Architects Vs. Design and Build: Back to the Drawing Board.


Let’s jump straight in:

At Granit we are often asked by clients about ‘Design and Build’ contractors: What’s our opinion on them? Are they a viable option? Are they actually cheaper?

I am relatively new to Granit and also relatively new to the concept of Design and Build, so I wanted to write an article that takes a fresh look at the debate. Of course, as architects, we are going to be biased, but on an individual level, I wanted to understand more about this option for our clients.

Spot the difference:

First off, let us be clear about the two different build methods in question:

1.Design and Build: You consult a Design and Build contractor, discuss the aims of your project and they quote one overall fixed price for the design and the building works. The design will be the job of one of their ‘in-house’ designers who may be a fully qualified Architect or an interior designer.

2.Architect: Here you choose an Architect and or an interior designer, discuss the design, concept drawings are produced and are given to various contractors for them to quote a price based on a tender process. Quite often the designs are then revised until the price is within budget, including a contingency.

 

Let’s take a closer look at Design and Build:

Pros:

  • You are dealing with one point of contact.
  • The price is negotiated at the beginning.
  • The process can start quicker as there is less time spent on the initial design work.
  • The design and build company oversees the entire process, from brief to completion.

Cons:

  • You don’t get to choose your designer, they will have designers/architects they work with. These designers are working for the contractor, not for you directly.
  • Changes to the design may be costly. Anything outside the initial negotiations will be charged on top of the original quote.
  • Having one set fee leaves room for a contractor to cut corners in terms of quality for their own profit.
  • You are the only person overseeing their work outside the design and build firm.
  • An architectural designer is not the same thing as an Architect, the qualification is much less rigorous.
  • You may end up with an ‘off the peg design’ rather than the best, bespoke option for your home and exact needs.
  • There will be no impartial party to oversee the contractors work – or to deal with any issues that arise if the work goes wrong.

So – do I need an Architect?

Whether or not you need an architect comes down to what your priorities are for your build. Every job is personal and the only way to navigate the options available is to be very clear of your own values, circumstance and budget. Here are some key things you should think about in relation to your project and the part which an architect would play in guiding you through the process.

1. Contractors

Architects work endlessly with contractors. They know who is reliable and who works well on what type of project. This information is invaluable. When you choose an architecture firm, not only do you get to choose someone whose design values align with your own, but you get to access their wealth of knowledge and experience in terms of choosing contractors.

2. Planners

The next vital thing to consider is planning permission. If you are moving walls, you probably need permissions and an Architect can guide you through this process. A good architecture firm should know their planning department contacts and have an idea of the council’s preferences for developments in your borough. In theory this streamlines the process of planning as less revisions should be necessary before permission is granted. This means less time and, you guessed it, less time equals less money.

3. Longevity / Added Value

If you want to truly maximise the potential of your home and add value to its worth, an Architect is needed to look at the feasibility of all options available and to create a design that is beautiful, practical and crucially, that lasts. The absolute last thing you want is to be paying for works to be re-done. Whether that is down to substandard quality or the slow-dawning realisation that the new space is not designed in a way that suits the way you live, it is expensive, time-consuming and totally unnecessary.

4. Professional Training

Architects undergo extremely rigorous training and also required to undertake Continued Professional Development. This means that they will always have the most up to date information in terms of building regs, safety updates and even style trends.

5. Budget

As much as it might seem cheaper to simply not employ an Architect – it’s almost always a false economy. It’s worth remembering that design and build firms effectively absorb the design fees. It may be a smaller percentage but often in these cases the construction stage will be subsidising the design.

Whatever your budget, an architect will provide you with your best options in terms of adding value. They will monitor the contractors to make sure the work is of a quality that lasts and that no corners are cut. In fact – architects tend to make contractors life harder, pushing back in terms of quality standards and leaving them no where to hide sloppy work.

It makes sense that contractors would want to escape the glare of architects. However, don’t forget that it is basically quality control they are trying to avoid here.

House refurbishment in Chelsea

…And in the end:

We recommend that you find an architecture firm whose work you love, who listens to your priorities and understands your budget. They will be a key source of support and knowledge through the inevitable ups and downs of any build process. It should be an exciting and creative process and a good architect will be sure to make it so!

Take a look at some of our past projects for design inspiration here.