How We Work and How To Survive The Building Process
Turning Your Building Ideas Into Reality
Our job is to turn your ideas and aspirations into imaginative, workable solutions – it’s what we love to do
When you contact us – the best way is through our web enquiry form – we will run through a “reality check” with you to establish the approximate size of the project to make sure we can help you and agree the next step.
We ask you 2 key questions:
- What’s are you trying to achieve in terms of accommodation?
- What is your budget for construction, professional fees and VAT?
Feasibility Review and Brief
If you like our approach and ideas, we arrange to meet on site to discuss what you and any others involved (often your family) want to achieve both now, and in the future. We’ll walk around your building or plot, talk about your own ideas, and often come up with some that you may not have thought of. We’ll give you our outline thoughts on planning, design, budget and timescale, although these can only be indicative at this stage. We designed our Feasibility Review because we see so many projects where the design and construction is started before clients have really done their homework to clarify what it is they need and what the costs are. It’s a crucial step that secures a sound foundation for the whole project to be built upon. So we spend time on this stage for every one of our clients because it avoids problems later.
“Clients who skip this stage often run into problems later because they either can’t get the design they want, or the costs over-run”
We visit the site to look at the existing building, gardens and the surroundings. We discuss your aspirations for the project and ask some key questions:
• What are your requirements for rooms and spaces, both inside and out. Do you need extra space? Do you need to replan existing space?
• What is your budget? Costs can be viewed in 2 ways; how much you need to pay to get what you need; and what is the maximum you will get back in terms of house value – we consider both
• What limitations are imposed by the site and existing building?
• What are the constraints imposed by planning policy? We are used to dealing with projects in conservation areas, AONB or Greenbelt. We also work with listed buildings
• What aspects of the garden, views, sun, natural light can be taken advantage of?
• What can you do to save energy ?
At the first meeting we may have some initial thoughts about how we could approach the design of the project. However the objective is not to design the scheme at this stage, but to outline possible design approaches and the tangible benefits they may have.
The Way We Work
We approach every job with the same passion, energy and design ethos. We are contemporary architects applying modern design ideas to new and old buildings to maximise their potential. Whatever the size and scope of the project, we constantly seek to create a real ‘wow’ factor. For us, design is about attention to detail, not about spending a fortune. Watch the video to see what each stage of the work involves:
Once we have a thorough needs and options report, we use that critical information to start developing a sketch design. We work in 2D or 3D depending on the project to show you the main design options and how they meet your needs. We also assess the likely construction budget for each and compare that to your financial targets. Having considered the options, you choose one for us to discuss with the planning officer using the “pre-application” process. This is a formal way of discussing the scheme with the planning officer to establish as quickly as possible whether the planning officer will support the design approach you have chosen. At the end of this process it should be clear whether the whole project is feasible so that you can confidently take instruct us to take the project design to the detailed design stage including obtaining detailed planning consent and subsequently prepare the working drawings.
The aim of this stage is to finalise the detailed design and apply for planning consent. We convert the concept model into a virtual prototype of the building to resolve design issues and clashes. From that detailed 3D model we can create 2D presentation drawings, formulate a cost plan and project programme.
We also use the model to prepare the planning application drawings and supporting documents. The research and consultation about planning policy done in the previous stages should ensure planning officer support, however there is often some residual uncertainty about how planning policies are interpreted and how local people will react when officially consulted. Generally the planning application process takes 2 months, but it take longer if the scheme is contentious.
Once planning consent has been granted, we can start documenting what the building looks like, how it is constructed and what fixtures and finishes are required. The more detail we can give the builders, the more accurate their costs and construction timetable will be. So we create a 3D model with fully integrates the 2D drawings and specification so that the information that the builders price from is as accurate and coordinated as possible.
By building once as a model we can refine the design based and use it to prepare detailed construction drawings and a detailed specification listing all the work to be priced by the contractor to avoid extras on site. The output file from this stage is a detailed 3D BIM model (accessed from any computer or tablet) acting as a single source of all drawings, specification and schedules.
Separate drawings for the main trades such as; substructure/drainage, structural framing, roof, general arrangement, room schedules, electrical/lighting, window/door schedules.
