Why employ an architect?

 

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has produced a guide for engaging an architect. It includes some important topics, such as: appointing an architect, developing a brief, project leadership, fee options and legislation. In the next few posts on our blog, we summarise the main points listed in the guide, to help prospective and current clients enhance their understanding of why and how to work with an architect.

Working with an architect london

Checking your architect’s credentials

In the UK, a ‘architect’ must be registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB). Registered architects must adhere to the ARB Standards of Conduct and Practice, and the ARB can take action against those who fall short of the expected standards. RIBA also maintains a Code of Practice and expects its members to work with integrity and honesty. Architects practising in the UK who are registered with the ARB and are also Chartered Members of RIBA are entitled to describe themselves as ‘Chartered Architects’. RISE Design Studio is a RIBA Chartered Practice.

Added value

An architect can bring many benefits to your project and it’s not just about supplying you with drawings. An architect has experience to see your project safely through design, planning and building regulations, and construction. For a building project, the range of services an architect can provide includes:

– investigating the feasibility of the requirements;
– developing design proposals;
– applying for statutory approvals;
– preparing construction information;
– obtaining tenders for building work;
– administering a building contract; and
– interior design and landscaping services.

Appointing an architect

Architects who are members of RIBA are required by the Code of Professional Conduct to record the terms of any appointment before undertaking any work, and to have the necessary competence and resources.

It is in the architect’s and the client’s interests to understand their agreement, which should define and record the services to be provided and identify terms and conditions. RIBA provides a range of flexible Appointment Agreements, which an architect can use with all types of projects.

Agreeing the terms of the project

An agreement defines the obligations of each party and makes provisions for the assignment, fees, payments, copyright, liability, suspension, termination and dispute resolution. An agreement will also comprise the conditions, schedule of services and formal confirmation of the contract in a memorandum of agreement or letter of appointment.

Generally, the architect retains copyright of the information produced for your project (in accordance with the law). Architects are required to maintain professional indemnity insurance in respect of their liability to the client.

What an architect agrees to do

In general, an architect undertakes to:

– use reasonable skill and care;
– keep the client informed of progress and on issues affecting time, cost or quality;
– co-operate with other appointed designers/constructions team(s);
– only make alterations to the approved deisng with the client’s prior approval.

The role of the client

As a client, you would undertake to:

– advise on the relative priorities of your requirements;
– provide necessary and accurate information;
– appoint other consultants and specialists required under separate agreements;
– comply with CDM regulations if the project is not at your home (see next blog post);
– take decisions and respond promptly to approvals sought by your architect;
– pay the fees, expenses etc. due and VAT where applicable;
– employ a building contractor under a separate contract if proceeding with construction work.

In our next post, we’ll look at developing a brief and project leadership. If you would like to discuss a project, please contact us. You can browse our recent projects here.

Read a copy of the RIBA guide to working with an architect for your home.

Rammed earth walls: natural and sustainable living

 

‘Rammed earth’ is a technique for constructing foundations, floors and walls from natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime or gravel. With the lowest enviromental impact of all building techniques currently used in the commercial construction industry, rammed earth is receiving growing attention and becoming more and more popular with architects, builders and clients alike. In this short post, we tell you a little more about the technique.

Rammed earth walls RISE Design Studio architect west london

Mixing it up

Rammed earth walls are made by ‘ramming’ a mixture of materials into place between flat, temporary panels called ‘formwork’. The panels are normally made of wood or plywood and they are clamped around the earth to make sure it doesn’t bulge when compressed. The materials rammed into the formwork generally include gravel, sand, silt and a small amount of clay.  An additive like lime, cement of asphalt is often added to make it extra strong.

The mixture is compressed inside the formwork by a mechanical ram and compacted to approximately 50% of its original height. The compression takes place in stages, usually in depths of 10cm to 25cm, and this is repeated until the top of the formwork is reached. This is the part of the process that results in the beautiful layers sometimes seen in rammed earth walls.

After the wall has been completed, the formwork is removed and a surface texture can be applied, e.g. by wire brushing or carving. The wall is normally too hard to work on after about one hour. As the walls dry and harden (ideally in warm weather), the compression strength of the rammed earth increases to a maximum of 4.3MPa (620 psi). This is less than concrete but sufficiently strong for domestic buildings.

