5 Questions To Ask An Architect Before They Design Your Home

The Larch House, designed by Millar Howard Workshop

Regardless of the scale of your future house or extension, the relationship with your architect will be intimate and enduring. Creating a home is an exposing and emotional process. Architects need insight into how you live your life, how you function, where and who with. They’ll be creating spaces for your most personal needs; eating, sleeping, bathing, dressing, relaxing and entertaining. A home is a reflection of the personalities that live in it so it’s important you feel an honest connection to the person designing it.

We thought about questions clients asked us over the years and which ones we valued. The most pertinent questions from which we learned and gained from, it transpired, were from clients for whom we’ve delivered some of our most successful projects:

1. Ask to see what they deliver for projects of similar size, budget or function to yours.

Do they deliver drawings, animations, renders, reports, 3D models, Virtual Reality (VR) walkthroughs, photogrammetry site views, meeting agendas etc. Some or all of the above? If you find it hard to visualise the final space from a plan, the type of deliverable is then also significant; select an architect who can produce VR models. Ask how and when within the building schedule they deliver to give you an idea of their communication and project management skills. Drawings show their design skills but the content of the reports is important for planning applications and they also provide insight into how they approach any stumbling blocks your site may encounter (listing, wildlife protection, Highways reports etc.).

Computer generated render by Millar Howard Workshop

2. Ask to see a fully detailed fee schedule.

This allows you to compare and contrast with quotes from other architects exactly what each architect is going to provide. UK chartered architects tend to follow the stages set by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in the RIBA Plan of Works. There are certain tasks you would expect all architects to undertake however, there are other tasks that might be optional or specific to a particular practice. A comparison of the fee schedule will show you what you’ll get for your money at each stage.

3. Ask how they solve problems.

This will give you insight into how they approach projects and the extent to which they welcome challenges. All builds inevitably encounter some sort of issue, an architect adept at finding solutions can certainly ease the process if not speed it up. How architects approach resolving issues is a gauge of how well they work within the team and how creatively they think. If you’re aware of potential problems on your project, it could transpire they’ve encountered a similar one before so their experience may prove invaluable.

4. Ask for their reaction to your site or project.

If you can sense excitement, they’re likely to be on board with your project. Different things spark creativity in different people so if one architect doesn’t feel inspired by your site or ideas, another absolutely will. An architect who feels drawn to the site or project function is much more likely to create a building that is connected to you, your needs and to the surrounding landscape too.

Vale Farm Barn conversion by Millar Howard Workshop

5. Ask yourself if there’s trust between you.

It’s important to establish an open and frank relationship with your architect from the beginning allowing for ideas to be shared and skills respected. Build projects are usually long and often impassioned processes so establishing a strong foundation of honesty from the beginning with those responsible for bringing to life your home is vital. There will be lots of decisions to make, some will be difficult with permanent consequences. It’s essential you find an architect you trust to listen to your concerns and give you professional, impartial advice free from obligation.

All projects, especially in the beginning, have periods of uncertainty. An architect who is comfortable with uncertainty and able to guide you through dilemmas is what you’re ultimately looking for. The design process really is a process; as a building comes into focus over time, there will be challenges and tensions as ideas and suggestions go to and fro between you and your architect. Finding people you believe can manage these inevitable demands and is also comfortable being challenged themselves too is key.