Explaining the Roles and Responsibilites of an Architect

What is an architect?

A picture speaks a thousand words, and before a building is constructed or converted it is an architect’s job to transform the words of a specification into a design. They may do this themselves or work alongside an architectural technologist or technician. These individuals have highly specialised skills and are also comprehensively trained.

What do they do?

An architect is involved in the planning and drawing of this design, as well as overseeing its construction. This involves taking into consideration not only environmental and economic needs, but also the concerns of the construction team, which include materials and safety. The design has to be functional, thus an architect needs to have knowledge of the builder’s requirements, such as which planning and building codes the construction must abide by. Ultimately the employer wants a design that is going to be most economically effective for them, giving the architect a further task to draw upon their knowledge to meet these requirements. Quite a feat to take on.

Who exactly can be called an 'architect'?

The title of architect is solely reserved for people who have taken the correct exams and have the appropriate experience to be on the national register of architects. This is held by a government organisation - the Architects Registration Board.

Where should I look? What should I be looking for?

All architects must be registered with the Architects Registration Board. To check for registered architects, see the website. Many architects are also members of RIBA (the Royal Institute of British Architects); however this membership is not obligatory. All its members have to follow the institute’s code of professional conduct, which includes having to own PI (Professional Indemnity) insurance, which provides cover in case the architect makes a mistake or gives unsound guidance.

This is a legal requirement for all architects, and thus the safety net this provides when using a registered architect is removed when, for example, an unqualified individual is used. There are some out there who provide architectural services without insurance or any form of formal training.

Their role in the process of manufacture

There are stages which every construction must go through, starting with the design and ending with the finished building, and the architect is involved the whole way through. The planning stages are obviously when the bulk of their input is needed, and many attempts are made until the final design is produced. Throughout this time, the architect will liaise with you, the client, in order to translate their designs and receive feedback.

During this time the architect will have to ensure that appropriate building regulations, for example planning permission or whether the building is a certain listed grade, have been approved and are in place. The architect also needs to take into consideration environmental factors when designing, and has to have a great knowledge of building appliances and materials in order to produce any designs.

Once a detailed design has been produced a contractor is employed to carry out the building works. Some larger architectural firms may have a construction team that works alongside them who will work with the architect during this part of the process. Otherwise, the architect will usually have previously worked with contractors who they can recommend, or will work alongside you in order to find the appropriate contractor to use.

A contractor is someone who carries out work on a particular site. Different contractors will be used for different areas of work, which is why a construction team that oversees them all is an especially useful tool. Changes can be made throughout the whole construction process; for example, when construction is taken place and it appears as though a more effective method could be used, the architect will produce revised drawings and then these will be used to continue with the work.

This is why it is essential that the architect is involved in every stage of the production as well. When this occurs a Construction Manager Change Order (CMCO) is issued along with the drawings in order to allow the changes to be made.

How will the designs appear?

CAD refers to Computer Aided Designs, and this is the software which produces all the designs. Often CAD specialists will be used by the architects to produce drawings, but they are not qualified architects. Their job is to produce designs on the computer software from initial sketches produced at the drawing board. This type of software means that different perspective drawings can be produced, and the type of material to be used can be illustrated on the work.

How much should I pay?

Currently there is no standard fee that each architect receives; each cost is dependent on the size, type and complexity of the project, as well as the client. Recommended reading is “A Client’s Guide to Engaging an Architect” which provides a range of calculations that will aid you trying to establish a fee with your employed architect.

Mirza-Nacey.com also provides research and surveys into fees which could act as a guide, however not all projects will follow this as work to existing buildings is often 40 – 60 times more than new-building work. Ultimately though this is a matter that should be discussed with the proposed architects before they take on the job. Many architects will have established rates which will help you produce a mutually agreed fee.

Questions to ask proposed architects

  • Are you registered under the Architects Registration Board?
  • How much will you charge me?
  • What contractors should we use?
  • How much will they charge me?
  • How long will construction take? / I have a set period of time – can you fit into this?

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