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  • Olivier Jauniaux

Questions and Answers About Your Project at Various RIBA Stages

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Carrying out house works for a refurbishment or extension can be daunting – for many, it is difficult to know where to even begin. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – the architect’s professional membership body – strives to ensure quality and excellence in design delivery for architecture and design. In order to help enable this, the RIBA set up a structure Plan of Work, which aims to achieve a smooth process from conception to completion. This Plan of Work is used by property owners, architects and contractors to facilitate the design and construction of projects and to gauge stage payments and other important dates. [You can find a table of the RIBA Plan of Work here].

The RIBA Plan of Work comprises of eight work stages, each of which details the tasks and outputs required at each stage of the design process. As a property owner, your involvement during these stages is fundamentally up to you. You have the choice as to whether to appoint an architect or designer who will serve as a point person between you and the rest of the team, or you can do this yourself. If you do choose to appoint an architect, your involvement can be as substantial or stepped back as you like and will often come down to trust and to whether you have a clear vision for exactly what you want or you would like to apply the designer’s creativity on the project. In this blog we have compiled a series of questions we get asked on every project, by all clients – experienced or not.

Stage 0: Strategic Definition

‘I want to carry out works in my home. Do I need to appoint an architect or designer?’

· The ‘Strategic Definition’ is ultimately deciding what you want to achieve through your project. You will begin to explore and answer questions regarding your design ambition, the personal needs you are trying to meet through your design, and determining the tone of your project. At OLJ Designs we often set a Houzz board or Pinterest board as homework for our potential clients to collate images and collaborate on a shared vision. As you are considering these, you may want to think about your project time frame, and whether you think the building works you would like to carry out could be realised in the right time for you. Once you have done this, you will be in a comfortable position to decide whether or not to appoint an architect or designer to carry out your project. This will depend on financial viability, and perhaps the complexity of your project. For large additions or whole house renovations, it is often common to hire an architect or design professional to help plan the project. They will likely guide you through the RIBA stages to ensure smooth progress throughout your works, and also help you make the appropriate design decisions that cater towards your taste and needs and may help you unlock the spatial complexities of your house in unexpected ways.

Feasibility sketch, design, rear extension, loft extension, Penge, London, architecture

Stage 1: Preparation and Briefing.

What are my project objectives?

You now have a vague idea of what you want to achieve, have an understanding of what your design ambitions are. You may have decided to appoint an architect or designer to help you carry out the works, and so, it is therefore time for you to think more in detail about what you want to achieve. Stage 1 paves the way for you to think about concrete project outcomes, such as sustainability outcomes, your standards of quality and your spatial requirements. This can be achieved through a Feasibility Study, testing the viability of your project before undertaking any serious expense. The earlier you answer the ‘big questions’, the higher the likelihood of a smoother design and construction process. At OLJ Designs, we offer feasibility studies, but often this is discussed in person at your home and we try to answer all of your questions as best as we can. Some questions you may want to ask yourselves before meeting an architect or designer are:

o What is my project budget? Get an idea of what your project might cost. At OLJ Designs, we offer in-depth consultations, where we get to know our clients personally and understand their needs. Upon doing this, we tailor a quotation package that addresses the scope of works relevant to your ideas so that you can decide determine financial viability in your own time.

o Do I need a surveyor? It is often hard to determine exactly whether the ideas in your head will work as you imagine them in practice. For more clarity, we recommend hiring an architectural surveyor to carry out an in-depth measured survey of your property. With this information, you will have an accurate base of drawings of the house as existing from which you can design to scale. OLJ Designs provides comprehensive architectural surveys of your property with the purpose of refining your ideas.

o How long will my project take? Stage 1 is also the time to draw out a Project Programme, in which you can determine the project time-frame and costs through each stage. Together with the you, the property owner, OLJ Designs helps in defining a realistic and pragmatic project time-frame so that you may get a good sense of the length of your building works and spending schedule.

Design iterations, rear extension, Chiswick, London, modern design, Forms, architecture

Stage 2: Concept Design

Can we collaborate? Who makes the design decisions?

At this point, you will have a clear idea as to where your design is going. It is now time for you to think more specifically about the design itself, from materiality, spatial qualities and building technology to possibly finishes and interiors. Most of our clients enjoy this process as they start to see realisations of their ideas in drawings and 3d images. We love to collaborate with our clients on their homes and we hold frequent and thorough design reviews as often as necessary to get the design just right. Of course, we are creatives and the first round of this is usually where the client allows us to run our imagination free to design and research planning restraints based on your brief. Then we work together to refine the design so that it is ready to obtain planning consent. We always aim to carry out Planning Applications thoroughly and sensitively, with the intention of establishing a positive relationship with the council.

render, concept, architecture, rear extension, doors, courtyard, two storey extension, kitchen, wood panelling, contemporary architecture, Peckham, London

Stage 3: Spatial Coordination.

Can you guarantee I will get planning permission (if needed)?

