Opinion – Do Architect’s Add Value After Planning?

We recently gained planning approval for a whole house refurbishment and extension in Islington. The chemistry with the client was brilliant and the scheme that we gained approval hit all the right notes for them and us.

Once planning had been approved, the next stage in our process is to start preparing working drawings, where all the nitty gritty details of the project are interrogated in more detail. Every wall, floor and ceiling is discussed to decide how and what it will be constructed from. Materials are tested and physical and 3d models built to really understand how the space will feel and be used. We really enjoy this part of the design process!

Unfortunately on this occasion, due to limits on the clients budget and ever increasing construction costs we couldn’t agree a fee to continue working on the project together. The client took the decision to proceed with a competent contractor and a project manager with an interior design background. Whilst we always like to see projects we have worked on through to their completion, sometimes for one reason or another things don’t work out in this way. We wish the client all the best and hope their project turns out brilliantly.

But this experience got us to thinking about what value Architects in general bring to the detail and construction phases of a project? Like most things there are pros and cons to using an architect for the full scope of a project. Here are a few of the key areas we identified where we think can make a difference:


As always, the more information you have about something the easier it is to be accurate. And the earlier that a design is nailed down the easier it is for it to be explained, measured and quantified. That is why it is best to agree the design of a scheme before construction starts and it has been sent to contractors for pricing. From a contractors point of view, if they are trying to price for a project but are faced with a list of unknowns, it is much more likely that they will put in provisional sums that cover their costs and allow some leeway in case the end product ends up being more complicated than anticipated. Combine a few provisional sums and these can greatly alter the end value of a project, increasing costs and creating potential stress and anxiety for a client when they realise the project is going to cost 10 or 20% more than they anticipated.

Removing provisional sums from a contractors pricing is therefore of the utmost importance to avoid these kind of price changes. As Architects we feel we can assist with pricing for a project by agreeing all details well in advance so they can be bottomed out and their costs fixed.

If you choose to work directly with a contractor it is best to agree all details well in advance to avoid these kind of problems, and this includes all finishes, lighting, sanitaryware and appliances. Having a full and detailed list of exactly what you want to end up with will allow the contractor to fully understand what will be involved in completing each task and therefore accurately pricing for it.

Overall Composition

As architects we are always looking at the relationship between elements within a space, room, facade or composition. How the different elements within a room, space or composition interact and talk to each other can, we think make the difference between a good project and a great project. This is where we like to think about the project as a whole and equally the sum of its individual parts. Once we’ve set out the overall design intent, one needs to work backwards to deliver its execution.

For example, we are fascinated by geometry in all its forms and how connecting them can help to tell a story about a space or bring meaning to it. If one wanted the junction of a rooflight and the piece of joinery to align exactly, then knowing the exact measurements of both elements would become super important.

Without working backwards from the final measurements it can be challenging to execute this, let alone trying to explain it to a contractor on site! We find the simplest and most understandable way to explain these types of relationships is to draw them in both two and three dimensions. This can be clearly relayed to the design and construction team so it can be executed. If you are working without an Architect, the make sure you clearly explain what the original design intent is so that it is fully understood by the design team.

It really comes down to whether the types of compositions that architects try to create matter to you or not. Sometimes they matter more to the Architect than anyone else!

Approvals, Contracts and Negotiations

Having a design professional on your side to help you liaise with engineers, surveyors and contractors can make the whole process of construction a much more enjoyable experience. Those in the construction industry do like to use construction terminology that is quite difficult to understand. An architect can act as your translator in this regard, and ensure that whatever is being proposed is what you will actually want in terms of an end result. A lot of problems on site can originate from mis-communication which is something the building industry as a whole needs to work on. Both clearly articulating what you want to end up with and understanding what you are being told is therefore super important. Some clients really enjoy this process whilst others run for the hills so it really is up to you as to whether you want someone there to help along the way.

Construction Standards

Its one thing to design a beautiful building but quite another to construct it. When it comes to the construction phase an architect can ensure that the work being carried out is being done in accordance with the drawings / design intent. Spotting potential problems early on can avoid work having to be changed or rectified which saves time on site in the long run.