Thursday 8 December 2016

Search for architect is key to future outcome

Paul Keogh

Published 03/02/2012 | 05:00

Engaging the right professional help is one of the first, and most important tasks, for a person who has decided to build a new home or an extension or indeed undertake a major renovation for their existing home.

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You'll work closely with your architect through the design and construction phases, and live with the consequences for many years after.

But how do you find the architect that is right for you? Ideally, personal recommendations or knowledge of a practice's previous work will greatly ease the process, but more often a search will be required to form a shortlist from which to make the final choice.

For some, design will be the priority. The creativity that an architect brings to a project will be the overriding consideration, especially where functional requirements or site constraints demand a particularly innovative solution, or where clients require the design to be a unique expression of their lifestyle, personality or values.

For others, perhaps with less demanding functional or aesthetic requirements, the objective will be to engage a 'safe pair of hands'; an architect whose technical and management skills will ensure the project is delivered to time or budget constraints, even if the design is less than spectacular. On the other hand a client may seek certain specialisations such as practices with a particular interest in architectural conservation, experience in low-energy building, or an expertise in exploiting the potential of particular materials or structural systems.

Since the introduction of the 2008 Building Control Act, only those formally registered may use the title 'architect', thereby giving consumers comfort that those practicing as architects meet the professional standards laid down by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, the official registration body for the profession. The RIAI website (www.riai.ie) contains details of all registered architects, grouped by specialisations and locations, and with links to individual practices' sites.

Also, various institute publications, including Architecture Ireland, House, and The RIAI Annual Review illustrate the best of Irish architecture, including domestic projects.

In recent years RIAI architects have been involved in various initiatives that have assisted clients in making the right choice. The annual two-day Simon/RIAI 'Open Door' fundraising venture gives people an opportunity to have consultations with a selection of architects, to discuss ideas and concepts informally, and with no obligation other than a donation to the Simon homeless charity.

Another valuable resource is the Irish Architecture Foundation's annual 'Open House' weekend which allows the public to visit newly completed works, meet architects who lead tours, answer questions, and generally explain their designs.

From one of these, a prospective client should be able to shortlist two or three firms to interview and assess their suitability in greater detail. Of the 535 RIAI registered practices in Ireland, almost all undertake domestic projects and the private house continues to be a sought-after commission for many.

As even the smallest project will extend over many months, time spent choosing the right architect is time well spent, and will save you money, time and stress down the road. It is vitally important that client and architect empathise with each other; shared objectives, mutual trust and good interpersonal relationships are essential for successful outcomes.

Ensure there are no ambiguities which may lead to conflicts later. When you have narrowed the shortlist to one or two preferred architects, you will then be in a position to discuss charges and costs, and formalise the terms of appointment and scope of services.

Paul Keogh, of Paul Keogh Architects is a former president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland

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