We are unhappy with our architect and are considering changing

Property Clinic: Would a new one be able to take over the drawings done so far?

There should always be clear separation between the clients’ advisers and  their builder. Photograph: iStock

There should always be clear separation between the clients’ advisers and their builder. Photograph: iStock

 

We are doing up and extending a 1920s bungalow. We’ve engaged an architect for the design and have just received planning permission. However, we are unhappy with the poor level of communication from our architect and are considering changing before we start the detailed drawing phase and go out to tender for builders.

Are there any issues to consider in changing architect at this stage? Would a new architect be able to take over from the drawings done so far, or would we be back to square one? If we do decide to change, I’ve heard that some builders will do the drawings as part of their service. Would this be something you would have any advice on? Is it easy to find this type of builder or service in Ireland?

The Honeywood File: An Adventure in Building, by HB Creswell, published about the time your bungalow was built, chronicles the correspondence between a recently qualified young architect named James Spinlove and his well-to-do client Sir Leslie Brash.

The early exchanges between the two men are polite and enthusiastic. However, the situation deteriorates rapidly, and as impatience mounts the letters record a catalogue of mishaps and misunderstandings as the project, the building of a new house, crawls forward slowly. The book was handed to me by an experienced boss in my first job as a building surveyor in a busy practice on St Stephen’s Green. It was one of those exchanges of “take this, read it, and learn from someone else’s mistakes”. The mantra in that office was “always keep your client informed”.

The journey from inception to satisfactory completion of any project can be fraught. I have always found in the residential realm that there is a heightened anxiety, and therefore more potential for fallout. The fact that it’s personal adds to the tension. Good communication skills are a must for the architect or designer who operates in this field.

There should always be clear separation between the clients’ advisers and their builder

In guiding this project through the planning process, your adviser clearly has understood and delivered your desired design outcome. It is regrettable that at this stage communication seems to have waned.

The actual delivery of the project from this point requires a completely different set of skills to those needed to achieve good design. Project management, contract administration, cost control, selection of materials, liaising with building control, developing working drawings and monitoring progress all require expertise. That’s why usually at this stage in a project the design team will expand to include specialists such as a project manager, quantity surveyor and structural engineer – and, in some cases, design and ancillary certifiers.

All those currently employed in the property and construction industries are struggling to keep on top of unprecedented demand for their services. The devil you know is always the better one. I would advise you to discuss your concerns with your architect before changing horse mid-stream.

Communication is a two-way street. Can you do anything to improve the situation, again bearing in mind what I have said about the usual potential for tension in this type of project? Remember that most professionals do not like “take it from here” instructions, as responsibility can be blurred and this suits no one.

Address your concerns head-on with your architect. This should clear the air and it may be that this will resolve the communication issues, or at least alert you both to the fact that the best solution may lie elsewhere with new advisers.

Once the architect’s fees have been discharged, you are free to progress with a new person. The drawings, although produced by the architect, are essentially your property and there should be no issue in you obtaining electronic copies to share and develop with others.

Although the option of a “one-stop shop” of a builder and their preferred architect can sometimes yield satisfactory results on small projects, I am of the view that there should always be clear separation between the clients’ advisers and their builder. Any potential conflict of interest can then be avoided.

Spinlove and Brash eventually brought their project to fruition with lessons learned all round. PS Thanks again to Harry W for the book! – Noel Larkin

Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland. scsi.ie

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