How do I use an architect?

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions when appointing or working with an architect

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How much does it cost? 

Architects' fees can be based on a percentage of the total construction cost or time expended, or can be a lump sum. You can select all or part of an architect's service, from an initial design discussion through to the final delivery of the project on site.

How do I select the right architect? 

Clients often appoint an architect who is known to them or who has been recommended, or whose work they admire. This can be a sound initial response, but a more structured process of selection is desirable where matching requirements with the range of skills and services available has to be more precise.

Call each firm on your shortlist, describe your project and ask if they are available to accommodate it. If so, request literature that outlines the firm's qualifications and experience. Ask to see a portfolio of work, or to visit finished buildings, and visit their websites. Above all, talk to your intended architect. It is important to ensure that you are compatible. Your architects must convince you both of their creativity and their ability to get things done. 

If you need help, contact us on 020 7307 3700 or cs@riba.org.

How do I write the brief?

The ultimate success of your project depends on the quality of your brief, i.e. your ability to describe to your architect clearly the requirements and functions of your building, and proposed methods of operation and management. It is wise to ask your architect to assist you in preparing a final brief. Your architect will need to know:

  • Your aims
  • Your design style: are you looking for a design in keeping with the existing building? Do you want a contemporary or high-tech design? Are you concerned about having a sustainable or ecological design?
  • Your reasons for embarking on this building project: what activities are intended for it?
  • Your authority: who will be making the decisions about the designs, costs and day-to-day matters when the project is underway?
  • Your overall expectations: what do you hope to achieve by this project - a more comfortable place for you to live in?

At the initial meetings, your architect will listen carefully to your intentions and create a brief, addressing not only design aesthetics, but also the function of the building. Timings and budgets for your project will be defined at an early stage and only after you have approved initial sketches will the ideas be developed further.

How do I appoint an architect?

A good working relationship between architect and client is crucial to the success of any project. You and your architect should discuss and agree on the scope and cost of architectural services before the project begins and ensure that the agreement is in writing. 

To help clients who are embarking on smaller building projects, the RIBA publishes two forms of agreement:

  • Domestic Project Agreement - suitable for use where the client requires work to his or her home
  • Concise Agreement - suitable for a professional commission or construction project with simple contract terms where the client is acting for business or commercial purposes

For clients who are looking at larger building projects, the RIBA publishes the:

  • Standard Agreement - suitable for any professional commission or project where detailed contract terms are necessary. It can apply to most procurement methods, including design and build.
 All the agreements can be obtained from RIBA Bookshops

Will I need planning permission?  

Your architect will help you 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 approval. 

Building Regulations cover the functional requirements of buildings to safeguard the health and safety of people using them, energy efficiency and equality access. 

Your architect will advise you on all approvals needed, but if you would like to find out more please visit the Government’s Planning Portal website http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/

Will I need a RIBA Client Adviser?

On commercial projects there are often a number of people who need to be involved in decision making. Many organisations find it helpful to establish a committee to include all the people who need to be involved. However you structure your decision-making process, make sure that one person is designated as the point of contact between your organisation and the architect. If you are thinking about appointing an RIBA Client Adviser, who can perform this role, contact us on 
020 7307 3700 or cs@riba.org.

What form of building contract will I need? 

With planning approval in place, your architect can recommend an appropriate form of building contract and will prepare drawings with technical specifications that describe your agreed proposals, for selected builders to cost.

How do I track work in progress?  

Your architect can, if you require, monitor the builder's work in terms of meeting the standards required, finishing on time and not exceeding the contract figure.

How do I find out about competitive selection processes?  

The RIBA has a dedicated team that specialises in managing competitive selection processes. Competitions are a highly successful procurement model; they help prioritise good design and bring the highest quality of thinking to a client’s project. A guidance document containing detailed information can be found here  http://competitions.architecture.com/requestform.aspx 

For more information visit  www.architecture.com/competitions or contact RIBA Competitions on +44(0113) 203 1490 or email riba.competitions@riba.org

What if I need more information?  

The Client Services team is here to help you with your project.

We can offer you advice and guidance about working with an architect through to drawing up shortlists and running competitive selection processes on your behalf.

If you have any questions please contact us on 020 7307 3700 or email clientservices@riba.org.

Listed below are some useful publications that may be
useful to you:

Working with an architect for your home (PDF 545kb)
An explanation of why and how to work with an architect whether you are planning to build a new house, to alter or extend your present home, to employ a builder or just do it yourself. 

Client Conversations (PDF 1.6mb)
This document provides guidance from some successful clients to others who may be embarking on new projects, whether you want to construct a new building, expand your current facility, or adapt an existing structure.

A client’s guide to engaging an architect 
If you need to know about engaging the services of an architect, this RIBA guide is for you. Straightforward and completely up to date, it sets out everything that you as a client – whether for domestic, commercial, small or large projects – needs to be aware of.

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