Environmentally-friendly

Cured rammed earth has a high thermal mass. This means that it absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, which reduces heating and cooling costs. Environmental impacts are also kept low if the amount of processing of rammed earth materials is kept to a minimum (i.e. artificial additives) and material is sourced locally where possible. Most of the energy used in the construction of rammed earth is in quarrying the raw material and transporting it to the site.

Healthy home

The composition of rammed earth allows it to absorb and release humidity from the inside of a building. This improves air quality, particularly for people who suffer from asthma. Rammed earth is also inorganic, which means that it won’t decay and does not support the growth of mould.

Back to our roots

More than 30% of the world’s population uses earth as a building material, hence this technique is not new. Properly constructed rammed earth can also last for thousands of years, demonstrated by the many ancient structures built using this technique which are still standing around the world.

It has received growing attention in recent years as the construction industry and its customers have a growing sense of the need for environmentally friendly and sustainable building practices. Not only does the technique offer opportunities for carbon-neutral building projects, the technique can be employed in a wide range of climatic conditions and for developing housing that would otherwise be constrained due to expensive construction techniques.

It is a technique that we have been exploring at RISE Design Studio, particularly in our drive to use local, sustainably-sourced building materials.

What is Building Information Modelling (BIM)?

 

Building Information Modelling (or ‘BIM’) is a way to create and mange information about a construction project throughtout the project’s lifecycle. The main output is the ‘Building Information Model’, a digital depiction of all aspects of the project. Not only is BIM innovative in the way it allows the building process to be optimised, it also offers a platform for collaboration between everyone involved in the project. In this short post, we write a bit more about BIM and why it is a useful tool for the modern architect.

Buidling Information Modelling architect west london

More than just a 3D image

BIM can mean different things to different people – it really depends on what you are using it for. However, it is generally understood that it is more than ‘just a piece of software’ that creates a 3D geometry of the structure. It also provides a series of co-ordinated processes that provide all of the information about the structure seen in the image.

In practice, this means that a BIM provides more than just a digital representation of the building, as it is made up of objects that are related: the building itself; the spaces that make up the building (rooms, hallways, etc.); the systems in the spaces (heating, plumbing, etc.); the products that make up the spaces (furniture, appliances, etc.); and the relationships between the objects.

Enabling collaboration

Another key function of BIM is that it can help a design and construction team communicate and work together well with one another, their client(s) and the public, to deliver real benefits. By building the digital design first, the team can be confident that all the elements fit together properly, avoiding unexpected difficulties in the actual build process. The digital design requires input from the architect, structural engineer, services engineer, etc., before handing over the information to the construction team.

Confident construction

There are also benefits for the construction team. When purchasing materials, detailed specifications can be extracted quickly from the model, and information about how materials should be installed/maintained can also be included.Rather than this information being kept in hard copy brochures, the model acts as a central database for all queries.

The model can also be handed over to the owner of the building so that it can be used for reference in the future (e.g. for refurbishment).

Managing risk

By understanding the project really well, any risks are significantly reduced. Today’s building projects can be very complicated – the more that everyone understands each other’s needs (e.g. design team, subcontractors, owners, etc.), the less risk there is. This also has positive effects on profitability and the level of customer service delivered to clients.

History of plywood and its present day use

 

We have recently completed several projects that have used plywood as a feature material. Plywood is made by gluing together thin sheets of wood (‘veneers’), with the grain of each sheet running in a different direction. The result is a material that is stronger and more flexible than solid wood. The history of plywood has been described as “a history of the modern world” – plywood started to be used on an industrial scale in the 1850s. In this post, we take a quick journey through that history and reflect on the uses of plywood in architecture and design today.

Plywood kitchen design self build london

The art of moulded plywood

In the mid to late 1800s, plywood was most commonly used in moulded form and was used mainly in furniture design. The ‘Belter Chair’ was most famous at this time, as the technique of moulding plywood to make this high-backed chair increased manufacturing speeds and reduced production costs.

The Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, was also one of the pioneers in curved plywood furniture, enabling large-scale manufacture of chairs and other furniture designs that were exported across the world in the early 1900s.

American designers Charles and Ray Eames also experimented with moulded plywood during the Second World War, developing a lightweight, stackable plywood leg splint for the armed forces. The Eames Chair, also in moulded plywood, was one of the most influential chairs of the mid to late 20th century and continues to be adapted and imitated by designers around the world.

Ray Eames - stackable plywood leg splint for the armed forces

Plywood transportation

Cars, trains, boats and planes are perhaps not the first things to spring to mind when thinking about plywood. However, during the 1800s, designers and engineers explored ways to deal with increasingly crowded streets. An elevated railway, made entirely as a moulded plywood tube was suggested in 1867 in New York, and in the early 1900s, a German company extolled the virtues of using moulded and flat plywood for the body of their affordable family cars.

Perhaps more familiar would be the use of moulded plywood in canoes. From 1917, the US firm Haskell manufactured moulded plywood canoes and sold them in large numbers across the world. The boats were very light and very strong.

The firm went on to design aeroplanes using plywood and this was perhaps the most technologically significant phase of the material’s history. Between 1910 and 1945, its strength and lightness allows innovative new planes that ‘revolutionised the nature of flight’. Moulded plywood shells (the ‘monocoque’) were strong enough to be self-supporting (they didn’t need any internal structure) and became standard in future aeroplane design.

Plywood at home

In the 1930s, plywood was perfectly suited in the construction of prefabricated houses for people on low incomes during the Great Depression. With the invention of synthetic glues at the same time, it was possible for plywood manufacturers to produce waterproof plywood for external use.

Plywood in the digital age

Today, plywood is one of the most common materials of the digital age. It is possible for designers to share plywood projects via digital cutting files, or videos and other images posted online. It continues to be widely used in residential and commercial architecture projects, and its ‘clean’ finish is appreciated by a growing market interested in using sustainable materials that are sourced responsibly.

Build your own home

 

Tens of thousands of people in the UK have built their own home. It can cost a lot of money, take a lot of time to plan and manage, and require a lot more attention to detail than when buying an existing property, but many find that it is worth it to ensure they live in a home that suits their requirements and tastes. In this post, we tell you a bit about what is involved in building your own home so that you can decide whether or not it is for you.

New build architect london

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Self-build properties now account for nearly ten per cent of all private new-build homes in the UK each year. While ‘self-build’ may conjure images of statement ‘Grand Designs’ properties, most tend to have relatively modest designs. This helps the design to receive planning permission and receive funding from mortgage lenders. Mortgages tend to be ‘interest only’, with the borrower paying interest when money is drawn down at the completion of each stage of the build.

A larger deposit than that for buying an existing home is usually required, and additional early costs include buying the building plot, funding planning applications, as well as employing an architect, project manager and a builder. It is ideal to source the architect and construction team via word of mouth, preferably from others who have gone through the self-build process.

Institutional support and finding a plot

As a rule of thumb, building your own home costs £1,500-£2,000 per square metre, although any changes to the original design and spefication during the construction phase can increase these values. Although initial costs are higher than for buying an existing home, there are tax advantages to building a new home rather than extending your current (or an existing) property: new self-builds qualify for rebates on VAT, for example, with the self-builder able to claim back most of the VAT paid on materials. Although VAT cannot be reclaimed on professionals’ fees, nor on household appliances, the average VAT reclaim for one-off schemes is about £13,200.

The Housing Strategy for England (2011) set out the expectation that the number of self-built properties in England would double, with 100,000 to be completed by 2021. In 2016, several legal measures have facilitated more self and custom builds by placing a duty on councils to allocate land for this purpose. Despite this legislation (the Housing and Planning Act), access to land in London remains an issue, as does gaining planning permission and accessing the required funding.

Demolish and redevelop

While there may be few plots with planning permission available, estate agents tend to know about properties that are suitable for demolition and redevelopment. This is likely to be more expensive than buying land with planning permission (i.e. the value of the building is included and there are also demolition costs), but it tends to be easier to get planning permission via this route.

