You are here: Do I need an architect?

What does an architect do, how do I got about finding one and why do I need one?

Why employ an architect?

For many people renovating an existing home or building a brand new property, a builder is seen as sufficient. Why employ an architect?  It is more expense. However, it is important to remember that a building contractor is likely to have little formal training in design. Architects are experts and can add a lot of value to a project. This could mean improving the look of a building or better use of space so those living there get more out of it and boosting its resale price. Good design counts.

Unless your project is very simple, it is good idea to at least talk to an architect. Initial consultations are usually free and can be extremely useful. Architects can offer advice to stop you making costly mistakes and come up with imaginative new solutions to overcome building constraints.

Architects are “highly skilled and professionally trained to turn your aspirations into reality,” says the Royal Institute of Architects (RIBA).

They can steer you through the whole process from coming up with an initial design to planning permission and construction. Choosing to employ an architect rather than entrusting a large project to someone without design expertise or trying DIY could potentially save you a lot of stress and money as otherwise you could need to get faulty work redone.

What does an architect do?

Architects design buildings. The first thing a good architect will try to do is understand what you want to achieve by asking questions and listening.  They will work with you to develop a project brief and realistic budget.  

Based on this brief and budget, the architect will come up with a sketch design. An architect may present a number of initial proposals for the client to choose from.

After the final design is chosen, an architect will spend more time turning the design into plans that can be built. These drawings will then be submitted for planning approval, if required.

Generally, if you need planning permission for a project, you will need an architect. Architects can’t guarantee planning consent will be granted because decisions are taken by the local authority planning department. But employing an expert gives the best chance of success as they will be familiar with local planning policy and statutory requirements.

Unless a project falls within the scope of Permitted Development, for example conservatories and some other minor building work, it will need planning approval.

Architects can also be commissioned to produce detailed technical drawings and specifications on how the building is to be built which is required for Building Regulations approval. These must identify the materials to be used and detail its compliance with all relevant statutory requirements. Building regulations drawings are more technical than the information required for planning approval.

The architect can then invite and evaluate tenders from builders and administer the contract between client and building contractor. Day-to-day management of the build is the responsibility of the contractor but the architect can carry out periodic site visits to inspect the build and deal with queries.

Architects can also be engaged to monitor construction of the project. This will involve checking the construction conforms to planning permission and Building Regulations and all stages are completed to a satisfactory standard of workmanship. They will check the work and sign if off before the client pays.

An architect can be commissioned for any or all of these stages. They are often the lead consultant on a project and can oversee it from beginning to end.

Finding an architect:

The term ‘architect’ is commonly used to describe people who design buildings but in the UK this title can only be used by professionals registered with the Architects Registration Board who are also usually members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). This is only possible after years of academic study and experience.  However, those who describe themselves, as ‘architectural consultant’ are not constrained in this way.

If you decide to commission an architect, check they are registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) and industry body, RIBA. An accredited RIBA Chartered Practice means they comply with strict criteria covering insurance, health and safety and quality management systems, giving the client extra peace of mind.

It is important to choose an architect to fit your project.  Some architects only design in particular styles, for example contemporary or traditional, while others are more flexible in their approach. It’s a good idea to see examples of an architect’s previous projects to see if their style suits your aspirations. Also check their track record of planning approvals, especially for controversial or difficult projects.

To find an architect in your local area, check Local Architects Direct.  Follow up on references. Check how well they worked within a budget. The first consultation is usually free, so it pays to interview several before making a final decision.  

Some smaller projects and simpler renovations can be carried out without the need for an architect. There are other professionals you can call on for help with drawing up house plans and dealing with planning and Building Regulations. They include building surveyors, planning consultants, structural engineers, architectural technologists and interior designers. These suppliers often have years of experience and provide a very cost-effective service. For larger and more complex building projects, it makes sense to hire an architect.


Fees vary depending on the size of project and level of services provided.  Some architects will charge a percentage of the total project cost or lump sums at different stages or on hourly basis.

Useful information:

Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA)

Architects Registration Board (ARB)

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists