As a self-builder, it can be difficult choosing an architect. After all, making the choice about which architect you hire is a significant step. It’s a tough decision making process because you’ll have to live with the consequences of your choice for many years to come.
The inevitable anxiety and stress you feel normally kicks in at the transition between having identified, or bought, a plot of land and deciding to speak to an architect. …Now I’m not suggesting that you’re freeking out at this stage, it’s a low level knot of emotion and it’s is more than understandable – particularly if you’ve never gone through this process before. However, in this heightened state you may hesitate, and through no fault of your own, make a serious mistake when reviewing an architect’s website.
In this post I’ll show you can defuse the stress, avoid hesitation, save time and get the right architect. But first we need to explore the mindset of typical self-builder when they start looking at an architect’s website.
When self-builders go to an architect’s website they’re looking for evidence to help them answer a overarching question. The question is:
“Which architect should I speak to?”
Whether they have them written down or not, they also have a short list of sub-questions that will also help them reach a satisfactory conclusion. In my experience one major question relates to what I call “The Self-Build Style Dilemma.”
Here’s something you may not be aware of, unlike architectural technologists, architects are qualified in the philosophy of architectural design. This means they have a deep understanding of architectural history and are, in principle, capable of understanding and designing in any style their client desires.
…Now there may be reasons why an architect has adopted an in-house style, or why their projects share common traits. Chances are, you’ll only start to find this out by speaking to them during an initial phone call. You never know, once you understand WHY they design the way they do, you may even challenge your own assumptions about the style and character of the house you want.
In fact, when you’re hiring an architect there is something more fundamental than style. It’s chemistry.
As an architect, I believe something other than style is required to help you discriminate between the many architects you’ll discover online. The secret sauce is chemistry.
Now realise when I say chemistry I do not simply mean you like the person. Hiring an architect just because you like them could be the worst thing you do. Your rapport can be cordial, even friendly, but it should not compromise your working relationship.
Once the essential skills, qualifications and design philosophy are established, the relationship you have with your architect will define your experience. This is why it’s important you find your architect credible, approachable and trustworthy. Above you should feel relaxed in their company.
You will work with your architect for many months, and together you will make many intensely personal choices. To do this your architect must be able to tease out your needs, wants and desires. They must be able to get under the skin of the challenges you and your project will be facing. They must help you to identify solutions, and then address them before they become a problem.
In fact many avoidable, and often costly, mistakes are made when critical questions have not been asked or answered at the right time. Once again this speaks to having a trusting, open and honest relationship with your architect. And like all good relationships, it cuts both ways.
Over the last 26 years or so, I have learned that a carefully planned, well engineered and executed brief is the most valuable document an architect can develop. It sets out the arc of the entire project and it’s developed by asking questions. In my experience asking the right questions requires a great deal of empathy and understanding. The more specific the questions, the greater the opportunity for a successful outcome. Along the way I’ve found that questions are only answered properly when there is trust and a good working relationship.
Every bespoke home is a product of very specific constraints. For instance, the style and character of a house is not just influenced by the hand of an architect. The needs and wishes of the self-builder, and the planning authority, play a very significant – if not overwhelming – role. Consider this, without their consent the project would not have been built at all.
When it comes to reviewing an architect’s online portfolio and assessing the style of the houses on display, you are only getting a part of the story. At best a few key highlights. The tip of the iceberg if you will.
Overlooking this critical factor can lead to erroneous conclusions. It’s is like judging a book by its cover. The truth is, a core skill of a good architect is bringing together conflicting demands and combining them in a single, unified design. It’s not simply about stylistic decisions. The whole design process is far more complex, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate. Furthermore the entire history of a project is rarely apparent in an online portfolio.
It’s for this reason, rejecting an architect based upon a shallow appreciation of their online projects can be a grave mistake. Not only that, time is wasted mulling by over the content a website, rather than getting deeper insight by speaking directly to the architect in question. If you strike up a good rapport quickly, find out how you can explore working with them.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider aesthetics, on the contrary, the way your house looks is incredibly important. I’m simply pointing out the issue of style as portrayed on a website, should not overwhelm your initial decision making process. Your best bet is to dig deeper before choosing the architect you want to hire. So don’t just stare at a website. Call the architect and ask them about their design philosophy.
Has this post been helpful? I’d love to year your thoughts. Post your comments below.