Do I need an architect?

Do I need an architect?

Design by DMVF Architects, photo by Ruth Maria Murphy.

I’ve filed this under ‘Architect’s Tips’ but this is my (biggest and most important) tip! 

‘Do I need an architect?’ This is probably the question I am asked most so I will give you a clear and precise answer: Yes.

If you’re doing any sort of structural design work then yes, you need an architect. Yes, even if your brother-in-law’s cousin is an engineer/quantity surveyor/brickie and has built an extension with her bare hands. In fact, especially if your brother-in-law’s cousin is an engineer/quantity surveyor/brickie and has built an extension with her bare hands.

Your architect will navigate the entire project, from design to planning, from tendering to snagging. They will make the best use of your space and will find design solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had. Your architect is the person you will rely on throughout the project for advice and moral support, and is the one who will basically talk you down from the ledge when you’re standing in a pile of rubble, looking at a hole in the roof that you’re pretty sure was not in the plans.

Many people imagine that an architect simply draws up plans and then their work is done – that’s what I thought. Knowing a few architects, I realised that they trained for at least seven years but I never really thought about what they learned in the same amount of time it takes to become a doctor. It turns out they know all about design, engineering, building, materials, planning, regulations, tendering, compliance, project management and most importantly, people management. And they’ve been through the entire process many times before.

If your budget allows, then you should get yourself a good architect to manage the whole project and you will cut your workload by 90 per cent. But what about the cost? Fees are negotiated on an individual basis depending on the location, scale, complexity and site conditions, and can often add up. However, the cost of inexperience can be so much more. It can lead to design mistakes and administration errors, and poor personnel management can mean delays that result in a far greater overspend. Also, your architect will have a relationship with tradespeople and suppliers, which may be of benefit to you.

The other way in which your architect will prove their worth is by undertaking regular site visits to monitor and inspect the work, and to keep on top of your builder’s progress. This is the sort of clout and background that no individual client will have, regardless of how confident they are about managing the build.

If you just can’t justify the additional cost or if you are just making some small changes to your home then it is still worth asking an architect to come and look at your home and advise you on your options. Some will make an initial visit free of charge but it can also be valuable to pay for some advice to get you started. Another option is to book a consultation through the charity-driven RIAI Simon Open Door initiative or the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) and PLACE Ask an Architect week. For a relatively small donation, you will get an hour with an architect.

If you decide to make any structural changes to your home then do get an architect to draw up plans, even if they are not going to oversee the build. All the renovations I’ve seen that don’t quite work share one feature – they were not designed by architects. Use your budget wisely and don’t skimp on professional advice in favour of furniture or fittings that can be added at a later stage.

So how do you find a good architect? A personal recommendation is always best – ask your family, friends, colleagues and online acquaintances. Look at the recommended architect’s website for photos or visit the finished product, if possible, to get a feel for the style and quality of their work. The RIAI website has a directory of registered architects in the Republic of Ireland, as does the RSUA website for Northern Ireland. Houzz also has a large directory of professionals with photos of their work.

If you find an architect whose work you like, call and organise a visit to your home to get a feel for their design ideas and to see if they match with your own. Remember, you will be working closely with this person for many months so make sure you are comfortable with everything. Once you’ve found someone you like, ask for references so you can talk to people they’ve worked with. The key phrase is ‘made it all so easy’ – if you get that feedback, you’re onto a winner.