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Why use an architect?

If you intend to build, extend or alter and care about quality and value for money, then it makes sense to consult a professional who shares your concerns. An architect will understand your hopes and anxieties, and will help you translate your vision into reality. To any building or development project, he or she will bring three essential qualities:

Whether you are looking for tradition or innovation, boldness or understatement, an architect can lift your project out of the ordinary. Anyone can alter a building. It takes an expert to do it with flair, imagination and style. Where an historic or old building is concerned, special expertise is required to ensure that the work benefits its character, fabric and value.

Value for money
An architect can find the extra light and space you didn't know you had, suggest materials you hadn't thought of, make sure you find the right builder at the right price.

Architects are professionals who know the industry and its organisation, working methods and standards. They can advise and guide you through the web of rules, regulations and obligations connected with planning and building and monitor construction through to completion. RIBA registered practices must have professional indemnity insurance.

Removing mystery
There is a misplaced fear that architects will impose their own tastes at the expense of yours. Nothing could be further from the truth. Step by step, by consultation and agreement, your architect interprets your ideas and requirements and leads you through the process to the finished building.

The initial meeting
Architects' training and experience means that they can interpret and respond to any realistic brief they are given. The initial meeting is the time to explain and explore your intentions and ideas. Your architect will then develop and confirm a brief which covers matters such as form, appearance, function of the building, costs, budget and timing. Only after you have seen and approved initial sketches will the ideas be translated into detailed designs. At an early stage your architect can help you define a range of costs or options for your project. Your architect can also help you find and brief other consultants who may be needed - a structural engineer or a quantity surveyor, for example.

A vital part of the service is to advise on statutory controls and procedures which might apply to your project. As a client or building owner, you are obliged to comply with legislation concerning town and country planning, Building Regulations, health and safety in design and construction and, where relevant, party walls. These are all matters on which your architect can help and advise. The architect will also deal with the various authorities on your behalf, which can often be time- consuming and stressful.

Preparing to build
With planning approval in place, your architect will prepare working drawings and technical specifications against which a number of builders can tender. When you have discussed the tenders and chosen a builder, your architect will recommend a form of building contract appropriate for your project.

Work in Progress
Your architect can monitor the builder's work against the contract, particularly in terms of meeting the standards required, finishing by the completion date and not exceeding the contract price without authority.

How much does it cost?
You can select all or part of an architect's service. If you want only an hour's general advice, that is all you will pay for. If you need just the detailed drawings, or want the scheme to be guided to the planning permission stage and no further, that is fine too. You can select the precise services you need from standard appointment documents.

Can an architect save you money?
Yes. As part of the full professional service your architect will explore the most efficient use of space, specify the most appropriate materials and finishes, be sensitive to environmental or other factors important to you, seek operational economy and consider such matters as a building's life cycle costs and potential for changes of use. The initial outlay for a building project often seems formidable but good design and planning can bring considerable benefits and added value in the long term.

Working out the bill
Depending on the size and complexity of the project, architectural fees for the full service should come to between 5% and 15% of the total building cost. A simple building which requires less attention to detail will usually attract a smaller percentage than a residential building. An existing or historic building requiring greater time and expertise may attract higher fees.

Finding the right architect for the job
Choose an architect whose previous work you like. Listen to recommendations from friends and neighbours. Ask to see a portfolio of work, or to visit finished buildings. Above all talk to your intended architect. It is important to ensure that you are compatible, that your architect listens to what you say and that you respect each other's views. He or she must convince you both of their creativity and their ability to get things done.

Appointing your architect
A good working relationship between architect and client is crucial to the success of a project and should be firmly secured by an agreement that clearly defines services, costs and procedures. The RIBA Code of Professional Conduct requires architects to define and record the terms of any agreement they enter into to provide professional services.