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Guide to Engaging and Briefing Your Architect A concise guide to getting the most out of commissioning an Architect or designer

This guide was put together by us at CEAD Architects. We felt that a guide like this could do two things: firstly get Clients feeling more informed about the process and empower them to make a more direct contribution. Secondly to enable us to respond even more effectively to briefs getting to the ‘Eureka’ moment with fewer iterations. A bit about us. CEAD is an innovative practice based in Newcastle upon Tyne. We specialise in creative, sustainable architecture, urban design and planning. We cover the north east and north west regions and offer a full service from initial designs through to project delivery. We undertake a wide spread of projects and offer a comprehensive and personal service. Our core expertise is in housing at all scales including eco-housing, custom build and specialised housing for the elderly including dementia care. Other specialisms are community projects, small-scale commercial and leisure as well as urban design, masterplanning and landscape design. We hope you find this guide useful and welcome any feedback you might have.

Contents Engagement 1. What is the difference between an Architect and an architectural technician/draughtsman? 2. How are fees calculated? 3. What can I expect to pay?

Briefing 1. How do I brief my Architect? 2. What is the best way to communicate my thoughts?

Engagement 1. What is the difference between an Architect and an Architectural Technician/Draughtsman? The title ‘Architect’ is protected by law and is reserved for use by those that have the appropriate qualifications and professional experience. Typically this will have involved 5-7 years of study including a period of practical training as a minimum. All Architects are registered by the Architects Registration Board (ARB). This is a public register accessible here: Please do search the register to confirm that your chosen Architect is correctly registered. Other titles not including the word ‘Architect’ can be used by anyone. This does not necessarily mean they are inferior, just that they do not meet the requirements set out by the ARB. Architects are required to maintain Professional Indemnity Insurance and meet other standards that are there to safeguard Clients. Please refer to the ARB website if you want more detail of how the ARB looks after the interests of consumers when hiring an Architect.

2. How are fees calculated? Ever since mandatory fee scales were abolished in the 1980’s market competition has determined the value of fees for projects. These are usually expressed as a Lump Sum (fixed figure) or as a Percentage fee (a percentage of the proposed build cost). Architects and architectural technicians weigh up factors such as project complexity, project profile, Client type, experience and expectations as well as procurement type and previous similar work undertaken within their calculations. This could lead to quite different results for similar projects. Our advice is to ask for an Information Schedule or similar as part of the fee proposal so that it is clear what will be provided. Also ask for a list of any Exclusions so it is as clear what is NOT being provided. For simple buildings or small, residential projects architectural technicians are often less expensive than Architects. This is because Architects have generally had longer years of study, are required to carry Professional Indemnity Insurance and meet other professional standards for any job no matter how small. Nevertheless it is often worth approaching both to weigh up the pros and cons of each route. In fact, by hiring an Architect or architectural technician with extensive cost and construction knowledge the fee could be entirely offset through a more efficient construction solution for the project. Having the right consultant is crucial.

3. What can I expect to pay? As stated above, there are good reasons why fees levels would vary considerably between Architects. Generally though, expressed as a percentage of the total construction cost, Architects would typically charge between 6-12% for smaller jobs and between 3-6% percent for large jobs at a commercial scale. The top end of these scales would typically be for projects that involve additional complexity such as Listed Buildings, technically-demanding briefs or difficult planning constraints to name a few. Always ask your Architect or architectural technician to be clear about the structure of the fees. That is - what parts of the fee are for each section of work and when the trigger is for payment. Always ensure that there is some of the fee left towards the end of the job. This is so that you keep pace with the service being provided rather than paying for everything upfront.

Briefing 1. How do I brief my Architect? There are no hard and fast rules to this as each project is different. However through experience with many types of projects and Clients we have drawn up the following list that should help you get started:

Quantity • how much new building do you need? This can be expressed as square area, or as a percentage of your existing building. It is helpful to measure of the spaces in your existing building to get a sense of scale. • what spaces do you need? Usually expressed as a list and should include all the key rooms and areas as well as ancillary spaces such as utility room, store cupboard, boot room or other support spaces. Remember it is usually areas such as stores that are left out and often needed most of all! • what capacity are those spaces? This can be a useful way to express your requirements. How many people should it seat? How many chairs should be able to fit into it? How many cars/bikes? • are there any existing constraints/elements to be retained? This can include obvious elements such as existing trees/shrubs but could also include any existing treasured furniture or fixed fittings.

