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Use your lockdown time wisely – how to plan for your next project and brief your architect.

27th March 2020

How to brief your Architect effectively

As the stay at home advice has progressed to locked down status, those of us who don’t relish in twiddling thumbs find ourselves naturally looking for things to do. This has probably manifested itself into gardening (thank you sunshine) or DIY, hardware stores before the lockdown were overrun with paint sales. But what happens when this runs out or there’s no garden left to tidy? This article looks at how you can practically spend time planning your next project and ultimately how to brief your architect effectively.

We have a unique opportunity where we are tethered to our home and we can really use that time to think long and hard about what you want your project to achieve. It may seem like that dream project is a long way off with the financial instability that might arise but planning your brief now is a unique opportunity and an evergreen piece of work to use in the future. It is also a great distraction, having a project to focus on is proven to improve mental health when we are all a little stressed.

Home extensions architect brief

House Extensions architect western building consultants

What are the benefits of learning how to brief your architect effectively?

A good brief helps the architect fully understand the clients desires and what they are trying to deliver. Poor briefs often result in poor design responses from the architect, frustrations from the client and time delays once you do start the process.

Whilst the architects first design response is unlikely to be the finished article, the process of design will refine the scheme and is ultimately an iterative process which evolves based on the structural engineers input, pricing and unforeseen technicalities, especially where working with an existing building.

Learning how to brief your architect effectively and giving clear direction may also save time and money. Although not always the case as some architects work on percentage based fees, at Western Building Consultants we work on fixed priced quotes, a client with a clear vision and brief gives us the understanding of what support they need during the process that helps us keenly price their concept design going forward and ensure we have enough time allocated to give you the support you need, as every client is unique and requires different levels of support.

What do you need from your architect?

Carrying out this exercise should get you to think about what help you need from the architect, so you engage with only the services that are most appropriate to your project. Some architects only take projects where they can work on all of the RIBA stages or some that limit their expertise to specialise in say the initial concept design. It’s important to understand what you need and whether your architect is happy to fulfil that appointment. At Western Building Consultants we have a large team of designers so are likely to be able to work just on the bits you need and none of what you don’t.

Construction stage, architect briefing

Considering how to use your architect in the construction stage

Think about the construction.

The most under-considered area by residential clients is the construction stage, whilst most have an appreciation of the initial stages architects help with; drawings, planning, building regulations approvals there is often a lack of awareness about how the architect can help during the construction stage. When considering how to brief your architect effectively the construction stage is something you should really consider.

Things to consider at the construction stage:

Do you plan to run the contract yourself? If so do you need advice about which contract? Are you going to get quotes yourself? If so how do you evaluate them against each other? Do you have a contractor in mind to carry out the works, are you planning to get multiple quotes? How confident do you feel with dealing with contractors and pricing, including dealing with extras or changes? Do you need assistance with site inspections for quality and costing? If so which type of procurement works best with the architect providing these services. Do you need a design that finishes at the structure or more assistance with things like finishes and colour? What type of building is it going to be? highly conceptual or standard type construction? As this will inform the level of technical design required.

Time, cost and quality

What’s the most important thing to you in delivering the project, time, low cost, quality? (You can’t have all three) Understanding this will help the architect deliver a solution not only during the concept stage but choice of build technology and procurement method.

Time, cost, quality, triangle

Briefing the architect about time cost and quality considerations

I wish I had……

By learning how to brief your Architect effectively you can also reduce those I wish I had…… moments by considering your needs fully. Every project is dependant on the person and by considering your needs your architect can fully tailor and personalise your design to your needs.

Case Study

By considering these and other factors your architectural designer should be able to advise accordingly what services you need.

Two case studies are demonstrated below to show how two clients with the same space demands for a large rear extension require differing services in the construction stage and emphasises the importance of learning how to brief your Architect effectively.