‘Walk’ Around Your Building In 3D Before The First Brick Is Laid
Clients love 3D because it saves them time and money. You will be able to see on your own tablet, laptop or PC, a 3D virtual model of your project that allows you to explore your building inside and out (including where furniture will go and where the sun and shadows will fall) before the first brick is laid.
You get to understand the detail of your design, in the comfort of your own home (or on the train to work), and can suggest, and visualise, any changes you want to make, or ideas you want to try out, in the early stages of the project, before the first brick is laid. With your input we develop and refine the initial design concept so that by the time work begins on site you have a very clear idea of how the end result will look. This is a much more efficient (and cost-effective!) way of working than finding out that you don’t like something once work has started. Your model is updated throughout the project as more and more detail is added.
Watch this video to see what it’s like to ‘walk around’ your building before the first brick is laid and also access all the 2D drawings and specification information from right inside the 3D file.
Our planning submission documents are carefully considered to suit the perceptions of the planning officers, local councillors and the general public, all of whom will formulate their own reaction to the application.
Watch our video that shows examples of projects we’ve obtained planning permission for in areas where restrictions are tight.
Estimating And Managing Construction Costs
We are committed to working closely with you to try to stay within your target budget. However, it is notoriously difficult at the early stages to estimate construction costs as these will only become clear once the full scope and details of your project are established, and tenders are received. There is always demand for good builders and tenders can come back much higher than estimated.
Ultimately, you decide how much you spend on your project. However, we will give you regular Cost Reports with as much advice and information as we can about the likely costs. Each Cost Report gives you our up-to-date estimate of project costs, the amount you have spent to-date and how much we think you need to budget to complete the project. Our Reports can only be used for guidance as the actual construction cost will be determined by competitive tendering and decisions that you make once the project is on site.
Once the project is on site, we use a tried and tested on-line “Change Control System” to report costs, giving you control of what you spend. There will inevitably be times when the estimated costs for a particular aspect of the work are more than planned, but when this happens we will work closely with you to change the design, revise the scope of work or agree cost reductions. We will always ask you to approve additional costs in advance.
The fees we charge reflect the extent of the work we have to do and the size, complexity and difficulty of the project. Fees for new-build houses are generally a lower proportion of construction costs than fees for extensions or Listed buildings. Where the scope of the project is fixed, we can offer a fixed fee. However, most projects don’t have a fixed scope, so we base the fee on a percentage of the construction value.
Appointment of Other Consultants
Whilst we lead the building project, other consultants and specialists often need to be appointed. We advise on suitable consultants and help you agree their appointment terms. Once work has begun, we review their invoices on our clients’ behalf and recommend the payments to be made. Typically these consultants might include
• Measured Building Surveyor
• Historic Buildings Surveyor (for listed buildings) usually IHB registered
• Arboriculturalist (tree specialist)
Building Work – And How to Survive It!
Whilst we work hard to design and specify the work you require, your satisfaction with the construction process and the final product is heavily dependent on finding the right contractor. The contract for the work is drawn up between you and the contractor directly; our duty is to administer the terms of the contract fairly to both parties.
We have worked with many contractors over the years and may be able to suggest suitable contractors for your project. However past performance is no guarantee of future success and each project requires the same careful selection of contractor. We are also happy to consider contractors who you know or who have been recommended to you by friends.
Finding the right contractor
There are three factors that affect the type of procurement method for your project:
- High Quality
- High Speed
- Low Cost
Unfortunately you cannot have all three and so you need to decide which of two main approaches is right for you.
This gives you high quality at the best price via the tendering process. Each contractor is supplied with a set of drawings, specification and schedule of work. They price the schedule of work in competition with each other and their quoted costs are binding. However this process takes time because not only do you have to wait until we have drawn and specified all the work needed, but you also have to wait for the contractors to complete their tenders. However, if you want good quality at the best price, this is the preferred option.
If you want good quality and high speed, you can negotiate a price with one contractor. However, without the benefit of competition you usually pay more. This option is good if you are prepared to pay more to meet an important project timetable. This approach can also be useful if the work is difficult and obtaining sound competitive tenders may be a problem.
