you want your windows and radiators replacing and a new bathroom suite fitting.
What to look out for
You need to be confident about the following three things before you hire your builder: cost, quality and time. Get detailed quotes and make sure they describe clearly the work to be done, the products being used and agree when the work will take place, with a timeframe.
Take time to decide and specify exactly what you want before approaching builders. It’s fine if a builder suggests alternative materials or products, but it’s important to agree on this before the work starts.
Design and build
The other scenario where you might go straight to a builder is if they provide an in-house design service. The ‘design and build’ approach is when the contractor (builder) is responsible for undertaking both the design and construction of the work in return for a lump sum price.
Advantages/Disadvantages of the design and build approach:
Cost: The initial price may be higher with design and build as the contractor may build in a premium for risk. It’s also a lot more expensive if you change your mind about anything down the line. On the other hand, the process can be cost effective as the contractor can use their experience and expertise to provide a design that allows them to purchase products and materials at the best margins. So, it’s not clear cut as to whether this approach will end up being more or less expensive. However, what it does provide is cost certainty from the outset.
Quality: Following on from the previous point, the benefit of using the contractor’s industry contacts and trade discounts may limit you in terms of choice of products and materials. The design is more likely to be driven by buildability (i.e. what’s quick and labour efficient for them to construct) than by the best overall design solution, and it’s possible that you will have less control and influence over design matters. Also, their architect/designer will be acting on behalf of the contractor, not you, so there isn’t an impartial check on quality that you would obtain by hiring a design professional separately.
Time: Speed of delivery of the end result is the main and major advantage of using a design and build approach.
The traditional approach
In contrast to ‘design and build’ above, this is when you employ the design professional to draw up the project separately and then approach builders.
Having a solid set of drawings and specifications is essential in getting competitive quotes. You won’t be able to obtain decent, comparable quotes without them. They will become part of the contract between you and the builder so there’s less risk of disputes down the line.
Going back to the original question, ‘Do I need an architect?’ – not necessarily. There are other architectural design professionals you might consider using instead, such as technologists or technicians. This will depend on the complexity and nature of your project.
The key to a successful project is good research and planning and it’s wise to get a design professional involved as early as possible to help with this. Finding the right one can be a bit of a minefield, which is why we created Design for Me. Whether it’s a design and build firm, an architect or an architectural technician, you can register your project with us for free and we’ll help you to find the right person for your project in no time.