Architect Top Tips with Nick Silcock of Townscape Architects

December 2016

Get the inside track when it comes to architects – what do they actually offer and how do they go about it? What are the key tips and tricks to look out for according to experienced architect Nick Silcock

Architect Top Tips with Nick Silcock of Townscape Architects

Full transcript below:

Alex: It’s great to have Nick Silcock here from Townscape Architects in Harrogate. Nick thanks very much indeed for sparing the time to come in.

Nick: No problem Alex, delighted to meet you.

Alex: Thanks very much and just talk us through, again there’s a lot of confusion out there, you hear all these job titles and job terms, just sort of steer everyone in the right direction here. I hear sort of there’s the architects, the technologists and there’s the planning consultants. What do these people do, how do they all fit together on the architectural side of things and what you do?

Nick: So, there is vast differences between the architects, the architectural technologists and the planning consultant. Generally, the architect will have studied at university for seven years and will be very design focussed, he will study a Bachelor of Arts qualification and he will be there to open up your vision for a property, a piece of land for a development you have in mind and he will be able to pick up an idea and run with it, deliver that vision.

Alex: So, he is mostly the artist, if you like?

Nick: The artist, he’s the creative guy, he will also probably have the skill set to take that vision through the planning process, through the technical design process and be able to provide all the services that you need to deliver a construction project from that initial conception through to the last nut and bolt and sweeping up on site.

Alex: And that’s you?

Nick: That’s me.

Alex: So then on the technologist side, who’s that?

Nick: Generally, they will study for around four years. They study a Bachelor of Science qualification. So, they are far more technical in their skill set. So, a successful architectural practice is likely to employ a technologist to be able to deliver the technical aspects, the technical drawings and provide the fire power behind the scenes to actually do the drawings. So, it’s very much less or generally less design orientated but they’re and they have a very strong skill set than in a technical understanding of how buildings go together.

Alex: Yeah, so to do the most of the engineering, the build of it and how it’s actually all going to come together, the jigsaw part?

Nick: Absolutely.

Alex: And then the other bit as you said, was the planning consultant. What do they actually do?

Nick: Ok, so planning consultants, they’re often used, and we would work with a planning consultant on those sites where they are harder to achieve planning permission. Either that local residents are adverse to some kind of development on the site and so there’s lots of objections, or alternatively the site goes against planning policy as in the local council, the planning department will have a policy of saying how a piece of land should be used. If you then go against that policy, then a planning consultant can be used to interpret the policy and to out together a case to demonstrate that actually the proposal that is being put forward is fit for that site. So, an architect can often work with a planning consultant side by side, the architect would have the vision, the creativity and will do the drawings and designs, whereas the planning consultant is very much more policy driven, they are experts in the legal side of it absolutely. So, we work with a consultant to deliver on those more harder to achieve sites.

Alex: Great some great explanations there, thank you very much and finally there are a couple of architects in and around town. What do homeowners need to look for in a architect? I dare say it varies on the project type, that are the key differences, what are the pitfalls to avoid if you like?

Nick: Ok so when you’re picking your architect for your project bare in mind you’re going to be working with your architect for a year or two years depending on the nature of the project. So, the first thing is you need to make sure you get on with your architect, you need to trust him to deliver your vision to actually do what he says he’s going to do. So, first and foremost make sure you like the architect, make sure you get on with him, make sure he’s on your wave length. The next thing to do is to look at what the architect does, does he do a project like the one you want to undertake? So, for example if he only builds high rise apartments and you want a cosy extension on the back of your house, perhaps not the best match in terms of a architect so look at what the architect does, look at the types of projects he’s undertaken in the past. Does the style of how he designs meet your style, your vision of what you want to achieve on your project and then perhaps ask for references for the architect. A good architect will be willing to provide references from customers and clients they have worked with, speak to those references, check out this architect and also just check the architect’s qualification. Check they are registered with the necessary bodies. The architect registration board would hold details of that architect’s qualification to be called an architect, it’s a protected title and that architect will be registered on the ARB website.

Alex: Just talk through the process of getting planning and what it entails and surveys and costs. Just give people an idea of what to expect.

Nick: Ok, so in terms of the process, the process of design and the project would always start with the client brief. The brief is a vision of what you want to achieve, it can be a technical document, setting out a list of criteria of what you want to achieve on your project or it could be a series of images, a scrapbook almost of pictures of properties that you like, things you don’t like also because you want your architect to understand who you are and what you want to achieve. So, give him the pictures of things you like and things you don’t like, and he can quite, he or she, can quite easily pick up on your style and your preferred choice of design.

Alex: So, then you get the drawings made up and then when it’s time to go to, in this instance Harrogate Borough Council, what’s the process and the timeline involved there?

Nick: So, the next step in the process is, once you’ve got the brief defined and it’s a working document with your architect, it’s a very important document, that sets out where you see the project going, the architect can then start his process of surveying the property, because your architect would need a set of plans to work from in the first instance, to then be able to develop and design ideas with you, to then move the project forward through the creative design phase. The creative design phase is the really interesting part of the project, this is where we churn out the ideas, we work with you, we use our expertise and the vision for your property to actually push design to the absolute limits, and with you will work with you to design and develop the optimum layout for your house. That will then be used to prepare a planning application, a planning application for a typical domestic project is eight weeks.