The most important aspect of a self-build project is staying on budget. This requires a project team that estimates the cost of the build accurately and keeps to this quote. A good project manager is crucial in this regard. If you would like to discuss a new self-build project with us, please get in touch.

What does it cost to extend your home?

 

We’re often asked how much a house extension costs in London. Extending the home is a popular option among clients who perhaps need another bedroom, an office space, or a living area, without the hassle (and stress) involved with moving house. Although home extensions in London generally cost more than elsewhere in the UK, they remain a viable and cost-effective option to create your ideal additional living space and increase the value of your home. In this post, we set out the main costs associated with a house extension project.

How much does it cost to extend your home

Harvist Road Glazed Envelope

Extending into the garden and optimising natural light

You generally have three options for extending your home: single storey, two storey or basement. The construction cost of extending the ground floor of your home (in a single storey) is, as a general rule, between £2,200 and £3,900 + VAT per square metre, depending on the level of the specification you decide on. This is a popular option for extending into the back garden to add a dining area, studio or additional living space. It is also an excellent way to bring more natural light into the property, with the ‘glazed envelope’ (like the one in the above image) making the new space feel very spacious and ‘open’. If you plan to use the new space for a kitchen or bathroom then the cost of the fitting will need to be included (typically expect an additional £10,000 + VAT for a kitchen [low-mid level of specification] or £5,000 + VAT for a bathroom [mid range]).

The value of two floors

A two-storey extension generally costs an additional 50% of the construction cost of a single storey extension. It gives you the option of adding an upstairs bedroom or other room and the investment will seem like good value as once the foundations and other structural supports are in place, you do not need to bear these costs again for the second storey. It is important to note that a two storey extension may impact on the amount of light reaching your garden and may also present additional complexity in the planning process (achieving consent for a two storey is often more difficult that for a single storey and sometimes not permitted at all for example in a Conservation Area).

Going underground

A basement addition tends to be the most expensive option per square metre because of the structural and construction complexity and risk. The construction cost of a new space in your basement in London is likely to amount to between £4,000 and £5,000 + VAT per square metre. The costs may be less if you have an existing basement which may instead need converting or extending partially.

Other costs to consider

In addition to the estimated costs set out above, you will also need to factor in the cost of the professional services that you require, such as an architect and any other consultants that you need to involve – for the majority of projects you’ll need a Structural Engineer, Party Wall Surveyor, Building Control Approved Inspector and sometimes a Mechanical & Electrical Engineer as well as a Quantity Surveyor. This typically adds 15-28% to the construction cost. There are also planning fees (£200 to £300 for a house extension, although some extensions may fall under Permitted Development Rights), home insurance costs, and VAT. The costs of windows, doors and central heating will also be in addition to the costs already listed.

Site access and other constraints

There can also be costs associated with mitigating the constraints of a site. For example, the soil type may affect the type of foundation required or the types of building material that can be used, or there may be trees, drainage or other pipework that need to be (re)moved to allow access. If your property is listed and/or situated in a conservation area, you will need to allow for higher costs overall.

Despite the long list of costs, a home extension can greatly improve your living space and also increase the value of your home by 10% to 30%. We take pride in the home extensions that we have completed for our clients and it is always a pleasure to bring more light and space into the home. You can browse some of our recent residential projects here. If you would like to discuss a potential project with us, please get in touch.

How much does it cost to build a house?

 

We’re often asked how much it costs to build a house. This is a difficult question to answer: every new build has its own requirements and new build costs depend on a range of factors. In reality, it is possible to have an accurate estimate of the price when all of the drawings and work schedules have been completed. However, there are a number of variables and issues that you can take into account to gain a sense of price before then. We’ve outlined these below.

New build london architect

Location and design

Construction costs vary depending on the location of the site in the country. Central London will be a lot more expensive than elsewhere. For a new build home designed by an architect in London or the South East, current minimum construction costs tend to be in the region of £1,750 per square metre, with land acquisition and professional fees on top of this. Where other issues apply (and we’ll come to these next), this figure is likely to increase to a minimum of £2,000 per square metre.

The design of the property can also have an impact on the cost. It is important to use an architect who has a track record of designing houses that are within your budget (see examples on our Projects page). Where the highest quality finishes are required, the cost per square metre may rise to £4,000 (and more).

