What does an Architect do?

If you’re doing an architectural project, it’s very likely that you will at least talk to an architect at some point or another in the design process. However, the role and level of involvement of the architect can be different from one development to another depending on the size and client’s choices. If you’re wondering exactly what the role of the architect is, how much and what you should ask from them, here’s a little guide on what architects do.

What is the role of an architect?

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Very simply, an architect is a person responsible for designing a building and ensuring it is built correctly. The architect’s role is to advise and help its client with a project the best they can thanks to expert knowledge. This can be anything from:

  • helping to determine the feasibility of a project

  • producing a design as detailed as needed –from conceptual to technical

  • advising through the planning and building regulation processes

  • helping find contractors

  • managing the construction phase.


Do I need an architect?

Lots of renovators find themselves asking ‘do I need an architect?’ < certainly read this post which explains exactly whether you do or don’t. In the United Kingdom, only qualified individuals can call themselves architects, but everyone has the right to design a building. This means legally, unlike in other European countries, you are in no way obliged to get an architect involved in your project. You could save 10-15% of the construction cost by doing it all on your own.

  • Do you know how to draw conventional architectural drawings? Or do you know someone who could do it for you?

  • Are you confident enough to choose contractors on your own?

  • Do you have the time and energy to manage the construction process?

  • Are you happy with something prefabricated/predesigned or do you prefer something more unique?

What about planning permission?

If you already have a very precise idea of what your project will look like, and don’t feel like you need design advice, you can decide to submit a planning application yourself. Usually the drawings needed for planning aren’t too detailed, all you need is a simple computer program to draw them up. You could also hire an architectural technician/technologist or an architect student to help you draw up your plans. They are usually cheaper than an architect.

You could also consider applying for a pre-planning application to get advice from your local planning officer on your project before you submit planning. This usually has a cost, but although prices vary, it is usually much cheaper than getting architectural services from an architect.

How do I choose an architect?

What do you need?

Before you choose your architect, be clear with yourself what you expect from them. Do you want full architectural services – from initial concept to completion – or do you just want some advice? For example, if you’re just looking for planning advice you might search for someone local to your area who is familiar with the specificity of your local planning officer.

When do you need one?

This will also impact the point of the project you decide to hire them. For full architectural services, the earlier the better as the architect will take control of the project from the start. If you’re needing help for tendering (making construction drawings and finding contractors) then right after you obtain planning permission is a good point.

How do you find one?

Remember the following points when you are searching:

  • Get quotes from several practices to make sure you’re not overpaying

  • Ask around friends and family if they know someone who to recommend. You can also look at the Royal Institution of British Architects’ recommendation service that can match you up with appropriate practices based on your project.

  • Try to meet them in person or via zoom, usually the first meeting is free, and ask as many questions as possible: how do their fees work? How do they handle conflict? Have they done similar projects before? Etc.

  • Check out their social media and websites to get a sense of the practice’s aesthetic to see if it matches yours

Does an architect design the inside of a building?

Whether an architect designs the inside of a building ultimately depends on you and your architect. At the beginning of a project, you should agree on the architect’s scope of work and write it all down in a contract. Some architects like to have full control over a design and choose everything from the building form down to doorknobs, whereas others prefer to let their clients decide. Similarly, some clients enjoy not having to worry about finishes when others prefer the control and customisation.

An architect may design the internal layout and suggest some furniture arrangement, however more detailed work could cost extra or can be sourced from a specialist such as an interior designer. As previously mentioned, it is important that you get the scope of any deliverables documented before commencing the project to avoid confusion later down the line.


How involved are architects with the construction process?

Again, this depends on your agreement and contract. Traditionally, an architect would be very involved in the construction process in order to make sure their design is followed. However, it has become more and more common for an architect to hand over their design to a contractor that would then be in charge or running construction. This can be a cheaper solution has you are saving time on avoiding back and forth communication during construction between the architect and the builder.

If you wish to you can also decide to manage the construction phase yourself. Be mindful this is a time and energy consuming process (just watch any Grand Designs episode) but it can be very rewarding as you gain control over your project. One tip is to make your contractor responsible for obtaining building regulations compliance.

What extra charges might we come across down the line?

Usually, architects fees are based on the RIBA plan of work, which breaks down the construction phase from conception to use. It is usual for the architect to provide its client a schedule of service along with a fee proposal that would detail everything included in the fee. Anything that isn’t covered by this document would be charged extra. However, an architect (or any professional) has to get its client consent before performing these “extras”. So you cannot be charged without being asked first. These extras could include:

  • The design of bespoke furniture

  • Additional 3D images of the scheme

  • Landscaping

  • Interior design (see our post on using an architect for interior design)

With or without an architect, get some help.

Ultimately as a renovator you have ultimate control and so getting closer to your vision before you get too involved in your project is crucial.

If you’re interested in joining our self-paced renovation course + renovation community please visit our renovation course page and be sure to grab our free Survivor’s Guide to Renovating for some useful renovation tips before you get started.