The practice of architecture in the UK


The title of ‘architect’ is protected by law (Architects Act 1997) and UK architects are bound to a strict code of conduct. Only qualified professionals registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) can call themselves architects in the UK. Registered architects will have gone through lengthy and intense training and will have experience of working within the industry to meet the stringent criteria allowing them to use the title. Be wary of anyone claiming to be an ‘architectural designer’ as they may not be fully qualified and regulated. Many countries do not have a set process for designing a building and will use informal processes that are open to varying interpretations by consultants with different experience.

Regardless of where they are in the world, all projects consist of the same core tasks:

  • Agree appointments with the professional team

  • Develop a client brief

  • Create concept design options

  • Coordinate the design

  • Prepare a planning application (if required)

  • Apply for planning consent (if required)

  • Develop a set of construction information

  • Prepare a tender

  • Obtain consents required prior to construction

  • Award a Building Contract

  • Construct the building

  • Inspect the construction progress

  • Hand over the building to the owner

Projects in the UK follow the RIBA Plan of Work and contain the following stages:

Stage 0/1 - Preparation and Brief

This is where an architect can add value to your project through preliminary appraisals of the existing property. You will give them your requirements, what you want to achieve and what problems you have with the existing space. They will propose solutions and work with you to realise your brief, whether it is to maximise potential space or finding clever solutions to reconfigure existing layouts. They will consider light, space, functionality and value within their designs, and advise whether planning approvals and other consultants will be required.

Stage 2 - Concept Design

These are outline proposals based on your brief following the initial appraisal. The architect will present a number of concepts to discuss with you and liaise with your local planning authority if required to seek initial feedback on the viability of these ideas.

Stage 3 - Developed Design

This converts the ideas from Stage 2 into something that can actually be built, and the architect coordinates the designs with other consultants were required. Once you have approved the design, the drawings created at this stage form the proposals that are submitted for planning approval.

Stage 4 - Technical Design

Technical drawings and specifications are prepared which will be used to price the tender by builders and construct the building. Architects can invite and appraise tenders on your behalf.

Stage 5 - Construction

The architect can administer your contract with the builder whilst on site. They will carry out regular inspections, deal with queries, instruct any additional work required, keep track of costs and certify payments due to the builder.

Stage 6 - Handover and Close Out

When the project has been completed, the architect will make a final inspection and certify completion. They will remain on hand during any defects period and can arrange to certify the final payment.

You do not have to employ an architect for your building project, however you will benefit from their expertise and experience to guide you through the many pitfalls of designing and delivering an exceptional project in this country. It is possible to engage an architect for the early stages of the project only to help you get the best out of your space and money, and to help secure any necessary consents.

Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs fame said “A good architect actually pays for themselves - more than once. You will reap the reward and the building will be hugely better and deliver much better value for it.”

Here are our top reasons to hire an architect:

Make your vision a reality

At the outset of a project, client's often have many ideas about how to improve their homes and the impact this will have on their lives. Sometimes these are simple and can easily be described, other times these are more abstract and hard to define. Architects will spend time with you to really understand what you need, and will guide you in the process of bringing these ideas together, whilst developing them into a cohesive architectural design. Architects are extensively trained in this process, and will help you visualise ideas through drawings and modelling, best enabling you to make the right choice.

See the bigger picture

Unlike most of the other disciplines within the building industry, architects can see the bigger picture and bring together a wide variety of factors to deliver the end goal. At the outset of a project architects will help you identify who else, and what further information is required for your project, and then proceed to act as your agent through the design and indeed construction, ensuring what is being built is in accordance with the design.

Creative problem solving

The design and building process is long, intricate and inevitably problems arise whether during the design stage or whilst the building is on site. This is especially the case when you're working with existing buildings, whose conditions are often very difficult to determine until demolition has started. Having a well develop design does not only reduce the likelihood of these problems happening in the first place, but as architects are highly trained in problem solving they are best equipped to rapidly come up with creative solutions when these problems do occur. Above all else, this relieves the pressure on you as a client to make decisions under stressful conditions.

Save money

If you don't hire an architect, it may appear that you will be saving on up front costs, however in the long run architects will generally save you money. The more time taken to develop a design that really meets your expectations as well as the various statutory restrictions, the less likely changes will occur on site, which are far more expensive that making updates to a set of drawings during the design phase. This furthermore stands true when considering your satisfaction with the end result; the better it is, the less likely you will be to redo work in the years to come. A fully developed design will also enable more accurate tender returns from the contractor, reducing the likelihood of incurring additional costs once the project has started on site. Architects can also be extremely useful with managing the tender process and negotiating with contractors on your behalf.

For more information about the permissions and professionals you may need, an introduction to budgeting and working with a builder in the UK, please refer to our other posts.