Commissioning an architect can be a daunting prospect if you’re not familiar with it. In this post we break down the process, referring to the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) guidelines. 

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Do I need an architect?

By commissioning an architect you can add value to your project in many ways. Architects are professionally trained to develop creative solutions to challenges – they know what will work and what won’t.

Practically, if your project is large enough to need planning permission then you will need an architect, but smaller projects can also benefit from an architect’s expertise.

You can commission different services: from a one-off consultation, to drawing up a design, to seeing the whole process through to completion – including managing the planning and construction phases. Through their training and experience, an architect will know how to turn your aspirations into reality, while getting you the best value for money.

The initial payment for an architect's services will undoubtedly be paid back through the value they add to the project.

How do I know if someone is an architect?

The title ‘architect’ is protected by law (Architects Act 1997), so only those who have completed rigorous training and are fully qualified can use it. ‘Architectural designers’ – or similar – are not architects and do not have the requisite training. All architects must be registered with the Architects' Registration Board (ARB).

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is the UK’s professional body of architects. RIBA Chartered Practices are the only architectural practices endorsed and promoted by RIBA. These practices have proven their commitment to quality assurance, business management and client service, as well as excellence in design and service delivery.

Only architectural practices that meet a strict eligibility criteria can register as a RIBA Chartered Practice.

RIBA accreditation: what it really means

When you're commissioning an architect, looking for RIBA-accreditation is a good way to ensure the practice is up to scratch. All RIBA accredited Chartered Practices:

  • employ a required number of individual RIBA Chartered Architects
  • have appropriate professional indemnity insurance
  • have an effective quality management system
  • have comprehensive health and safety and environmental policies in place
  • are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with a code of practice in a manner appropriate to their status
  • are committed to excellence in design and customer service

That’s why the RIBA only promotes accredited Chartered Practices to clients.

Commissioning an architect: what's the process?

Every project is unique but they all follow the basic process as outlined below, taken from RIBA’s Plan of Work 2013, the most recent update.

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Stage 0/1: Preparation and Brief

This is the most important stage as it determines the rest of the project. You will discuss your goals, ideas, aspirations and budget with us and we will help you assess your options and if necessary carry out a feasibility study. We will also identify which other professionals may need to be consulted, for example a structural engineer.

Stage 2: Concept Design

We will respond to your brief with our initial design ideas, displayed in a series of sketches called a ‘concept design’. Your feedback is crucial at this stage, so we know how to develop the ideas into a full design solution. Together we will agree on a project strategy and timeline, and then we will liaise with local planners on your behalf.

Stage 3: Developed Design

This is where we spend time developing the concept design into something that can actually be built. This more detailed digitalised version will go beyond the shape and style of the building to include all practical considerations and the work of any other consultants. At this stage you will start to get an idea of the cost of the project, and once the developed design is agreed then we will submit it for planning approval.

Stage 4: Technical Design

Although the fundamental design is agreed at Stage 3, a further level of technical detail is required to create precise floor plans and specifications that can be handed to a building contractor. Any conditions attached to planning permission will need to be resolved at this stage and we will also submit the plans for building control approval. Once this is done, we can start to approach builders, and if desired we can manage them on your behalf.

Stage 5: Construction

The building is now under construction! Throughout this stage, we can oversee and manage the project to make sure it’s built on budget and on time. Any minor deviation from the technical design will be documented.

Stage 6/7: Handover and Use

In this final stage the project is wrapped up and the building handed over to you. We will inspect the building, finalise the building contract and complete any necessary certifications, and you will be able to give feedback. We will both have a chance to evaluate the project and the building is now ready for use.

If you have any further questions about commissioning an architect, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us!

About us

Koru Architects is an award-winning RIBA Chartered Practice with a design-led and client-centred approach. Our director, Mark Pellant, has more than 25 years of professional experience. We favour creative design solutions and lateral thinking, meaning with us you may have more options than you originally thought.

Mark and the rest of the team are passionate advocates of sustainable design, and our practice has a reputation for creative use of light and space and careful selection of natural materials. If you want to reduce your energy bills while easing your environmental impact, we will add extra value to your project with our sustainable design expertise.

Learn more about our design philosophy here and our certifications here.