ARTICLE - An Architect's brief for your home building project
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“Architects are value creators and problem solvers, creating beautiful homes from the aspiration of our clients and the world around us. An architect inspires you through the process, to interpret and visualise your ambitions to create your dream home.” Sophie Bates Architects.
Creating a home that’s your own that inspires you, whether it’s a refurbishment or a new-build, contemporary house, is something special. From the earliest civilizations there is a human need to personalise your space, to not just create a shelter but to respond to your environment. Some of the most magical spaces can be the simplest but what makes them sing is the thought and consideration that has gone into their creation to make them work for their occupiers.
It isn’t just the siting and the material selection that makes a house a home – it’s the detail. These early homes were functional but also unique to the maker’s needs, the location and the climate they needed to respond to.
We are all different and to make your house really work for you and your family it is vital that what makes you unique is understood by your architect. Creating a brief for your home with your architect is the essential to produce outstanding architecture. Thinking over the following points will help you communicate your aspirations and allow your architect to create a bespoke, beautifully designed home that responds to its setting.
Project aim - the big picture
Summarising in one sentence why you bought the house or site is helpful to communicate your vision. What made it jump out at you? Was it the potential for scale, the orientation, the views, the wider location? If you have an existing house you are looking to demolish and start afresh or a smaller home that needs extending and refurbishing, what was missing from the original house? Was it too small, lacking character or flexibility, too inward looking?
Your architect will explore these aspects through the initial design studies, but discussions of these questions will help a greater understanding of your priorities.
Essentials - key space/ activity requirements
There will be key requirements for your home and some items you aim for if the budget and space allows. The minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms will be easy to confirm. Beyond this, areas can become more fluid, for example – do you want an open plan kitchen and dining area? The living areas will be influenced by how you live as a family, how your life may alter as children and adults grow older, how much flexibility you want from a space and how open this is to the garden.
It is also important to consider what you don’t want to see. Services and storage will vary depending on need and large storage areas could be in the form of joinery local to each space or tucked away seperately. Your architect will develop ideas for these and will discuss these requirements with you in detail. Considering activities that need to be allowed for rather than rooms is a useful exercise as a space may have a number of uses e.g. a study could be a separate room or a cleverly designed joinery item in a corridor or living space.
Unique qualities - making it personal.
We all live differently and it’s important to communicate how you live. Do you have any hobbies that require a particular place to enjoy these - a window seat to read a book, a generous fireplace to relax by, a home office or studio space, a home cinema? Do you entertain a lot, do you need space for art or books? How often are you home and what is your daily routine – as a family, do you all eat together, do you work from home? Does your lifestyle change from summer to winter?
Architecture should not just reflect its location but its function, and in a home that is made to best suit you. We all personalise our homes, from the colour of the front door to the interior and garden. Building a home from scratch should represent you. What is your personality like? Do you want your home to be visible and different or to have understated elegance. Do you mind people being able to look in or do you want it tucked away and very private? All these questions will help form a bespoke home for you and your family.
Timeframe - forever home vs step up vs investment
Is this a house you are intending to live in forever, sell once it’s completed or rent or move in a few years time? The degree of flexibility of space is key to consider to allow the house to adapt if needed or design in for future needs or a phased build. If it’s a short-term home, having greater mass appeal is important.
Details - the key to sucess
Any details on the requirements of each space are helpful to know. The number of appliances to the kitchen, the size of any art collection or books to be displayed, for example. It is important to discuss with your architect the level of interior design they provide. I design joinery, bathrooms, lighting and finishes but some architects focus only on the shell of the building. A consistent design approach from the exterior down to the smallest detail of a door handle or light switch will improve the quality of design and finish of your home.
Ideas scrapbook - share and inspire
Putting together ideas from magazine and from the internet is a helpful way to gather and communicate the style of buildings and homes you admire. I often share private boards on Pinterest with clients to communicate ideas for interiors, finishes, building materials and overall design. Have a look at some of our projects and start pinning. You may have a passion for a particular material like timber or concrete or for the way a building is constructed, whether to a hand-crafted or an industrial aesthetic.
Services - cost/ ease to install/ operate and maintain.
There is a wide range of options for heating, cooling, lighting and controlling your home. Constant developments in technology give you the option for controlling your home from your mobile phone remotely - to turn on your heating, for roof lights to shut when it rains or turn off all the lights with one click when leaving your home.
It is important for your architect to understand how you wish to maintain and control your home. Do you want to keep it simple or do you want the latest technology? How sustainable do you want your home to be? Often sustainable services have a higher installation cost but over time will pay off. Allowing for future proofing your home is important as technology changes and a good architect and services engineer will help with this.
Sustainability - think long term.
The building regulation energy efficiency standards for new homes are higher than for existing homes that are to be extended. Even if you are only extending part of your home, cost of fuel is rising and the need for a sustainable approach to all house projects is key.
Sustainability crosses many levels, from energy efficient services, greater insulation, to upgrading existing windows and building fabric elsewhere in your home, to choosing locally sourced materials or those with a low carbon footprint.
There is an uplift in cost at the design and build stages to allow for savings and future proofing down the line. Sustainability isn’t just materials and services, a good architect will orientate the design and massing to maximise solar gain when needed in the winter, provide shading in the summer and allow for natural ventilation to cool your home. Communicating at the briefing stage your approach to sustainability and discussing your options as the design develops is key to a home that has longevity and is good value for money.
Existing information - be prepared.
Gathering together any existing information on your home or site is really useful to have for your first meeting with your architect to allow the project to progress quickly. This should include information on services, any easements or access across the land and information on previous building works. A detailed measured survey is needed and will be arranged by your architect, but as a start estate agent's plans are useful. Any information on the history of the site and the wider context is useful too. During RIBA stage 2 concept design your architect will look into these areas in more detail.
Budget - be realistic.
Setting a realistic budget for the works is central and this can be part of early RIBA stage 1 feasibility study that explore different design options in order to achieve your brief. Your architect can work with a quantity surveyor to a provide cost plan and this is important particularly when there are a number of ways of achieving the brief and throughout the process as the design progresses.
It is important to note that VAT is due on refurbishment and extension projects but not on new builds at the time of writing. Provision for professional fees (architect, structural engineer and any specialist services) along with statutory fees for planning and building control need to be allowed for. You are likely to need a measured survey of the site or house and may incur party wall fees also. Allow for a contingency, brief your architect on when the funds are available during the process and allow for the interior fit-out and furniture too. Have a look at our article on preparing for a build project for greater detail on budget and programming.
Programme - don't rush.
A beautifully designed home takes time to design and build. Let your architect know any key requirements for programme and whether you are living on or off site during the works as this may influence the phase of works and method of construction. Have a look at the project stages guide to give a good understanding of what happens when.
“At Sophie Bates Architects we deliver exceptional, creative and inspiring new builds, extensions and refurbishments. We provide a client focused, design led, and highly professional service to create your bespoke home within your budget and requirements.
Insight, innovation and meticulous attention to detail are essential to deliver your home to the very highest standards. I look forward to hearing from you.”