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Choosing an architect

John’s House Pavilion by Bossley Architects, a 2015 Gisborne / Hawkes Bay Architecture Award winner

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A good working relationship with an architect is the vital ingredient for building project success.

When selecting an architect you should allow plenty of time for research so that the architect you choose has a design approach and practice philosophy that suits you. Personal recommendations are invaluable when choosing an architect. If your friends have used one, talk to them about their experiences. Their insights into the design and build process could help you plan your project.

Look online for things you like; architects’ websites often have comprehensive portfolios of work. Social media can also be helpful; many architects are on facebook, twitter, pinterest and/or instagram. (You’ll be able to find some through our social media channels at the bottom of the page.) Their accounts can help provide insights into the types of work they undertake – and construction photos can help you become more familiar with the stages of design and the building process.

If you use our Find an Architect tool, you can research architects in your region. When you have made a shortlist of architects whose work you like, touch base with them and discuss your project. Talk about your objectives and ask about their range of services, typical fees and how and when payments are made. Once you have decided who you want to work with, it’s time to begin an in-depth conversation.

Start preparing a brief, a wish list that should encompass both specific requirements and aspirations. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions – the design will be the result of the information you provide.

Typical questions will be about your motivations. Why are you embarking on this project? What are your expectations and what is your approximate budget? What are the ‘must-haves’? Stylistically, what do you like and dislike? You can ask your architect to write a reverse brief – their understanding of your needs – to make sure you're on the same page. Amend and clarify this document – but don’t hurry. Getting it right from the start saves time and helps ensure the project’s progression is smooth.

Over the succeeding weeks, the brief generally evolves as you and your architect focus on how you will use a space now and into the future. At the briefing stage, you should also have a clear understanding of your budget. Get feedback on this – your architect won’t be able to give you an exact cost but he or she should be able to provide a rough estimate based on past experience. It’s important you have a realistic idea of what you can achieve. If you don’t, your architect can help adjust your brief and maximise the design to suit. Depending on the type of project and the site, it’s also worth remembering there may also be a need for engineers or surveyors to become involved, which can affect the overall cost.

Architects are responsible for building design but are often involved throughout the duration of the project, handling project management and administration right through to interior or landscape design, defect checks and handover.

At the start of any project, before any drawings or specifications are prepared, you and your architect will define, in writing, the exact nature of the architect’s involvement. Your architect will outline the services they offer and seek an indication of how you want to engage them. Once you have decided, you will sign an Agreement for Architect’s Services that will outline the scope of work and services, how fees and costs are charged and any special considerations.

Write a brief

Your brief is your wish list – it should focus on what you want to achieve, specific requirements and aspirations.

Expect questions

Your architect will ask you a lot of questions. Answer them honestly and thoughtfully.

Budgets

At the briefing stage you should have a clear understanding of your budget. Ask for feedback.

Contracts

Once you have decided to engage an architect you should expect to sign an Agreement for Architects Services.

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