Your architect plays a vital role in positioning your planning application for success and of the costs involved their fees make up a significant portion. Quite simply, it's important to get it right. Firstly, to work with the right practice and secondly to communicate with them and work effectively to produce the desired outcome.
For this short piece, I set out to speak to two architects, Duncan Gunn, Director at Gunn Associates and Matthew (Mags) Margetts founder of EDable Architecture to understand where we, as a business could improve our processes and to share some insights and practical tips for others about to commence the planning process.
There were a number of key themes and some excellent advice that really stood out.
The Importance of the Briefing Process
This is the most crucial stage to get right, oftentimes the success of the project rides on it. Usually led by the architect, using their experience and expertise, the aim is to extract the relevant information from you, but there's still a lot you can do to make this process as effective as possible.
Duncan Gunn, Director at Gunn Associates suggests arriving prepared for a strong conversation about the brief, arming yourself with a crib sheet containing your notes, needs and aspirations. Referring to this phase as a collaborative and iterative process he emphasises that an open conversation allows a skillful architect to add value and creativity within the parameters you present them.
A complex layer to this process is that the brief often evolves, it's rarely static and it's important to be mindful of that. In Mags', founder of EDable architecture, experience making the design process as inclusive as possible and showing the design in 3D early on, allows the discussion to open up around both the strengths and weaknesses of the design. This is an opportunity to challenge the architect as well as to be challenged by them.
Once you’re clear on the brief Mags recommends sharing it with your architect. You should then see this referenced in any reports or notes the architect prepares for you. It’s good practice for alterations to be recorded and shared in some way. As the project progresses, it can be hard to remember when and why something changed.
Once you’re clear and content with your choice of architect, Mags highlights the importance of appointing them formally. Whether by email or letter an architect will need to clarify the scope of their services, their fee and the terms of their appointment in writing, which will help clarify exactly what’s included in their fee.
Expectation and Risk
You do need to manage your expectations though, working with architects is an expensive component to any planning application and it takes time, but Duncan has found that understanding where client's expectations and aspirations sit within this triangle is incredibly helpful.
Gunn Associates Triangle of Development
Cheap + Quick = Won't be the best quality
High Quality + Quick = Going to be expensive
High Quality + Cheap = It'll take time
Simply put, it's near impossible to have the highest quality, at the lowest price, delivered yesterday - a compromise is inevitable. But, identifying your priorities early allows your architect to work with you to deliver a scheme closely aligned to them.
Know your Exit
Alongside knowing your priorities it's vital to know your exit and where the project sits within your business / lifeplan. Is it for rental, sale, is it a portfolio piece to attract investment or are you applying for planning to sell the site on? Both Duncan and Mags talk about how your architect will approach the project differently depending on which of these exits you pursue. This illustrates how important it is to be clear up front.
The benefits of working with an architecture practice that offers fixed price project fees are many. Not only does it allow you to incorporate the exact cost into your appraisal, it's also in everyone's interests to get it right, not to over-complicate the process and to be crystal clear on the outputs.
The fixed price is calculated from the scope of the brief; the size and the scale of the project, from which the practice can calculate how much time is needed.
At times, a different fee structure such as a percentage of construction costs or a day/hourly rate may be the right route to go down, Mags talks about the need for trust if you're pursuing this course. Duncan similarly emphasised doing your own due diligence to ensure you're working with a professional practice.
There's no doubt you want to select an architect who knows about buildability. Even with a tight budget Duncan believes that an architect with this knowledge will be able to create a selling point, something as simple as the positioning of a window could be enough to create a 'wow' factor.
Too Many Cooks
Managing multiple stakeholders in any project is tough and centers around effective communication. In Mags' opinion nothing beats meeting in person to understand the different personalities and the position they approach the project from. His best experiences have come when stakeholders and clients are honest and comfortable about their motives and what they want to get out of the project; what's the bigger picture. Accepting that you may not be able to have it all, priortising openly and working iteratively seems to be the key to a successful partnership.
Huge thanks to both Duncan and Mags for their time and sharing their knowledge.