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Do You Need an Architect for a House Extension in the UK?

Updated: 5 days ago



I've been a self-employed Architect in the UK since 2009. Most of my projects involve altering and extending private homes and most of my clients have never built anything or employed an architect before. People realise that large projects, such as schools and hospitals need an architect. But you might be wondering, for smaller projects such as house extensions. Do you actually need an architect? 


Couldn’t a homeowner come up with ideas themselves and pay their mate Bob, from down the pub, to knock out the drawings on CAD?


Now, I believe the Client is the most important member of the team on any project, but Architects can be the most valuable, provided clients understand how to get the most out of them. Ive got seven reasons why using an Architect for a house extension adds value.  If you get to the end and still disagree, tell why in the comments. 


1. Independent Professional Judgement. 

Inexperienced clients think they are paying an Architect for drawings but experienced clients understand they are actually paying for independent professional judgement. This means Critical Thinking. I will contradict you if you ask me to design something I know isn't good enough. 


Maybe your plan for that house extension is bigger than it needs to be. 

Maybe you can get more value by altering the layout of the existing house. 

Maybe you insist on using a construction method the local builders aren’t commutable with. 


Experienced clients seek out independent judgment and value the counterargument an Architect can provide. Clients who insist on seeing their Architect as a glorified draftsman won't get the benefit of all that training and experience. This is a huge waste of potential and it goes a long way to explaining all the ugly buildings in the world.


2. Visual literacy

Very few of my clients work in visual fields, many are from the legal, financial or business world. They spend their days dealing with spreadsheets and emails, it can be daunting to move from that to the visual world of drawings and a good Architect will offer clear guidance on what looks best in their client's project. 


Architects have visual literacy, so you don’t have to. Years of training and working in Architecture give us a highly developed aesthetic sensibility.


That's fancy talk for the ability to tell what looks good. 


3. Motivation for the builder.  

Good builders are hard to find and the best ones are savvy business people. They understand that having a good relationship with an Architect can lead to future work. Clients might only build one house extension in their lifetime but Architects need good builders all the time. 


Builders take projects seriously if a well-respected Architect is involved. They may also take greater care and price the job more competitively as a result. Hiring an Architect with a good reputation can pay off for clients. 


4. Knowledge of the planning system and building regulations. 

Statutory approvals are required for almost any work to private homes in the UK. The Governments seldom allow buildings to take place with no thought to the type, location, size, layout or construction methods employed. 


An experienced architect will have the ability to design a building so it complies with statutory requirements. They may also know the local officials and can be a useful back channel to discuss potential controversial developments before they go public. 


5. Implementation not Inspiration

With a greater depth of knowledge comes a wider variety of options. An architect's training is long and, in the UK, Architects are required to continually update their knowledge. 


Continuing Professional Development ensures architects are up to date with a wide range of legal, technical, regulatory and financial skills. Putting those skills into practice gives clients access to a wide array of choices for their projects. In practice, Architects are paid for implementation, not inspiration. We have to design buildings that can actually get built. Clients who just want their Architect to give them ideas are missing the point. 


6. The Architects Network

When you hire an Architect, you also get access to their network. An experienced architect will have well-established, working relationships with builders - engineers, suppliers and other consultants. 


Some famous Architects present themselves as solo performers but in reality, construction is a team sport and knowing who to call in order to solve a client's problems is of huge value. 


  • I’ve been able to assist clients with money problems by introducing them to financial advisors, who made sure their project was affordable and actually got built. 

  • I’ve maximized the amount of glass in new buildings by working with energy consultants. 

  • I made sure plots of land my clients wanted to buy stood a reasonable chance of getting planning approval by talking to the right people. 

  • I made sure older properties could be subdivided into flats by having an acoustic specialist check the existing floors for sound transmission.

  • I’ve restored period features in historic buildings by knowing the right subcontractors to hire. 

  • I've designed the largest cantilevers by working with the right structural engineers. 

  • I’ve been able to check with other Architects to ensure that builders suggested by the client's friends were actually suitable for the project. 


The network can be the most powerful tool an Architect has if it is used properly.


7. Architects are a one-stop shop. 

There are other construction professionals who can so some of the things in the previous six points but Architects are the only professionals trained to do all of them. From design, detailing, costing, construction, legal, technical, regulatory and financial skills. 


Everyone else specialises, architects are generalists.


I think Architects could do more to educate clients on what is possible, which is part of the reason I started this blog. I regularly write about the reality of altering and extending private homes and I offer online consultations to anyone with a property in the UK or if a consultation isn't suitable for your property, you can download my Project Guide

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