Here in our first Q&A our Marketing Director, Jo Scott asks James Wells Architects Director, James Wells about how to value good architecture? How can a client judge how much to spend on architectural services? Here we aim to respond to common questions which we are often asked when discussing a new project.
In simple terms how do architects charge for their time?
We estimate how much time it will take to meet the client and understand what they are looking for (often a tricky task!), consider the client’s brief carefully, work through a number of solutions, judge which might be best to develop, draw it up and test first responses. After that, we then draw up the design carefully to communicate potential solutions to the client. This is just the first step, but it is key to getting the rest of the process right. The client is about to invest tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it is essential to get the basics right before spending more time.
For each stage of the process we consider how much time to allocate depending on the complexity of the project and our judgement of an appropriate time to spend to get it right. Too little time and it might be poorly resolved, too much time will be unduly expensive for the client. It is always a balance, and we often underestimate the time we want to spend to get the best result. But we always stick to our original proposal, unless the client decides to change the brief and start down a new route.
What does that cost compare with?
The fee should relate to the likely construction cost of the end result. A smaller project can take the same time to consider and work through as a much bigger project, even more if the client is hoping to work within a tight budget. The challenge is that it might be difficult to reconcile the fee in relation to a small complicated scheme, but at the same time it cannot be rushed.
If a client is trying to choose between two architectural practices what should they think about when deciding who to work with?
You should choose the architect you feel is ‘right’ for you. This is unlikely to be the cheapest offer. Saving a few hundred or even a few thousand pounds at the beginning is a false economy if your investment of hundreds of thousands does not give you the result you hoped for.
What do you think when a new client says “another practice has quoted half the fee that you have quoted!”
I always think – have they considered your requirements carefully? There is always someone who can do a job for less money but it is a bit like choosing a restaurant – McDonalds will certainly cost less than Roux Fine Dining, they are not offering the same product or experience.
If you think you know what you want and you just need a drawing service to sketch up some drawings to submit with a planning application, then you probably do not need to go to the trouble and expense of engaging an architect. There are a number of CAD bureaux who can provide this service for a few hundred pounds; or these days you can even download an app and do it yourself.
If a client is looking at previous projects completed by an architect, how can they judge if it is good architecture?
It is one thing to look at photographs, another to actually visit and satisfy yourself about how a built project feels. Ideally you want to see a project that was finished two or three years ago – most completed work looks smart when it is newly finished, but only good quality construction stands up to the test of time. You need to ask yourself – how will I feel if the doors start to fall off the kitchen cupboards in a year’s time or if the wood flooring which was laid in a rush starts to lift?
This unique residence in the leafy heart of Little Venice won The Daily Telegraph British Homes – Best Interior Design in 2011. The scheme was an extensive refurbishment of a redundant furniture store in a Victorian coach house and dilapidated, glass roofed workshop behind. The house was also featured in World of Interiors, March 2012
The skills of a good architect are invaluable
However if your needs are complex and you find it difficult to envisage quite how to achieve what you want or you are anxious about design approach, cost implications or the type of construction best suited to your needs then the assistance of a good architect will be invaluable. This may prove to be a costly exercise, but if you are planning to spend a couple of hundred thousand pounds or more, you really need to know what you are taking on, as mistakes at this scale can be catastrophically expensive. At the same time a good architect may be able to help you see a simpler solution which may end up costing less than you originally budgeted.