• what is your budget? Sometimes Clients can be hesitant to discuss this. Generally though your consultant will be able to deliver a better, more tailored service if they have some idea of what your budget is. You can refine this further by giving a sense of what your expectation of finishes are as this can have a large impact of the total budget available for construction.

Quality What look should your building have? Should it match what is around it or are you after something different? Is it traditional, contemporary, modern, rural, more urban or styled (Arts and Crafts, Georgian etc) Your consultant may come up with other suggestions but at least you have a common starting point. Don’t be shy about sharing your views. Your consultant may be an ‘expert’ but they are not going to be the ones using the building every day! Be aware though that there may be limitations on what you can do depending where you are located. Buildings in Conservation Areas, areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks etc, will have additional limitations on what the exterior can look like.

What should the different spaces feel like inside? You need not be specific about this for every space but there will be some that you might have a strong view on. For example a living room could feel dramatic or cosy, airy, light, simple, comfortable, warm, cool, open, formal or casual. Think or a word or words that best describe this. Alternatively you could use images (see next section for more on this). Are there any materials/styles that you particularly don’t like? share these to make sure that they don’t show up in the first sketch drawings! This will obviously avoid any embarrassment and wasted time.

2. What is the best way to communicate my thoughts? Your consultant will no doubt have an in-depth discussion with you about your requirements. There is no substitute for this. There are some tools you can use help record your thoughts and make sure as much of your thinking is captured as possible. Two of the strategies we would suggest are:

Client Briefing Matrix This will include a lot of the elements included in the ‘Quantity’ and ‘Quality’ sections above. You can set this out as notes on separate sheets of paper, on a homemade Excel or similar spreadsheet or you could use the template provided on the website (we’ll publish this soon). You can include all the spaces in your building in a list down the side and then with categories for size, capacity, mood, height, importance or whatever suits your needs. It is useful as it provides a clear record of your wishes to feed into the design process. Briefing Notes Project:  Enter Project Name Here  Help to  enter data


Enter date here

Enter size in  This does not need to a a conventional room but could  square metres if  Generated  just be a kind of space you wish to incorporate. you have a figure  automatically. in mind

Example A/V Room

Space No. Space Name


Size sq/m


Size sq/ft

Building 1 (or any other name to suit you) 1

Fill in space here

















An example template

This clarifies how  much you feel you  An alternative means to describe the desired  Picks up on desired linkages to that space. For Other requirements ' picks up on any particular qualities of light, colour, form that  need this space. You  example a kitchen would usually be close to  would be desirable. It can also pick up technical requirements such as the need for  can grade from 1  size. Using number of people to be  the dining room. dimmable lights, extra sockets etc. (most important) to  accommodated or types of activity. 3 (lesser  importance) 

Big enough for up to 10 people

Close to Games Room

Needs to have blackout windows. Retractable projection screen. Dimmable lights. Art deco cinema atmosphere!

Capacity or Description of Size


Any Other Requirements



Visual ‘Ideas Book’ This is typically a collage of images that capture your thoughts on design. This can be ideas for materials, the form of the building, details or fittings. It is difficult to always find images that are perfect in all respects. Don’t worry, it is the overall effect that is important - draw them together and it very effectively creates an overall mood.

To make your collages and ideas boards you could use:

If necessary amplify the images with a couple of keywords. It also makes an excellent touchstone for further discussion and will quickly allow you to have a much richer conversation with your designer about what you want to achieve.

Try to organize your sheets by room or theme. For example: exterior/living areas/bathrooms/ bedrooms/garden. It is very easy to use and ideal for including both images and basic labels/text. You can then easily save these as image files to email or to print out.

Finding the right images can be time-consuming but rewarding as well. I would suggest looking on manufacturers websites as well as architecture and design magazines online editions. We can also recommend a subscription to Homebuilding and Renovating in the months leading up to your build. It is an excellent source of advice and examples. Below are some of the websites we use regularly for residential projects that will hopefully get your creative juices flowing: completedprojects

An example collage.

copyright CEAD Limited 2014 Please note that this publication does not constitute professional advice in the role of Architect. We are not familiar with your particular project so please contact us or seek other professional advice if you are after something more definitive.

Guide to engaging and briefing your architect  

Short guide focused on the UK for Clients thinking of employing an architect. It also offers advice on how best to brief them and communicat...

Guide to engaging and briefing your architect  

Short guide focused on the UK for Clients thinking of employing an architect. It also offers advice on how best to brief them and communicat...