Engaging an Architect
What an architect can bring to your project
An RIBA Chartered Practice can help you realise your ambitions and guide you through the design and
construction process. Architects provide a service that extends well beyond producing a set of drawings
– they can handle the paperwork, bring value for money, imagination and peace of mind to your
project, whilst keeping it on track and on budget.
Value for money
Architects are professional problem-solvers. Their experience and insight can help stretch what can be
achieved within your budget and add value to your project. They can suggest new ways of utilising
space and light, enrich the palette of materials, finishes or fittings, find a builder at the right price, and
propose deign solutions that will reduce your overall running costs whilst maximising the energy efficiency
of your home. At a fraction of the cost of your project, an architect’s fees will prove a sound investment.
An architect can lift your project out of the ordinary and help you achieve your aspirations and vision.
They are trained designers who will explore your needs and desires and find inventive and practical
ways of enhancing your living environment.
Peace of mind
When you hire an architect, you have a professional on your side who knows the construction industry
inside out. You are working with someone who has undertaken seven years of architectural training – no
other building professional is trained in design and construction to such a high level of expertise.
The term “Architect” is a protected title and UK law requires those that use it to be registered with
the Architects Registration Board (ARB). *Only architects registered with the RIBA can be called
“RIBA Chartered Members”.
Architectural practices which meet certain eligibility criteria, including requirements for the ratio of
chartered architects employed in the practice, can register with the RIBA Chartered Practice scheme.
“RIBA Chartered Practice” is a mark of excellence and an assurance of the practice’s quality, design
excellence and service. There are more than 3000 RIBA Chartered Practices in the UK, from sole
practitioners to large practices, working all over the world. By appointing an RIBA Chartered Practice
you can be assured that they have been accredited in meeting key quality standards such as
appropriate Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII), an effective quality management system, a
comprehensive health and safety policy and a sound environmental policy.
What an architect can do for you
An RIBA Chartered Practice will provide you with much more than just drawings, they have the
experience to see your project successfully through to completion. They can oversee the design, assist
with the approvals process, manage the build and keep track of your budget.
Consulting an architect at the earliest stage will allow them to get a real feel for your needs so that together
you can establish a clear brief and a realistic budget. This will help reduce the overall design costs and
help ensure the project comes in on time and on budget whilst identifying and reducing any potential
problems early on.
Developing the design
Your architect will work with you to develop designs that will interpret your ideas imaginatively, maximise
your investment, ensure your project is cost effective and can help add real value to your home. An architect
will come up with a range of ideas for you to discuss, develop and refine together.
The Approvals Process
Your architect can help with the approvals required before your project can go ahead, including
preparation of applications to the local authority for planning consent (where needed) and for
Building Regulations plans approval (which covers the functional requirements of buildings to safeguard
the health and safety of the people using them, energy conservation and access and convenience
for people with disabilities).
Guiding you through the construction phase your architect can help you select suitable builders, obtain
appropriate prices for construction, monitor progress and standards, supervise safety on site, liaise with
other specialists and oversee the construction through to successful completion.
How to find the right architect
All building projects are different, every client, every site and therefore every brief is unique. There is
no single solution to your project and there is a range of architects able to offer their own approach.
Selecting the right architect is one of the most significant decisions you can make – the RIBA can
help you make this decision.
So how do you find the right one?
Before you start looking, consider the demands of the project you are undertaking and ask yourself
a few questions:
• What are the challenges of your project?
• How much do you want to spend?
• How important is it for the practice to be local
to you and your project?
• What specific experience or areas of specialisms
would you like your architect to have?
• Is there a specific approach or philosophy of
design (e.g. traditional, contemporary, green etc)?
The RIBA offers different ways to select your
architect, such as:
• Online and printed directory of RIBA
• RIBA Client Services Referrals
Setting the design brief
A brief is your wish-list, it will cover everything an architect needs to know about what you want from
your project. A well-written design brief is essential to success. It should be clear and unambiguous,
setting out key requirements, outlining the vision and communicating your aims and aspirations.
