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What Does an Architect Do?

For many clients, a building project is a once in a lifetime activity, which may mean that very little is known about what an architect does and why it is important to appoint one for a building project. This guide is aimed at helping explain what architects do, and what services they can offer.  

Whatever your project, professionals can act on your behalf from the initial stages to the completion of your building project, whether it be; 

In appointing a qualified and competent professional you will know they have the appropriate training and provide solutions on the best way to meet your requirements.

What is an Architect?

An Architect is a professional consultant who guides clients through the design, planning and construction process of a building project.  Design is at the centre of their role, but they also deal with a variety of other elements, having detailed knowledge of Town Planning, Building Control legislation and building contracts.  

Architects create the overall look of the buildings, but the design involves much more than this.  The design also must be functional, safe, economical and must suit the needs of the people who use them. 

Architects apply impartial and creative thinking to projects of any size, whether it is a house extension or a large commercial office or school.

Do Architects have professional requirements?

The title ‘architect’ is regulated by the Architects Registration Board (ARB) which means you can only be called an Architect after having completed seven years of training, including two years in an architectural practice, gaining experience while working as an assistant.

A chartered architect is obliged to uphold the reputation of the architectural profession and fellow professionals.  There are several codes of conduct that an architect must adhere to, aet by the ARB and the RIBA, including carrying out work on behalf of clients with integrity, faithfully and conscientiously; and to also consider the wider impact of their work. 

What will an Architect do? 

An Architect will start by meeting with the client to discuss their initial ideas to understand the important factors driving the project.  They will help the client to define these objectives, identify the risks involved and interpret the client’s ideas imaginatively and expertly.

Once the relationship has been established the architect will develop a design that will interpret the client’s ideas imaginatively, maximise the asset, be economic to build and run, and hopefully bring excitement and delight.

During the design process, continuous decisions will be made linking back to the initial brief and may include things like formalising which rooms need to be adjacent, where stairs and fire escapes are needed and what is the most practical access for a certain user group. 

Working closely together at this initial design development stage can be crucial as alterations to the design when the project is on site can be problematic and costly. 

Once the client is happy with the design the architect will help to secure the approvals that will be needed before the project can go ahead, including the preparation of applications to the local authority for planning consent.  This certifies that the project meets rules governing the use and form of buildings. Building Regulations certification is also required, which covers the functional requirements of buildings to safeguard the health and safety of the people using them.

The architect will also manage the construction phase by helping to select suitable builders, obtaining competitive prices for construction, monitoring progress, standards and safety on-site, arranging the input of other design specialists, and overseeing the co-ordination of the construction through to its successful completion. 

The work an Architect undertakes is split into clear separate work stages, set by the RIBA Plan of Work 2013.  More information on each individual stage can be found on our website here. 

What should I look for in an Architect? 

Communication is crucial between the architect and the client throughout the project so you should feel comfortable with them. Personality and demeanour as well as skills and experience are often important, after all it is going to be a long-standing relationship throughout the life of the project.

Clients should be able to be open and honest about any matters affecting the brief, the budget, and the site.  Similarly, the architect should be experienced in asking the right questions to tease out any potential obstacles.  This way these issues are known from the outset, rather than further down the line. 

Successful projects are those which progress in an atmosphere of understanding and mutual trust.  That is why it is very important to understand the rolees and responsibilities of both the architect and the client.  There are many helpful publications that deal with this including these two, a domestic clients guide to engaging an architect & the commercial client equivalent. 

If your project is specialised in any way, ask if they have specialist skills in that area. 

As part of the Codes Architect’s must abide by, they are required to have professional indemnity insurance (PII) if offering their services to you. Ensure that there is adequate and appropriate insurance in place to cover your project when you appoint your professional. This insurance is separate to a building warranty, which is to cover for building defects.

How do I employ an Architect?

When you employ an architect, you are paying for their knowledge, skill and experience – not just a set of drawings. At the outset all chartered architects must agree in writing the terms of their appointment, services and their fees. The standard conditions are designed to assist in recording the agreement.

It is sometimes acceptable to start the project on the basis of an exchange of letters, but this should always anticipate progressing to a more formal appointment at the stage when the scope of work for the architect is sufficiently understood.

There is a misconception that architects create designs from thin air with little effort. This is not the case and therefore you should not expect an architect to work, without agreed remuneration. An architect deploys his or her most valuable skills at the beginning of a project when experience and hard-won skills are brought to bear in an intuitive way.

How do I know I will get a design that I like?

A good way to make sure that you will be happy with the design of your project, is to carefully choose an architect who shares and/or understands your values.  It is helpful to start by looking at jobs that they have completed, to see if you like their approach to design and if their completed projects are something you like. Compare the work of different architects to try and see what you do or do not like and then make an informed choice. 

Do I need to consider other consultants for my project? 

For complex projects the design team will include several other professional disciplines in addition to the architect. The Architect will be able to advise on what other consultants are required, but as a rule of thumb it would be useful to consider the following:

Quantity surveyor/cost consultant

Responsible for managing all aspects of the financial side of the construction project, including initial cost estimates.

Structural Engineer

Responsible for the structural components of a building.

Electrical & Mechanical Engineers

Responsible for the design of electrical & mechanical components of a building.

All design team fees are paid for separately in addition to the architect’s fee. If your Architect is appointed as lead consultant, he/she will co-ordinate all the information provided by the rest of the team and incorporate that into the design and production drawings.

What can I do if things go wrong?

Try to discuss your concerns with your Architect, as there is often a way to resolve these easily, so be honest if you are not happy with the way things are progressing. Architect’s always want to provide the best service possible so it may be that your issue can be resolved through discussion or negotiation. 

Architects, Chartered Architects and Chartered Architectural Technologists must all adhere to their regulatory or professional body’s Code of Conduct. These require that they conduct their business and relationship with you in a proper and ethical way and each has disciplinary procedures for infringements of their Codes for your protection.

In the unlikely event of discussion not resolving the matter, you may need to adopt a mediation procedure.  This will involve appointing a mediator to resolve any disagreement fairly and impartially. Other bodies, such as the RIBA also offer mediation services. If you and your architect agree to mediate and jointly agree the person who is to act for you, then you are obliged to abide by the mediator’s decision.

How do I gauge progress with my project? 

As mentioned previously, all projects are broken down into RIBA work stages. This is beneficial because the work stages are based on clearly identifiable deliverables such as stage 3 developed design, which includes a submission of a planning application, or stage 4 which would be a set of working drawings.  These stages are the recognised industry standard and each should have a percentage of the overall fee attached to them, which gives a good gauge of the where the project is. 

Acknowledging and signing off each work stage allows both client and architect to gauge the progress of the project. On large projects it is a good idea to know how much of a given work stage has been completed at any given time, so the Architect will report this at regular intervals, so the client has an understanding of the progress of the project.

What expertise and value do architects bring to a project? 

Architects are trained to balance complex interacting issues and synthesise these to develop the best possible solution. In the design they will consider functionality, practicality, sustainability, aesthetics, cost and legal constraints.  A good Architect adds value by using their imagination and clarity of thought to capture your brief and turn it into something that exceeds what you had thought it could be.  

Once the design is in place the Architect is then the one that will nurture the vision to completion ensuring that your specific concerns, requirements, obligations and liabilities are fully addressed. 

An Architect can also save you money.  Having an Architect on board will help you make savvy decisions to help you achieve the result you want on budget. Efficient floor plans and cost-effective material selections that will reduce future utilities are some of the ways that Architects can save you money.