Although your project might be at the end of its initial design stage, Stage 3 allows you to go through your project thoroughly, and determine whether yours is going to meet all the requirements to satisfy your brief but also those of the council and building regulations. Depending on the complexity of the project, planning might require more or less information so you may need to hire an engineer at this stage to help produce the necessary information for planning permission. Planning permission is always a risk, and even the most experienced planning consultants and specialists will tell you that there are no guarantees when it comes to submitting an application to the council. However, with good research, local precedent, a tactical approach and beautiful documentation (drawings and statements), your chances of obtaining planning permission are much improved. We tell all of our clients to be on the lookout for precedent in their immediate vicinity, and you can usually find these on your local council’s planning register. Although we carry out extensive research, you know your local area best, so don’t be afraid of suggesting comments to your architect or designer’s work.

planning drawings, architecture, rear extensions, contemporary design, Haringey, London, Planning permission, Flat extensions

Stage 4: Technical Design.

So many questions… How will it be built? How much will it cost? Who will build it? What finishes do I choose? Do I need Party wall awards?

At Stage 4, the general design is complete, you have reached the final iteration, and it is time to get into the nitty gritty details. At this point, we tend to begin by producing a comprehensive package of drawings, schedules and specifications outlining a proposal for the detailed design. For this to happen, a structural engineer will usually need to be appointed. If works are proposed to a party structure, a party wall award may be necessary. Larger jobs may require other consultants to get involved at this stage such as kitchen designers, lighting designers and landscape designers. Although these last three are all services OLJ Designs can provide, we often advise clients to use specialists if they want a particularly complex finish.

Once the first iteration of the package is complete, you would go through the details and ensure that everything is how you imagined. We often like to put together a specification of all the fixtures, fittings and joinery at this stage so that we can get everything priced and you can have a complete idea of the finances before any construction starts. This allows us to refine and if necessary, reduce the scope within budgetary constraints.

Finally, we send out the drawings to contractors for quotation and tender. Normally we try to issue the package to between 3-5 contractors we have worked with in the past. If you have worked with any contractors or have been recommended any, feel free to add these to the list. Each of the contractors will want to visit the house before pricing it and you will want to interview them. Your architect/designer should assist you through this process and assist you in the comparison of the figures as they return.

Structural Model, Technical drawings, steel work, construction drawings, architecture, Kensington, London, loft extension, new build

Stage 5: Manufacturing and Construction.

How am I protected? Who supervises the works?

Once the specifications are complete, priced and a contractor is chosen, your appointed architect/designer should advise you on the correct construction contract to use for the build. Common practice is to use JCT contracts, which have a series of legal procedures and protections in place in case of negligence, delays and other unfortunate happenings. This document is countersigned by your architect or designer who becomes, in legal terms, the contract administrator. At this stage, the architect or designer has the responsibility to act as the middle ground between you and the contractor, and must sign off any contractor’s invoices and ensure that works are being done in accordance with drawings and specifications. The contractor must then set out a Construction Phase Plan or Programme to outline to order and dates for each of the stages of work. You would also normally appoint a Construction Design Management Health and Safety Consultant at this stage (a mouthful, I know!), who will assist to get all the health and safety documentation in place. Finally, Building Control need to be appointed to oversee the project at various stages and to ensure that all the drawings and specifications meet the necessary standards for construction. As you can see, there are a lot of people involved! Each of these people are insured and are there to protect you and your property.

During the works we organise weekly meetings, to which the client is always invited, which help everyone stay on top of the works and the program. Meeting minutes are taking as a written record of everyone’s duties. Your architect or designer should help coordinate the ordering of items such as fixtures and fittings and may be able to obtain trade discounts on your behalf. Please remember that often architects and designers need to charge for the service of ordering on your behalf, as it is very time consuming. However, with trade discounts, this still often works out cheaper than buying it yourselves. Try to decide on finishes as soon as possible to ensure there are fewer delays.

in construction, construction photograph, work in progress, architecture, london, Chiswick, rear extension

Stage 6: Handover.

Do I need anything now?

The final stage before building use; the building works have been completed, the final specks of dust swept away, the paint has dried, and your vision has been fulfilled. Inevitably, clients often ask what they can do to ensure adequate maintenance of their new property, extension or refurbishment. The Handover stage includes an aftercare service to the client and the building, to ensure the continued maintenance and integrity of the project upon completion. A maintenance package with all product warranties and manuals will be given to you and the snagging process will begin. During snagging clients should compile a list of errors or incomplete portions of work over a period of a few weeks. You architect or designer then oversees this list and instructs the contractor to carry out any completion or repairs necessary. Once this is complete, building control will sign off the construction and your architect or designer will sign off the project as a whole. Finally, you can move in and relax!

Stage 7: In Use.

I still have some questions; can I get back in touch with my architect or designer?

Your project is now in use and you are happy with the outcome. You would like to give your architect or designer feedback on the project or you may have some questions regarding the project on the whole. RIBA stage 7 gives you as a property owner the right platform for you to give feedback or simply get back in touch with your architect or designer even once the built project is in use. At OLJ Designs, we aim to remain as available as possible and encourage our clients to give feedback post-occupancy, and to also keep in touch! Stage 7 also requires home owners to make their project available to the architect or designer for photography. Some clients find this a little awkward but, in our experience, they have always loved the outcome and receive a series of professional photographs of their projects – a fantastic end to a long and exciting journey!

loft extension, black box, contemporary architecture, extension, Chiswick, London, amazing design

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