Take time at outset to ensure you make the right choices
Whether you are a home buyer or someone planning to have a house built, it is important to assess your requirements with the following criteria in mind:
Will it accommodate our everyday needs and activities; prove durable, provide comfort, appear beautiful and add to our pleasure and happiness?
In other words, good home design is not just about appearances or style: it is also about creating a home which functions effectively, proves welcoming and inviting; safe secure and adaptable; uses energy efficiently and is attractive. Possibly most importantly, is it a home that reflects the lifestyle and values of you and your family?
For those planning simple extensions or renovations it may be possible to communicate your requirements -- the 'project brief' -- to your architect with goals well defined, and with photos and sketches to illustrate what you have in mind.
However, and more often than not, various and sometimes conflicting priorities -- functional, spatial, aesthetic and financial -- will require further deliberations before you are ready to begin the design process and the development of detailed plans.
While magazines, websites and visits to other houses will help define priorities, it is never the less advisable that preliminary discussions with your architect are approached with an open mind, so that all possibilities are creatively explored. Understandably most architects do not provide designs for free but as they compete for work most will be willing to outline their approach as part-and-parcel of securing your commission.
Before you finalise the process of appointing the architect that is right for you, you will seek to satisfy yourself on some crucial questions: How enthusiastic is the architect to undertake my job?
Does the practice have a 'house style' that is right for me? Has the practice got capacity to meet my deadlines?
How will the design be tailored to my budget? Who in the practice will I deal with on a daily basis?
Is the practice properly registered and insured?
How will fees and costs be charged and when?
As cost is more than ever now an issue, value for money will be high on your priorities; but do remember that lowest price will often not be best value, either now or in the longer term, especially for architectural services.
With design estimated to account for only 2.5 percent of the whole-life costs of an average building, you should ensure the fees agreed are commensurate with the scale and complexity of the project, and not reduced to a level where your architect cannot allocate sufficient time to provide the design quality and service that you require for a successful outcome.
It has been said the client/architect relationship is not unlike that between a patient and an analyst: your architect will end up knowing much about your personality, lifestyle, finances, tastes, values, and your ability to cope with stress.
Therefore, mutual trust is the basis of a good relationship and to the success of your project. Time spent at the outset ensuring you make the right choice is time well spent, and the effort will repay you well -- through the lifespan of the project and for many years thereafter.
Paul Keogh of Paul Keogh Architects is a former president of the Royal Institute of Architects Ireland.