The common stereotype is that architects ‘draw pretty pictures’ of buildings. That may be true – the presentation of information is important, but it only scratches the surface of our role.
Our output includes both drawn and written information. The drawings are in reality diagrams that record a complex and many layered process of decision making.
A full service architect will bring their experience, training, knowledge and contacts to lead a design and delivery process. Every project is different and the service will adapt to suit the circumstances, but the following describes a typical project.
The design process will start with an assessment of the site, its opportunities and constraints. It will then move on to gather information from the client – from lifestyle aspirations to budgetary considerations – to assimilate into a brief.
Consideration will then turn to legislative hurdles, predominantly planning, but may also include covenants, party wall, rights to light, utilities, fire safety, building regulations, health and safety, warranties, mortgaging and so on.
As these matters become clearer, the architect will also assemble the team of specialists that will be required – from structural engineer to arboriculturist, building control and party wall surveyor. This design team will be led and coordinated by the architect.
This growing body of knowledge begins to provide the context for the design, such that initial drawing work can commence, providing an idea for initial massing and styling concepts.
These initial concept designs will then be circulated between client, architect and design team to test and refine the ideas. This process often includes several options and iterations, evolving in response to feedback. This is an essential part of the design process and underpins any successful project.
As the design becomes more resolved, the drawings become firmer and ready for the statutory scrutiny, starting with planning. The planning process is a complex and haphazard game. There may be more than one cycle required to achieve consent, especially if the project is pushing the boundaries. The architect will lead this process, negotiating with the local planning authority and advising on the best approach to take.
Once clear of planning, the rest of the statutory matters are generally resolvable, with the appropriate technical solution. This is where the level of drawn information steps up a gear, to include detailed construction drawings, schedules and specifications.
This package of information is used to tender to prospective contractors. The process of tender is coordinated by the architect, who will often have a shortlist of contractors who they know to be capable and competent for the project.
The appointment of the contractor is an agreement between client and contractor, but orchestrated by the architect. Most building contracts will name a Contract Administrator whose role is to certify the various contractual stages and valuations. This role is usually fulfilled by the architect.
Written by Jason Harris, Practice Principle of T-Space Architects