Factors that increase costs

It is likely that several other factors will apply to the project which will lead to higher costs. Examples include: party walls; difficult site access; specialist foundation requirements; non-standard forms of construction (e.g. cross-laminated timber); large areas of glazing rather than walls; and high spec kitchens and bathrooms.

There are a number of fees that will also need to be taken into account:

– Purchase costs (price of the sale, solicitor’s fees, survey, Stamp Duty Land Tax);
– Finance costs (relating to any borrowing and associated interest rates); and
– Consultant costs (these will also vary depending on the size and nature of the project – architect, structural engineer, inspectors, etc.).

Factors that decrease costs

There are a number of tax benefits for new build houses which can offset some of the above costs. Stamp duty is calculated on the value of the land only, which is typically less than the value of the land with an existing home on it. Community Infrastructure Levies can be considerable (especially in London) but new self-build properties are usually exempt from this (in line with certain residency terms). VAT is also not payable on the construction costs of a new build house and, assuming the house will be the principle private residence, Capital Gains Tax is not payable if you make a profit at the point of sale.

If you are interested in exploring the cost of a new build project with RISE Design Studio, please get in touch.

Spotlight on Jean Prouvé

 

French architect and designer, Jean Prouvé (1902-1984), has been described as one of the most influential designers of the early modern design movement. Once quoted as saying “never design anything that cannot be made”, he combined engineering and design to produce a wide range of furniture and prefabricated architecture. An influential force among modern designers and constructionally-minded architects, we also take inspiration from his work here at RISE Design Studio.

Jean Prouve RISE Design Studio

Modern metal furniture

A apprenticeship in his teenage years with a Parisian metalsmith led Prouvé to become a master of of various metals. Opening his own workshop, Atelier Prouvé in Nancy, he became adept at working with wrought iron and steel at scale, creating numerous furniture designs and then opening his own factory. He fabricated lamps, chandeliers, and handrails, as well as the famous ‘La Chaise Inclinable’, the first reclining chair to use the technique of flat steel tubes, which allowed the chairs to be stacked.

He collaborated with some of the best-known French modern designers of the time, such as Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, and his early successes led to the mass-production of his furniture (tables, chairs, shelves, etc.) for universities, hospitals, offices and schools. Tables made via an innovative method of folding sheet material were described as having “the perceived lightness of bridges and the presence of architecture”.

Prefabricated architecture

During World War II, Prouvé was commissioned to design prefabricated barracks for the French army. This allowed him to develop the structural system that became central to his later architectural designs. The roof and walls were supported by large A-shaped columns that a ridge beam could be slotted into.

In the 1950s, Prouvé devoted more and more of his time to the challenges of prefabricated architecture. His own house, which he designed as a prototype, is now considered a major development in prefab housing and, even today, engineers can’t always grasp the complexity of the bracing and support system that he set up intuitively in the structures he created.

His ‘demountable houses’ combined easy assembly and structural integrity that were used in a range of scenarios in a number of countries: durable housing for homeless war victims, manufacturers’ offices, and rural schools, to name a few.

The poetics of the technical object

Many of Prouvé’s furniture pieces are still manufactured by a Swiss furniture retailer, and his prefabricated houses remain preserved and regularly displayed. In 2008, Prouvé’s ‘Maison Tropicale’ (developed in the 1950s to address housing shortages in French colonies) was assembled in front of the Tate Modern in London to coincide with an exhibition of his work at the London Design Museum.

Since 2010, there has been reinvigorated interest in Prouvé’s prefabricated architecture. Many have been sold to collectors as installation art and, at a time when architects, planners and governments are becoming increasingly interested in addressing the issues associated with mass affordable housing, his ideas are being developed, adapted and modernised to suit modern day needs and increase their original material and economic efficiencies.

Parallels: boat building and architecture

 

Several well-known architects (Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, John Pawson, Frank Gehry, to name a few) have turned their hand to designing and building boats, and it is now common to find boat building technology and materials (such as custom composites) in modern building structures. Floating architecture is also becoming more and more popular. There seem to be natural parallels between the skills of the architect and the boatbuilder, particularly in the crafting of a wooden structure to create a functional and beautiful end result.

