How to choose an architect for your housing project

Expert advice from three professionals


While buying a home can be complicated, building a new property or restoring one presents a whole different raft of challenges.

Here, three experts share their tips for choosing an architect for your housing project.

‘My dream client is one who listens and is open to ideas’

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Jillian Mitchell, director at Lomas + Mitchell Architects, specialising in low-energy housing

One of the best ways to choose an architect is word of mouth – family and friends who’ve had good experiences with their architects. Look on the internet for practices in your area and make sure they specialise in residential work.

The single most important thing is to find an architect you get on with. Face-to-face meetings are invaluable. See two or three before you choose.

And don’t write a detailed brief. The architect writes the brief based on your needs, and this process is a good way of getting to know each other. If you come with a fixed brief, it can be quite detrimental. Bring an open mind and your requirements: you may want to future-proof your home for retirement, you might want more space for a growing family. Decide on your budget and your timescale – all the high-level issues. You may want to build a scrapbook or moodboard of visual ideas.

The dream client is one who listens, is open to ideas and engaged with the whole process. You’ll be asked to make endless decisions and you have to be on hand. If you choose to go on holiday for six weeks during the build, you can expect to come back to a few surprises!

It’s a paradox – we ask clients to trust us from day one, but we won’t have earned that trust until the end of the project.

People see projects on Grand Designs where the costs are spiralling and the timescale is going out of control – TV thrives on jeopardy. But remember, they’re usually building something cutting-edge using unconventional materials. A programme about a standard build would actually be pretty boring.

Communication is key. People use email to keep a record, but sometimes the tone of voice can be misconstrued. A good conversation is always best.

My heart sinks when I hear, “We want to be in by Christmas” – especially if it’s September.

‘We’ll help you find the right architect for your dream home’

Professor Alan M. Jones, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

Architects are uniquely skilled experts and creative problem solvers who will guide you through the entire design, decision-making and construction process. They will ensure that you make the most of your investment and help you to create a living environment that meets your needs.

RIBA-accredited Chartered Practices are the very best in the profession – and we will help you find the right one for your own dream home. Find a RIBA-accredited Chartered Practice by using the free online RIBA “Find an Architect” tool.

‘Ensure they have a skill set compatible with your aspirations’

Adrian Dobson, RIBA executive director of professional services

When you work with an architect, it’s not the same as your relationship with your doctor or dentist, who you see periodically over the years. You’ll be working with this person intensively for quite a long period of time.

Most people only go through this process once or twice in their lives. It can be a stressful time, and you need a professional hand to guide you through.

You can change your mind at any time but be aware that the later you change things, the greater the cost implications are going to be.

There’s a lot of red tape to get through, such as CDM (Construction, Design and Management) regulations on site safety, and party wall acts, especially in cities with high-value, tight sites.

How hands-on your architect will be depends on the scale of your build. For a simple extension, they’ll probably work with you as far as getting the planning permission and building regulations. For a more complex job, you may want to retain the architect’s services all the way through the construction phase.

Speak to at least three or four architects and compare their fees. And make sure they each have a skill set that is compatible with your aspirations.

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