The brief should describe the main function of the finished project; outline motivation and expectation;
design direction; establish a single point of contact and set a realistic timeframe and budget.
One of an architect’s most important skills and roles is helping to formulate the brief. They can point out
what is possible in terms of cost and design, asking you questions and making suggestions. Your
architect can be well placed to help identify the best and worst spatial characteristics of your home and
to offer ideas that will enhance your living space.
Your contribution at this stage is vital and will involve a number of discussions which is essential for the
success of a project. The brief will form the basis of the professional contract you sign with your architect.
The Client/Architect contract
Once you have selected your architect, the responsibilities of each party and the services to be
provided by the architect should be set down in a formal contract, usually referred to as an agreement.
When you have work done to your home you are acting in your private capacity, i.e. as a consumer,
which comes under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. Your architect will
discuss these issues with you so the terms of your agreement are fully understood and “individually
negotiated in good faith”.
The agreement will record details of your project and services to be provided; calculation of fees and
expenses; confirmation of appointment of any other consultants; the architect’s insurance cover and
period of liability; and dispute resolution procedures.
Youmay find the RIBA Domestic Agreement 2010 will be suitable for this purpose, or for very small
projects the agreement may be set out in a selfcontained letter of appointment. This states, in
plain, simple terms, the basic responsibilities of the architect, which include:
• to perform the services required using
reasonable skill and care
• to act as your representative in certain instances
• to advise you on compliance with certain
• to keep you updated on progress and on issues
affecting quality, cost and time
• not to make any material changes to the services
or the agreed design without your consent,
except in an emergency
• not to sub-contract any obligation under the
agreement without your consent.
For your part, the client should be prepared to:
• advise on the relative priorities of requirements
and to provide necessary and accurate information
• take decisions and respond promptly to
questions asked by your architect
• pay the fees, expenses and disbursements
due and VAT where applicable
It is important before you start your project that you are aware of the approvals that will be needed
from the local authority for Planning and Building Regulations, as well as legislation that might affect
your plans, such as party wall regulations. Your architect can guide you through matters as
they develop the design. They will also be able to assist you in making the necessary submission
for approvals and handle negotiations with the statutory bodies.
The building contract
This is a vital document – the legally binding commitment between your builder and you as the
client to deliver your project. Your architect can administer this contract on your behalf.
It is not uncommon for building projects to contain hidden surprises – structural difficulties such as
unexpected ground conditions, for example – that can have an impact on the design and the building
cost. The best way of preparing yourself is an adequate written contract, designed to manage
such events fairly from each party’s point of view.
Fees and expenses
Architect’s fees are a matter for negotiation:
there is no “standard” or “recommended” basis for calculation. The fee will reflect the degree of
personal service and bespoke design that your project involves, and will be affected by the
complexity of the project. For instance, projects involving house extensions and refurbishment can
be significantly more resource intensive than new builds and the repair and conservation of historic
buildings even more complex leading to fees being proportionately higher.
An architect may quote their fee as a percentage of the building cost or as a lump sum. In cases
where the scope of their work is harder to predict, or for services such as feasibility studies or those
not relating to construction work, the quote can consist of an hourly or daily rate together with an
estimate of the time required.
These will generally be added to the fee and will be charged for items such as the cost of travel,
copying drawings and documents, and for making planning or Building Regulations applications.
An architect who is retained for the entire project will typically invoice about one third of the fee
during the design stage, the same at the tender stage, and the balance during and following
construction. Variable invoices may be issued monthly, or regular payments can be budgeted
over a period.
Being a good client
Good architecture needs collaboration and dialogue from the outset – you have to be sure that you have
chosen an architect whose work you like and that you are able to work with. Be ready to add your own
views and banish the misplaced idea that your architect will impose their own tastes and ideas on
the project. On the contrary, your architect’s aim will be to follow your brief closely and reflect the
aspirations it contains.