Clients A Mr & Mrs Bloggs

Clients A have an expanding family and require more living/kitchen space to accommodate this, the budget for the floor area is tight but workable. They have a friend who is a builder that has done lots of successful projects for friends and at a suitable price they would like to use. Mrs Bloggs works from home 80% of the time so can be on hand during the project to communicate with builders and make decisions. Mr Bloggs is competent at DIY and plans to do much of the decorating and detailing to save on costs. They both like shopping for finishes and will enjoy selecting and procuring the finishes. They want their extension to be light and airy with big bi-fold doors a traditional lean-to roof with Velux windows and to be fairly good quality. The ultimate driver however is cost. The house and utilities (plumbing, electrics) are in good condition and it is a 1980’s building.

The advice

The designer in this instance is likely to suggest that full project administration during the construction phase is not appropriate, the client could use a contract such as a JCT homeowner contract without appointed consultant directly with the builder. The architect can be on hand to give assistance on an ad hoc basis such as providing advice on the quote breakdown or should the need for further advice be required. The client is likely to be quite involved with the project from a hands on perspective and it is likely that in this instance the cost of the architects services could out way the total benefits.

Given the track record of the builder, house condition and the style of the extension the drawings and specifications are unlikely to need to be developed from building regulations stage as again the cost of these services would likely outweigh the benefit.

Clients B Mr & Mrs Smith

Clients B live in a listed building and require more kitchen dining space via a rear extension. The extension aesthetic is really important to the Smiths, they want to create a very contemporary space with lots of glass that creates a juxtaposition to the original dwelling. Minimal window frames and interesting design is high on the list or needs as is the interior design, Mr Smith has an eye for detail and wants very tile position accounted for and therefore quality is important. The house needs total renovation work of electrics and heating systems and a number of repairs that have been identified by an RICS surveyors report. Both Smiths have demanding jobs meaning they are at home very little and don’t often cross paths. They have no desire to work on the extension themselves or time to do so. They have a healthy budget to carry out their works but it would be difficult to increase this budget and therefore cost certainty is important. Both have little experience of the building industry and no desire to learn. Whilst both have a strong idea of the style of finishes that they want, they do not want to be involved with going out and selecting the actual finish and would rather be advised on the most suitable products to use.

The advice

The architect in this instance would probably advise that full working drawings are required of the extension and may also suggest interior elevations of bathrooms kitchens etc. are worked up considering tile and sanitary positions. With some products such as doors etc. fully specified at tendering. The architect may have the in house skills to do this with interior architecture designers/interior designers or suggest a sub contractor.

The designer will also likely point you towards carrying out a schedule of works to cover the repairs and new works, as this can be written into the contract with defined levels of quality. The architect or surveyor would likely be using a form of JCT minor works or intermediate contract administered by them. This will help control cost certainty and protect the client from overspend. It will also ensure their architect visits site regularly to keep an eye on quality and progress.

Pinterest architect

What to put in the brief ? How to effectively brief your architect.

Start with the fun bit

Pinterest is a fantastic tool, a picture paints a thousand words! Pinterest is an application that works on the idea of a designers mood board and allows you to collect all of the images you love into a ‘board’ so you might have specific boards for kitchens, outside appearance, bathroom etc. You can then share this board digitally with your designer. Alternatively, read interior design and architecture magazines cut out sections and make your own boards.

Make a list.

Start making a list, add to it three columns needs, wants and do not wants. This will be an essential tool for your architect to process and prioritise design decisions.

Get physical.

Your brief should contain a detailed description of the physical aspects of your dream home, number of rooms and the functional requirements, the “core needs”. When developing the core needs consider how you want to use your home day to day what are the important aspects? Do you need a spare bedroom for regular visiting friends or relatives, do you want to create additional room for a lodger to create a passive income? Do you want a WOW kitchen to entertain? What is your max occupancy? Where does everybody fit around a table at Christmas? Do you have a burning desire to introduce space for hobbies like gym equipment, a sewing room or that train set you have always wanted?


Whilst the physical aspects are important, how do you want the functional space to interact with the environment? Is a connection to the garden space from the kitchen important? Where is the best light? What orientation is the garden and do you want landscaping design to consider where to put your outdoor dining space, or are there any views you want to capitalise on?

Garden, in out, architects brief

Designing your extension to flow in and out of the garden

Be specific & talk about style.