Alex: Than after that eight weeks all being well, the council say, yes happy to approve that and you can get on with the building works as soon as that comes through.

Nick: There are a few more milestones to achieve. The next stages after that are to prepare the more technical drawings that you will need, that a builder would need to build from. So, he’ll need to understand how is the house built, what type of materials, what type of products, what type of insulation for example. That is called the building regulations phase. So, your architect or technologist will prepare you technical drawings at that stage and they are submitted to the council or to a building inspector for an approval of those plans. At that point you can then start to obtain quotes from builders based upon those drawings and when you’re ready to start work it’s about informing building control that you’re commencing on site 48 hours in advance.

Alex: Crikey, so it’s a bit more complicated than I think everyone first thinks. As I said in the first sentence, it’s all well and good thinking to go and get planning for that extension but it’s quite a lot of steps to go through.

Nick: There are other steps after it to go through but a architect will be able to guide you through those steps to make your life simple.

Alex: I suppose just flipping it back the other way, we’ve obviously seen the rise of George Clarke on Amazing Spaces for example and I suppose the obvious question is, well look Nick, it’s all well and good talking through all of that, do I actually need a architect at the end of the day for an extension again, I hear on TV it must be so easy, George Clarke says oh you know what let’s go and build, let’s go and do something and it’s all within this, new permitted development rules, where does George stop and you guys take over?

Nick: Ok so you’re in the industry Alex, you know that a well-designed property is going to be worth more, its going to sell quicker, it’s going to get more enquiries. So, a well-designed property is worth the investment. So a architect will go above and beyond your property, he will achieve that next level, it will be designed, it will be executed to the highest of standards, the space will be utilised in every direction, it will be a space you get enjoyment from.

Alex: And where do you stand with the permitted development? I know it’s beyond a certain size that you then have to go through the full planning process, but up until that point you can get away with it and I suppose sneak it in if you like, a lot of people think that.

Nick: No, you can’t sneak it in. The permitted development is a set criteria basically and you have to keep within a certain height, certain size, certain distance from the boundary and you can generally build a small-scale extension under permitted development.

Alex: A conservatory type thing?

Nick: Generally, yeah, some houses have their permitted development rights removed so be very cautious of that in that doesn’t apply to every single house. And it doesn’t or can’t be applied sometimes to very bespoke houses, that are developed over a number of years and have been extended previously so always tread with caution. The permitted development rights are great, it does give you an excellent opportunity to extend a house without having to go through the planning process, so they can be a great opportunity, however tread with caution. Now seek advice before you actually start building.

Alex: Some great thoughts there thank you and again you get the planning permission for example, you now want to build it out again, it’s a split choice decision, some people say well I want my architect, yourself, just to project manager and sort of oversee it all and other people sort of say, thanks Nick, thanks for doing that and then they chuck it out to the builders. What are the pros and cons of doing this? And I guess you guys drew the plans, you know what’s going on.

Nick: It goes down to your experience, if you have built something before, if we’ve prepared all the drawings and a competence test, the drawings could be passed to a competent builder to build from without a project management service. But, do you have that link with the builder? Do you have that relationship and trust with the builder that they’re going to do a great job for you? Are you going to be able to monitor the quality of the work on the site? Are you comfortable with what you’re getting from the builder? And are you comfortable that you’re paying them the right amount of money? So, your architect or your architectural practice will be able to guide you through the process in terms of the tender process, in terms of finding your builder, finding the right builder for that project and then to manage the payment so you’re never paying out more than you should be to the builder and also checking the quality of the work along the way.

Alex: So, it comes back to exactly what I’ve always been saying to people, it’s experience. You have the experience of what to look for, its exactly the same on the estate agency side, if you built up that time and experience within that and you know now what you’re doing, you’re fully able to advise clients because if you know, you know and if you don’t you’re going to be left out in the cold as they say. I suppose a lot of people think that architects, not particularly glamorous, you’re stuck in a back-office sort of thing. How would you counteract that?

Nick: Architecture is a wonderful business, we work with such a wide range of people, we get to meet a wide range of people, ranging from people who want to extend or renovate a house, up to we work wit charities, and working with charities is great because they need a guiding hand through the projects and through the charity projects we’ve worked on we’ve then got to meet quite a few celebrities and Royals at openings.

Alex: Go on drop a few names.

Nick: Ok I’ll drop a few names, Princess Anne opened a building last June, which we designed, had a really interesting 5-10-minute conversation with her on tarmac and what specification of tarmac was being used in the car park. AP McCoy was at the opening as well along with the racing celebrities and Sophie Countess of Wessex also opened a project for us in Cookridge a few years ago. So, met some wonderful people along the way.

Alex: Well look at you. Well some fantastic tips and tricks there for architects and if you want to I suppose drop Nick a line and hand out with some his royal clientele, what is the best way to reach you?

Nick: Website is phone number 01423 505924.

Alex: Nick fantastic, thanks so much for coming on.

Nick: Thank you Alex.

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