Undertaking a building project, whatever its scale, can be a daunting experience. As the chair of the Exeter branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects I am often involved in dinner party discussions where I hear the story of someone’s bad experience with an architect. “But were they really an architect?” I ask; “I’m not sure they reply – I think so but I’m not totally sure”.
I met someone who had employed a designer they assumed was an architect to design their loft extension. When it was almost finished they went up to take a look and realised there wasn’t enough space for the double bed because the ceiling was sloping too much. Their designer hadn’t drawn plans showing furniture in the rooms, so they weren’t aware of the problem until it was too late. Another friend used a designer who again they thought was an architect to design and run their renovation project on site with his recommended builder. There was no contract and the project seemed to go on forever, the bills started increasing and without an agreed contract sum they felt that they didn’t have much choice but to continue paying until the project was finished.
The fact of the matter is that to call yourself an ‘architectural designer’ you don’t need any qualifications or experience, whereas the title ‘architect’ is protected by law and can only be used by people registered with the Architects Registration board (ARB) having gone through the relevant training. Unfortunately there is nothing to stop anyone setting themselves up as an ‘architectural designer’ with little or no experience. No wonder there is often confusion when it comes to choosing someone to work with you on your building project.
That said you don’t always need an architect to draw up a set of simple planning drawings and there are also a lot of good architectural technicians that will give you value for money (although perhaps not the design flair), but again make sure they are registered with the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technicians (CIAT) to ensure you are getting the professional service you should expect.
Chartered architects are also members of the RIBA in addition to the ARB, which gives you additional piece of mind that they are adhering to a strict code of conduct and keeping up to date with the latest legislation and technical innovations.
To help you make the right decision about which professional to choose to design your building project and make sure you get value for money, we’ve set out the top questions to ask when you need to employ a design professional to help you with your project:
Things to ask your Architect or Designer:
Are you registered with the ARB, RIBA or CIAT?
Do you have Professional Indemnity Insurance (PI)?
All RIBA and CIAT registered professionals must have this in place and it means that if something does go wrong you have piece of mind. Some architectural designers may not hold this insurance, which means you will have to foot the bill for any mistakes they make even if it isn’t your builders fault.
Can I speak to some of your previous clients?
A good architect will have a long list of happy clients and they will be only too pleased to pass you their details so that you can have a chat about their experience.
What do you specialise in?
If a firm mostly designs schools or office buildings they may not be the right practice for your new house or extension (or it may get passed to the office junior). The best practices for residential projects are those that have a good track record of this type of project, and these are often the smaller practices.
Lastly don’t forget that you need to get on with your architect; everyone is different and you could be working with them for some time, so you need to make sure you click. Your architect should be able to explain things to you in a way that you understand and feel comfortable with. We don’t all wear black polar necks and wear silly glasses (well only some of us) and often a more sensitive approach can be helpful at the early stages of a project when you are trying to work out your brief.
To give you added reassurance make sure you use an RIBA chartered architect and you will be employing someone who has undertaken 7 years of training – no other building professional is trained to such a level of expertise.
If you need help choosing an architect you can contact the RIBA client services team who will match you with 3-4 local architects who specialise in the type of work you want to do, no matter how small your project.
For further information call the RIBA on 020 7307 3700
Or visit them at www.architecture.com/useanarchitect
Kirsty Curnow Bayley is the chair of the Exeter Branch of the RIBA and is a Director of Living Space Architects in Southernhay.
Living Space Architects were set up 8 years ago specialising in residential and domestic projects and can be contacted on 01392 267 213 or at www.livingspacearchitects.com