RISE-Boat-John Pawson

Making sense of lines

To the boatbuilder, ‘lofting’ is the creation of full-size topographical maps of a boat’s hull that allows the builder to make all the molds, patterns, parts and pieces accurately. The process of ‘laying down the lines’ is relatively similar to practices that go back to the 17th century, generating curved lines for the streamlined hull and keel of a vessel. Lines can be drawn on wood and the wood then cut for advanced woodworking. Today, boatbuilders, like architects, use computer-aided lofting to fine tune designs and produce a set of full-sized lines.

Following architectural conventions, a ‘lines plan’ slices through the boat in several directions and can be combined with a ‘table of offsets’. This contains reference points used in a similar way to latitude and longitude on maps to allow the use of coordinates to find specific points on the hull. This then allows the full scale model to be built.

Symmetry and alignment

Like architects, boat builders are focussed on what looks good. Subtle attention to detail, symmetry and proportion don’t necessarily make a boat float better but they do affect the appearance of the vessel. The ‘sheerline’ is the subtle and graceful curve that defines the uppermost edge of the hull. This is probably the most important feature on a boat and is often difficult to get ‘right’. Often, a 2D drawing of the sheerline will not look as attractive in three dimensions as the paper drawing cannot take into account real-life perspective.

Simple things like how screws line up are also important. Lined-up slots impart understated elegance, while randomly aligned slots might look unattractive.

Keeping with tradition

Wooden boat building has been described as “the quintissential industry“. Over time, boatbuilders will have found that certain woods are more suitable than others, and that locating sources for materials can be a challenge. This is a challenge also experienced by the architect who wishes to uses local materials to retain the sense of place and context of the structure.

History of a building: foundations

 

Constructing foundations is one of the oldest of human activities. Foundations provide support for structures by transferring their load to layers of soil or rock beneath them. Over 12,000 years ago, neolithic inhabitants of Switzerland built houses on long, wooden piles that were driven into the soft beds of shallow lakes, keeping people high up above dangerous animals and hostile neighbours. A few thousand years later, the Babylonians raised their monuments on mats made from reed, and the ancient Egyptians supported the pyramids on stone blocks which rested on the bedrock. It was in ancient Rome that foundation engineering really leapt forwards, with rules created and concrete used. In the first of a series of posts that chart the history of modern building elements in the UK, we look at how foundation engineering has changed over the past century or so.

Foundations building Muhlhofen

Byelaws for healthy buildings

The Public Health Act, introduced in 1875, was the first legislation that required byelaws to be set by the authorities. These byelaws were focussed on the development of new streets, ensuring the structural stability of houses, preventing fires, providing adequate and efficient drainage, and ensuring air space around buildings.

In 1878, the Building Act provided more detail regarding house foundations and wall types. For foundations, the byelaws stated that walls should have stepped footings (twice the width of the wall) and that nine inch (225mm) thick concrete should be placed under the footings unless the building sat on gravel or rock sub-soil (‘solid ground’). At that time, Portland cement was seen as making the best concrete, with hydraulic lime as ‘the next best thing’. Common (hydrated) lime was seen as inferior.

It is not known how many authorities adopted these byelaws outside London – many produced their own, less onerous rules. This meant that the nature and quality of foundations varied somewhat (concrete foundation, brick footings, rubble/flagstone)  with depths varying according to circumstances and, in general, shallower than modern foundations.

Raft vs strip foundations

Raft foundations are created from reinforced concrete slabs of uniform thickness, covering a wide area. They spread the load over the whole area of the foundation, in effect ‘floating’ on the ground. In the 1920s and 1930s, this type of foundation was common, with brick footings also permitted.

In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, most new houses were built on strip foundations, although raft foundations remained popular. Strip foundations are particularly suited to light structural loadings, such as those found in many low-to-medium rise domestic buildings, with minimum strip widths applying to different ground types and total load. These regulations were set out in the National Building Regulations in 1965 and applied generally throughout England and Wales, with the exception of London which had its own Building Acts.

Today, raft foundations are quite rare, except in former mining areas. An overview of modern types of foundations can be found here.