Choosing your designer.

I’d like to make it clear that we’re not the only good architectural practice in Milton Keynes. However, we’re hearing some horrendous stories about some other so called professionals taking clients money, and then disappearing.

Clearly, this is awful and it reflects badly upon my profession. I would always suggest using someone who is a member of a professional body, because a professional body would insist that standards are maintained. The two main bodies within our field are The Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), to which we belong, and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Building Tectonics is also included on Milton Keynes council’s Buy With Confidence Trading Standards approved scheme. Of course, there are unaffiliated individuals that are also trustworthy, but you should be wary. Check that they have a digital footprint, such as a website, Facebook or Linked-in profile page and how long they have been trading. Although not many will have been trading for 30 years like us, you would want them to have some history, and have experience in making planning applications. You should also ask for details of their professional indemnity (this is not just third part insurance). If you wish to give a new company a go, and we all have to start somewhere, get their name, address and telephone number at the very least. Note that you will receive extra protection if you pay by credit card as this will allow you to claim should the company fail to deliver or suddenly go out of business.

I certainly don’t want to put anybody off, and I can see that the whole process could be daunting. Dealing with the architectural profession is bad enough, but then you have to deal with the builder! The builders we work with are honest and professional, and the worst you can say is they can be a bit disorganised and messy. Even so, if you bite the bullet and extend or alter your house to fulfill your dreams, in a few months you can join all of our other clients and look back and say that it was very worthwhile, I am sure.

What makes us different.

A recent article on using social media suggested that you should make it clear how your company differs from the competition, so here goes. When we start a project off, we nearly always carry out a measured survey. Many of our competitors develop a scheme from a basic sketch of the building to be altered and then carry out a proper survey once a scheme has been agreed. We have considered working this way, but the danger is that if you base your scheme on erroneous information the scheme may not be as build-able as supposed thus leading to delays and additional design costs later on. Of course the cost of the survey has to be borne at some point but with our way of working it is at the very beginning of a project and, with the other way, it is later. I can see why some clients prefer to defer this cost especially if they worry that they will never achieve an acceptable scheme, but we can nearly always find a suitable scene for our clients. Our record show that less that 2% fail to move forward because we could not achieve a suitable scheme and all but one of these clients has returned to us with another building to look at. I am pretty sure that one or the reasons for this is that we are thorough and that having accurate data at the outset means we can “design tight” meaning we do not have to shy away from solutions that highly spatially or structurally sensitive to what is there in respect of the existing building. We have certainly found solutions where other have failed and this perhaps is one reason for this.

The downside of our policy is that we have to charge more for this initial phase of the work and no doubt this will put some potential clients off. However, if you read the recent report that shows a great dissatisfaction and mistrust of architects to deliver their schemes to the client on time and budget because of a lack of technical rigour, I must stick to my policy of insisting of thoroughness from day one.

Of course, we have our way of working and other successful practices have theirs and I do not wish to denigrate other ways of working. I will, however go on to explain where we differ from other architectural practices in future articles.

Tony Keller
Building Tectonics

A photo of a white building, with four columns on the front of the building , then two arches either side with two columns on each one.

Palladian Design

Palladian design is a philosophy of design which was based on the work and books of a 16th century Italian architect Andreas Palladio, who is the only architect to date to give his own name to an architectural style. Palladio’s style was heavily influenced by ancient Roman architecture, and one of the main architects whose ideas he followed were those of a man called Vitruvius. Palladio made several attempts about domestic Roman architecture which was based upon partial ruins which had been found, but then these ideas were widely imitated throughout Europe, especially in 18th century England as British designers drew on these ideas to create a classical British Style.

Palladian style is still being used some 500 years later and has many clearly defined characteristics. These include columns with acanthus leaf capitals at the top, symmetry, designs over doorways and windows usually on the outer surface of the building, but occasionally on the inside. This style also incorporated masks based on Greek and Roman art and scallop shells into the building design as in Roman mythology, the goddess Venus was born of the sea, from a shell.

The RIBA is currently hosting an exhibition in London whose dates coincide with the 300th anniversary of the two books which spread the ideas worldwide. The exhibition showcases different aspects of Palladian design and how various architects such as the 17th century Inigo Jones and the 18th century Lord Burlington turned it into a national style.  Despite the rise of modernism in Britain and America and subsequently post-modernism, many designers and lay people would gladly harp back to Palladianism given the chance. It’s thought that one of the reasons it became popular in the first place was because wealthy landowners and industrialists, keen to suggest they had breeding and were well educated, were very happy to be associated with anything Ancient Greek in the hope that this air of sophistication would rub off on them. I suspect that this is still one of the reasons why so many would still choose this as the style of their mansion, given the chance. To some extent the Palladian look often described as Georgian (another reincarnation of Palladianism), was overused in the 70s by house developers as a “one style fits all” type of architecture. When done well, Palladian is magnificent and very stylish but when watered down it is pretty horrid and frankly pathetic. I suspect another reason for the popularity of such styles is that it is invariably symmetrical and this seems to visually please many. Generally the UK Planning Authorities are not keen these days on the Palladian style and you’ll probably have a fight on your hands if that’s what you want to build.