Try to avoid general statements like “I want it to be modern” as this can be interpreted differently, instead how about linking it to your Pinterest boards. “I want a modern feel like pictures on my external extension board” Look into different styles and try to imagine your perfect project.

Dial the detail.

Whilst the design will get refined as the project progresses having as much detail at the start of a project will really help the architect give you a better design response. A good example is the kitchen space, letting your architect know the size of the large cooking equipment, cooker, fridge freezer and storage you need is really important as they can then model the floor space around your detailed requirements.

Keep an open mind.

Be open-minded, in most instances try not to design it yourself, if you are paying an architect let them interpret your brief as they may change the direction of your initial thoughts into something you hadn’t considered (or they might come up with exactly the same idea!) You generally get better value from your designer and more suitable less contrived design by being open to the ideas the architect presents, it’s better to be descriptive in your brief and less prescriptive if possible.


Often sketching can be a really good way of illustrating your points especially if you are not familiar with building terminology or architectural language (penguin make a dictionary of architecture as there are so many different terms) as a designer we always appreciate someone’s attempts at conveying their needs no matter how good or bad you are at drawing.

Long term flexibility.

Think about flexibility, how long do you intend to live in the house? What are the changes in your life going to be? You can’t plan for everything but big life events like having children, getting married, getting a dog or parents requiring home care etc. can be considered now. Your architect should be able to design in flexibility such as moving partitions or space to accommodate a more cellular layout should the need arise.

Architecture, design, bath, Extensions, Bristol

Accessibility is often overlooked when briefing an architect


Should you make your property more accessible in general? We never know when it might be required, are you planning ahead for retirement? If you have a forever home, how adaptable is it? To specify level thresholds on external doors, make openings a little wider, reduce the angle of any steps etc. it will not cost much now, however these alterations could be expensive in the future.


One of the most crucial elements of how to brief your architect effectively is being open with your budget, as described in the previous case studies a similar footprint build can vary so much in cost depending on style, procurement and design. Knowing your budget allows the architect the opportunity to design towards it. Whilst not a quantity surveyor most experienced architects will have some idea on the cost of a project based on your needs and can make some value decisions when helping to specify products and finishes. It is also important to be flexible and compromise if the budget is tight, expect some value engineering (design changes to reduce costs) with the contractors to bring the project into a suitable range.

What do you love or hate about your home?

Think about what you like and dislike about your current home, what features are good to keep and what things really bug you about your current set up? Now is the time to change these or make sure your architect protects the features you like.

Storage and habits.

A new design gives rise to the opportunity to change habits and introduce organisational storage. This can be really useful say in a utility/laundry room setting where organised storage into different categories e.g people, ironing, bedding can cut down on washing piles and later sorting. Take the time to also consider storage in general, although a less sexy part of the design the best designed homes have adequate storage to allow you to declutter.


What types of materials do you like? What material palette would you like to see used in the project, are you a big fan of oak, marble, glass? Understanding your taste when it comes to material finish could be really important especially where your architect will be helping in the construction stage of the developed design. Little touches like choosing a different skirting board material or linking some of the electrical fixtures with detailing in the kitchen can really help to create a successful well thought through scheme.

Structural Engineering, Bath, Engineer, Steel, Beams

Material finish can be really important in implementing a successful extension scheme

Sustainability, Energy Efficiency & Smart Systems.

How important is sustainability to you? Do you want to ensure that the products used in your project are eco friendly? That the design incorporates high levels of natural ventilation and light without overheating or being too cold? Does your extension need to be super insulated? Do you want to take the opportunity to introduce modern technology to reduce energy usage or install fabric energy efficiency improvements like wall or roof insulation into the existing build. Finally consider if you need any inbuilt technology, security, smart lighting, heating or sound systems?


If you follow the guidance above you can be sure that you are giving your architect the best shot at designing the right building for you. If you are looking to commission a new build, renovation or extension Western Building Consultants can help guide you through the briefing process to ensure you know how to brief your architect effectively. Our architects, architectural technologists, interior architectural designers and surveyors are highly experienced carrying out over 300 residential projects each year and can help you get a good brief in place using one of our bespoke templates. Why not get in contact today at your local office to arrange a free initial consultation.

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