Architect FAQs

Here’s a list of our Top 10 Architect FAQs

Take a read of our Architect FAQs which may help in your decision process when it comes to choosing an architect for your project.

How difficult is it to get planning permission?

This is possibly the most asked question, so a significant one in our top 10 Architect FAQs.  Anyone involved in architecture and building work today realises the headache which is applying for planning permission. It is possible to do some work on your house without applying for planning permission. This is technically called permitted development. However, as most of the houses we work on are Listed or are situated in a specially designated area this is often not possible.  If you live in a conservation area, a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a World Heritage Site or the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads then any work on your house will require planning permission. The planning permission process is a key part of our service and is becoming quite challenging.
On complicated building schemes we will often work with a planning consultant. To give you an idea here is a list of supplementary reports which may be asked to be submitted to support a planning application:
  • Biodiversity Survey/Protected Species Report; Topographical Survey;
  • Tree Survey and Impact Assessment;
  • Flood Risk Assessment;
  • Noise Assessment;
  • Foul Sewage Assessment;
  • Structural Survey;
  • Archaeological Assessment;
  • Heritage Assessment;
  • Lighting Assessment;
  • Open Space Assessment;
  • Landscape Assessment;
  • Transport Assessment;
  • Water Quality/Water Framework Directive Assessment;
  • Crime Impact Study;
  • Other assessments related to specific features within or close to the site (e.g. power or railway lines

Another thing to consider is that there are a range of planning permission types which you may need to apply for, which one is relevant to your project is dependent on your house and its location. You can find out more from our blog here. 

More information can be found at:

How do I select an architect?

The client architect relationship is complex and will vary depending on the nature of the project in hand. On smaller projects (less than £1M construction value) track record or constructional expertise is unlikely to be a key determinant so the main determinant is likely to be sympathetic results delivered in the past and chemical alignment.

What design work do JWA undertake?

In the residential sector we create designs for replacement houses (often replacing poor quality 1930s or 1970s houses with larger houses built to a high standard with state of the art energy efficient / green installations); we refurbish older or listed properties, again often upgrading heating systems or improving thermal performance and refitting bathrooms and kitchens; we remodel older properties creating larger open plan living spaces in place of smaller cellular rooms typical of – say – a Victorian layout; and we design extensions to create more and often lighter airy space where older properties may be lacking in good natural light or stuffy.

How do you approach sustainable design and ‘green features’?

We maintain a constant focus on sustainability and green issues. This is partly implicit in ensuring compliance with modern building regulations which require high efficiency heating and water use systems and partly because we genuinely want the buildings we design to work as efficiently and intelligently as possible. We often design installations which go well beyond the basic regulatory standards and wherever possible factor in orientation to take advantage of passive solar gain, for instance. Another key consideration is sourcing materials and tradesmen available locally to the site rather than shipping in materials or products from overseas. We are continually researching new techniques in manufacturing – most recently northern swedish steel products made from steel manufactured using hydrogen and powered by hydroelectricity.

How much of your team’s time do we need?

At the outset we will give you a fee proposal that will give you a fixed base cost to take you through briefing, concept design and planning application where appropriate; we will also give you indicative costs for post planning services. Once we are through the planning process we will review and either confirm or adjust our previous fee rates for post planning services – a lot can change and evolve in the course of the journey from concept design through to planning consent. It is up to the client whether to continue with us post planning. Some clients have a trusted builder they have worked with before and only need a planning consent, others want a coordinated structural scheme and building regulations conditional approval, while others want a full design service and onsite contract administration and project management. It is a matter of what suits the specific needs and circumstances of the client and and the project.

What are your fees and how are they calculated?

There is no standard charging rate, although we do work out our time input based on standard time rates. Many factors will influence the right fee for the job; for instance refurbishment takes more time than new build as we have to spend time working out how to fit in with what is already existing. Working on listed buildings can take even longer as we have to work hard to find solutions which do not disturb historic building fabric. In a larger scale project there are economies of scale, whereas a smaller project may require a lot of time to be spent on getting a small detail right.

What will my project cost to build?

Another question that is difficult to answer until the design is fairly well advanced. At an early stage we will look at floor area building rates and give a general idea for a cost plan based on say two or three recently completed projects of similar size and complexity. But in the course of early design development the clients thinking may evolve and the scope and ambition of the project may increase (or, very occasionally, decrease); in addition unknown factors may emerge such as difficult ground conditions which may require complex groundworks or foundations. But usually by the time we have frozen a scheme at planning stage we will have a fairly robust idea of likely project cost. We can always recommend a quantity surveyor who can draw up a detailed cost plan at an early stage if the client wants to be sure that a project will stack up financially

How long will my project take from start to finish?

Difficult to answer for similar reasons to those set out above, but typically we find it takes about four to six months to work out and agree a design to planning application stage, another two to three months to negotiate and agree planning permission, two or three months to develop the structural design, produce the construction documentation and agree the price with a contractor. Once on site even a simple residential refurbishment project is unlikely to take less than four months, whereas a complex listed building refurbishment with an extension may take 10 to 12 months on site.

What is your design style?

We do not have one particular style in which we work, although there are certain themes that recur often in the work we do, such as axial design, balanced composition, and considered textural use of materials. We are very happy to work with traditional craftsmen on the restoration of a listed oak framed structure, the replacement of leadwork on a medieval roof or the restoration of an elaborate fibrous plaster cornice or timber panelling. But we are just as comfortable working in a cutting edge contemporary style using glass and steel to make breath taking, sharp modern designs that explore the limits of the physical properties of modern materials. The right style for the job is to be found in an assessment of the clients ambition, the context in which we are working, and constraints of budget and conservation.

Where do you work?

The last on our Architect FAQs list is “Where do you work?”

We are based in West Sussex and work throughout the South Downs National Park, in Hampshire, East Sussex and Surrey and coastal South East UK.

From the news


Planning permission granted for new build house in SDNP

14th May 2024
James Wells Architects has been granted planning permission for the extensive transformation of a Victorian cottage situated in Guildford.

Planning Permission Granted For Guildford Cottage Transformation

16th February 2024
James Wells Architects has been granted planning permission for the extensive transformation of a Victorian cottage situated in Guildford.

When do you need planning permission?

9th November 2023
This is the most commonly posed question to James when talking about new project enquiries “When do you need planning permission?”. There are a range of planning permission types which…