Since undertaking private commissions and subsequently starting my own practice, I and a number of my peers operating in a similar vein have on occasion found ourselves being asked by clients ‘how much does it cost for ‘some drawings’’? To distil the activity of an architect down to preparing drawings may seem simplistic to those in the profession. However, it’s a fair question on the part of clients who may well have no previous experience of undertaking a building project. Perhaps the wider profession should recognise that there is work to be done in order to better communicate the various roles architects perform in the process of procuring a building project to clients and the wider public. In attempting to answer the headline question, it is important to be able to describe the functions of the drawings that get produced during the various stages of a project.
In terms of architectural commissions in the UK, the RIBA produced a document long ago called the ‘RIBA outline plan of work’. This document has evolved over time, most recently changing from being ordered alphabetically to numerically. Changes in trends in terms of project procurement have also lead to changes in how the document is ordered. Crucially, the document sub-divides any given project into work stages, which are defined by what key activities occur at each stage and what level of detail is required at each. For clarity, I list the work stages below as defined in the RIBA’s outline plan of work in 2016.
- Stage 0: Strategic Definition: Identify client’s Business Case and Strategic Brief and other core project requirements.
- Stage 1: Preparation and Brief: Develop Project Objectives, including Quality Objectives and Project Outcomes, Sustainability Aspirations, Project Budget, other parameters or constraints and develop Initial Project Brief. Undertake Feasibility Studies and review of Site Information.
- Stage 2: Concept Design: Prepare Concept Design, including outline proposals for structural design, building services systems, outline specifications and preliminary Cost Information along with relevant Project Strategies in accordance with Design Programme. Agree alterations to brief and issue Final Project Brief.
- Stage 3: Developed Design: Prepare Developed Design, including coordinated and updated proposals for structural design, building services systems, outline specifications, Cost Information and Project Strategies in accordance with Design Programme.
- Stage 4: Technical Design: Prepare Technical Design in accordance with Design Responsibility Matrix and Project Strategies to include all architectural, structural and building services information, specialist subcontractor design and specifications, in accordance with Design Programme.
- Stage 5: Construction: Offsite manufacturing and onsite Construction in accordance with Construction Programme and resolution of Design Queries from site as they arise.
- Stage 6: Handover and Close out: Handover of building and conclusion of building contract.
- Stage 7: Undertake in use services in accordance with schedule of services.
This RIBA document forms the corner stone of most architectural appointments in the UK and is usually the basis of fee quotations presented to clients for their consideration.
At the early concept stage of a commission, drawings are usually fairly basic in nature. They are intended to communicate to a client ideas about how the proposed buildings internal layout can be configured and how it will appear in terms of overall form and materiality. On small projects these drawings may be fairly loose in nature and may appear to be little more than sketches. However, it is important to remember that in order to prepare this information, the architect will have had to carried out a survey or measure of the site. It would therefore seem realistic to anticipate that it would have taken the architect at least a couple of days to get to this stage, even on a fairly small project.
Clients should bare in mind that as consultants, architects fees relate to their time spent on any given project. Once the client has seen this information, it would seem reasonable to assume that the client would have a few changes and amendments they would wish to see incorporated into the proposals. The architect would then need to work on these proposals in to a level of detail that would be sufficient to form the basis of a planning application or application for a lawful development certificate. Typically, the package of drawings would need to convey where the project is physically located. If the project relates to an extension or alteration of an existing building, the architect will need to prepare drawings that convey what the building looks like before and after the proposed alterations have been implemented. At this stage the drawings should be reasonably detailed, confirming overall dimensions, heights of key features such as the eaves levels, ridge levels of roofs and a clear indication of what materials are proposed. Considering the supporting body of information such as design and access statements, it would seem reasonable to expect this to take a working week for a small project.
Provided everything goes to plan and the client is successful on obtaining planning permission, the client will then need to apply for building regulations approval. You will be required to obtain building regulations approval if you are extending an existing building or building a new building or series of buildings. You may also require building regulations approval for the following actions:
- Replace fuse boxes and connected electrics
- Install a bathroom that will involve plumbing
- Change electrics near a bath or shower
- Put in a fixed air-conditioning system
- Replace windows and doors
- Replace roof coverings on pitched and flat roofs
- Install or replace a heating system
- Add extra radiators to a heating system
Applying for building regulations approval will require the preparation of detailed design information. This will provide the building control department or approved inspector with a clear idea about the intended method of construction, and a demonstration that it conforms with current building regulations.
Typically, the drawn information will largely consist of large scale plan and section drawings that should be sufficiently detailed to provide accurate information about the proposed construction methods, proposed structure and services strategy. An old employer of mine once stated he used to base his fee calculations for such drawings on the premise that such a detailed drawing should take three days (he’d always try and make it happen in two days).
If you are interested in retaining the services of an architect beyond the appointment of your contractor, it is also worth bearing in mind that the package of drawings will require revising and updating as the project progresses towards practical completion, therefore the architect will need to make the necessary provision in the fee agreement. Basing a fee quotation on the time charge is only one means of calculating a fee, but provides a means of expressing how a fee relating to a drawing can be calculated. It is also important to remember that expressing the cost of a drawing in terms of a fee will in itself relate to a variety of factors that are variable. For instance, the level of training of the person preparing the drawing, the size of the practice and therefore the cost of the practice’s overheads and even the geographical location of the practice.