Agreeing A Contract
Put simply, a contract defines what the contractor and you must do in relation to the project, how much it will cost and how long it will take. The contract however allows for the project to change. There are a number of ways this can happen and these are dealt with in the sections about variations and weather.
What all clients are most concerned about are variations. If the work detailed in the specification and drawings is changed on site, this varies the contract. In theory this can either result in a reduction or an increase in the cost but unfortunately it is usually an increase or “extra”.
There are two main types of changes that cause extras:
- Unexpected work
- Client changes of mind
Although we make every effort to find out all we can about your building, much of the existing construction is concealed behind plaster, ceilings or below ground. If during the project the contractor has to deal with unexpected work, then they are entitled to be paid a fair cost for the extra work. If the extra work disrupts the project programme, the contractor is also entitled to more time. It is our duty under the terms of the contract to assess both of these factors on your behalf and, if justified, authorise additional cost or time if appropriate.
When carrying out work to private houses, client changes are also very common. There is a temptation to make changes or add work “while the builders are on site”. This is fine as long as you understand and accept the consequential costs and possible time penalties. We strongly recommend that you try to include all your requirements in the design before contracts are signed.
There is also the cost to the contractor of extra time spent on the project. This cost is over and above the cost of the variation itself and covers the contractor’s overheads such as management time, scaffolding, etc. If variations delay completion of the work, the overall project cost will increase as well.
During a contract the weather can also have a significant impact on progress. If the weather is unusually bad and disrupts the programme, the contractor is entitled to ask for more time. It is our duty to assess this fairly on your behalf and authorise additional time if appropriate.
‘Having the builders in’
Having building work done in your home is always disruptive. It will limit the use of parts of your home and it will create noise and dust. All we can say is that it will be worth it at the end!
Don’t forget that builders are, by and large, amiable, hardworking human beings. Their priorities, however, are different to yours and sometimes they clash. Like anybody else, they also make errors of judgement. We try to manage the disruption as far as possible, but it can still be a frustrating experience at times. We hold regular site meetings and monitor the builder’s programme so that problems can be addressed as early as possible. We also try to balance your living needs with their need to carry out the construction work.
A ‘project manager’ is never needed for work on your own home. The project is managed jointly by three people:
- “Client” manager – that’s you – overall strategic planning an finance
- “Design” manager – that’s the Architect – guardian of the design intent, reporting on progress and costs
- “Construction” manager – that’s the builder – day to day site management for labour and materials, quality control of workmanship
Site Visits And Meetings
We usually hold site meetings monthly and carry out site visits once a week. We encourage clients to become involved in these meetings so that queries, comments and problems can be raised and dealt with quickly. We strongly recommend that clients resist the temptation to give direct instructions to the builder because this can disrupt the programme and add unplanned costs.
Payment of the contractor
We will advise when and how much you should pay the contractor, which is normally once a month. When each payment is due, we assess the amount and issue an Interim Certificate that tells you exactly how much to pay. In order to safeguard your interests, our assessment is based upon how much work has already been completed. This effectively means that you always owe money to the contractor.
When the contractor tells us that the project is nearly finished, we inspect and comment on any minor “snags” which need to be dealt with. Because we inspect the work regularly, these are unlikely to be major.
This is a specific term used in the contract to define when the work is complete. It is important because, at this point, it is clear whether the contractor has completed the project by the date set out in the contract. If the work was delayed due to variations or weather, the original completion date may have been put back.
If the contract is not completed within the contract period, including any extensions of time granted, then the contract entitles you to deduct liquidated and ascertained damages. The amount involved is set out in the original specification and is usually set at around £500-1000 per week. The level of damages must be set on the basis of a genuine pre-estimate of the cost to you of late completion. If the figure is set too high, then it could be seen in law to be a penalty, which is unlikely to be enforceable. We will discuss the appropriate level of liquidated and ascertained damages with you when drawing up the specification.
The contracts we use have a clause that provides for a six or twelve month defects liability period that starts to run from practical completion. Towards the end of this period we review the project with you and make a list of any defects that need attention. In a way, this acts like a guarantee period. To enforce it, you hold back part of the payment to the contractor, usually 2½%, until all defects have been dealt with.