Logical steps to finding an architect suitable for your project; personal recommendation, searching via professional organisations and drawing up a shortlist.
Take a logical approach to finding the best professional to work with
Your architect is a key professional in your project whether it’s an entire new build or an add on to an existing building such as an extension. A skilled architect can take your ideas and turn them into reality; they may even project manage the entire construction process, so it’s important you find one you can efficiently work with and can put trust in.
The following pointers should help you find the best professional for your requirements.
Arguably the best method of all is that if someone you know and trust recommends a certain architect then it certainly gives you confidence in approaching the same people.
Friends and associates may have had a construction project and worked with an architect they’d recommend. Another route is through associated professionals – perhaps the builder you have in mind would recommend architects they’ve worked well with?
If you are able to get one or two recommendations this way, ensure the architect concerned could handle your particular project. For example, some architects may be more suited to designing new builds from scratch rather than, say, drawing up plans for adapting an older existing property for change of use or similar.
Designs you’ve been impressed with
Perhaps you’ve seen a recent construction in your area and been impressed with it? If so, you could take the ‘cold call’ approach and simply ask the owner who their architects were.
An obvious method perhaps, but one efficient way of finding local properly qualified experts is to use the search facility on the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects’) website. You can search by your local area and even use their referral service where they’ll suggest a shortlist of professionals suitable to work on your specific project.
Also, check your shortlisted architects are registered with industry regulator, the ARB (Architects Registration Board). This proves the architect has undergone extensive training and will have professional indemnity insurance in place; reassuring as they’ll be able to provide compensation in the unfortunate event of things going wrong.
Registration with the ARB is compulsory whereas it isn’t with the RIBA.
Working with your shortlist
After following these steps you should have a shortlist, so you’ll narrow it down to find your ideal expert.
Phone or email first to see if they’re available in the time period you have in mind – some architects are booked well in advance so this in itself could take one or two out of the running.
Arrange to meet those left on your shortlist – ideally three of them. Take along as much information as you have regarding your project and check on how they like to work in terms of face to face meetings, online and telephone communication, and on-site discussions.
Ensure their skills and experience match the project you have in mind, and don’t be afraid to go with gut instinct in at least partially basing your judgement on who you feel comfortable working with.
Ask if they have a portfolio of work undertaken – especially examples similar to your proposed project. Can they put you in touch with past clients?
Ask what their level of involvement consists of. For example, do they go into detail such as determining thickness of walls and specifics such as where power sockets will be located? Will they organise related professional help? For example, experts to undertake measured surveys or provide architectural drafting services?
Establish what level of service you’d require. Will they do the design, submit it for planning permission and finish their involvement once plans are approved?
Alternatively, will they project manage by overseeing the entire construction through to completion? This would include tendering for and appointing builders (although the builder would usually take care of organising building-related sub-contractors such as electricians, plumbers and so forth).
Not just the price for their services, but how they charge as certain architects can charge in different ways: by the hour, a flat fee (probably for smaller projects) or a percentage of the total build cost for the larger projects.
Establish when payment should be due; an upfront cost to cover initial design work would be common, but clarify when other payments would be due.
Your perfect fit
You’ll likely get the best out of your architect if they’re a good fit for you and your proposed project.
Budget – if you’re working strictly to a certain figure, lean towards an architect who can manage costs and doesn’t try to add extras to the project that could bump the price up.
Style – consider how appropriate the architect is for your type of project. A professional focusing on, say, minimalist modern designs might not be the best bet for a chapel conversion for example.
Creativity – if you’d like some creative input, seek the help of architects who have a track record in interesting designs.
Planning – if you foresee possible planning permission challenges, focus more on architects who have a good track record in liaising with local authority planning departments.
Finally, don’t settle for vague estimates – a proper quotation for their services is what you require.