On choosing an architect

You might remember that we are about to embark on a  hugely exciting family journey over the next 18 months  – the house project. I have a feeling that before the end of it, I will be heartily sick of anything and everything to do with builders and decorating. But for the moment we’re in the exciting planning stage, where anything seems possible, and all the horrible stuff that goes with it (moving out, raising a ridiculous amount of cash) all feels nice and vague. Heck, even the husband has said that he thinks it’ll be ‘pretty good’ when it’s done. Believe me, that’s high excitement levels for him!

I’m hoping to blog the journey – when it’s all done and dusted, it’ll be something for our family to look back on (Ha! wasn’t it FUN when the builder broke a sewer/5 of us lived in a studio flat for 6 months/the cat got nailed under the floorboards). Also, if I can rant at you lot when the going gets tough instead of ranting at the long suffering husband, that might give us a fighting chance of getting through this without succumbing to the big D.

Also, I’d like my witterings to be useful to other folk who might be planning to turn their lives upside down in pursuit of creating a living space that works for them, so to start with here’s my tips for choosing an architect.

  • Spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of your project – what are the ‘essentials’ and ‘desirables’? For us, the essentials are: an extra bedroom; an extra shower room & loo; a more open plan living space. Desirables are: a study, more light in the kitchen and another loo. Being completely clear about our needs meant that we could have meaningful conversations with  prospective architects about how they would approach our project.
  • Also have an idea about how creative and avant garde you want to be with your project, and be clear about this when you’re talking to prospective architects. When you finally sign on the dotted line to hire your architect, you want to be reasonably sure that they are not going to come up with plans that, beautiful and sunday-supplement-worthy as they may be, are completely impractical for you and your family. Completely redoing plans, because of a misunderstood brief, will add extra time, and possibly extra costs to your project
  • Talk to family and friends that have recently undertaken building work. Find out what they liked and didn’t like about their architect, and what they might do differently in choosing second time around. They may recommend their architect – and if you have a bona fide recommendation from someone you trust, it’s a pretty good start. But it’s not a done deal – all projects are different and play to different strengths; also personalities are going to come into the equation. So I’d say – add the recommendation into the mix, but don’t skip meeting other architects.
  • Make use of websites that take basic details about your project and put you in touch with appropriate architects. We used Local Surveyors Direct but there are others; you can also find chartered architects in your area on the directory on the RIBA website.
  • Now you have a list of possibles, take some time to find out more about each one. Look at their websites to see what kind of projects they undertake, whether they have recommendations/testimonials, whether they look like people you can get on with – and then arrange to meet the ones that look the most promising.
  • From here on it’s probably a question of chemistry as much as anything else. We met four or five different architects, and probably all of them could have done the job. The one we chose – Nadim from Guildsman was the one who seemed to listen most carefully to what we wanted, and who seemed completely unfazed by talking through the project whilst small children ran amok around him – even to the point of explaining to the eldest why, sadly, it wouldn’t be possible to install a robotic arm with burglar punching capabilities in his bedroom. That sealed the deal for me – if Nad has the patience to deal with robotic arm queries from a seven year old, I figured he’d have enough patience to deal with the queries that he will be getting, on probably an hourly basis, from a slightly neurotic 41 year old. Ha! He has NO idea what he’s let himself in for!

So. I hope that’s a useful starter for 10 if you’re thinking of undertaking a mad fool crazy  dream project. I’d love to hear your experiences and suggestions too, both on choosing an architect and on any aspect of a building experience. But for now, we have our architect – and in a few weeks we’ll have some plans! To be continued!

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