The Benefits of Choosing an Experienced Architect over a Cheap Drawings Company

Making your dream home a reality can be a costly process and understandably many people try to
keep their costs as low as possible; and stick to a budget – whether this is £5,000 or £500,000. The
first step in this process is to arrive at a scheme that gives you what you want. However, it also has to be possible structurally; so, you can then make the decision whether to go ahead with your project.

Therefore, the first point of call is making contact with either an architectural practice or alternatively, a drawings company that offer a fixed low-cost package. Whilst many people think that by choosing the low-cost package drawings firm, they are saving money this is often not the case. We wanted to show you why this is not always the cheapest option and the pitfalls to look out for when choosing a company to design your house alterations.

What are your requirements?
As an experienced architectural practice, once a potential client makes contact with us, we would always start with a Feasibility Scheme. This is a fixed fee service and involves visiting your home at a time that suits you, to listen to your requirements. The visit normally takes about two and a half to three and a half hours.

Which is the best scheme for you?
Following the visit and survey we will produce a number of schemes for you to consider and will work with you until you are happy that you have the best possible scheme for you. It also needs to have the best chance of being approved by planning. Once you have a chance to evaluate our schemes and give us your thoughts, we can then further explore a particular idea and alter it as necessary.

The Planning Application Stage
The second stage is the Scheme Acceptance which is where we proceed with your chosen scheme. A Planning Application is then submitted to the Planning Authority, preparing the Building Regulations Application and then Project Managing your scheme to completion.

How do we save you Money in the Long Run?
Whilst this may sound fairly simple and you would think that any company could offer this service; it is rarely an easy transition. There are always queries and issues that pop up along the way and this is where an experienced architectural practice has the advantage over a fixed fee drawings company. They know every detail of your agreed scheme and can tweak it and liaise with the different bodies along the way from planning through to building control/regulations.

As an architectural practice, Building Tectonics have close relationships spanning over 30 years with the local planning authorities. We therefore, know what is likely to be approved and where you may run into problems; therefore, saving you time and money in the long run.

Over the years, many clients have come to us after choosing the cheaper option and then later regretted it. They have found that the company in question just didn’t have the knowledge or expertise when they ran into problems or they simply didn’t like their design concepts. They therefore, end up coming to us to try to sort it out. We are always happy to take a client on at any stage but it can sometimes take a while to rectify what has been undertaken already by the previous company.

Many of these package drawings companies may also say that they include all fees; but often further down the line you will find areas crop up that are not included. The fees may also not include you making any design changes at a later date. Whilst they can do the basic drawings they won’t think outside the box and give you alternative options that you may not have considered and find a solution that really suits you, your family and your lifestyle.

These services tend to focus on speedy transactions and quick turnover as this is how they keep their costs so low. They just don’t offer the personal architect/client relationship that architectural practices have, where we aim to find the best solution for our clients whatever it takes.

Building Tectonics will design and develop your ideas and work with you to guide you through the whole process step by step. We always go the extra mile to find a scheme that gives our clients the best possible fit with what they desire. Not all clients know exactly what they want and during the exchange of ideas and two or three different schemes, the brief can often get altered several times until the perfect solution is reached.

If you would like to know more about the services we offer and how to take the first step towards achieving your dream home; please do give us a call on 01908 366000 to see how we can help.

Team Trip to Kingspan to Learn about Timber Frame Housing

It is always very productive and a change of scene; to get the Building Tectonics team out of the office together to learn more about particular areas that we work on.  So, on Thursday 14th March we all went on a trip to Kingspan Potton, based in Great Gransden, Bedfordshire who specialise in fabricated timber frame housing.

The walls, floors and roof of the houses are fabricated in large panels in their factory and are then taken to site and bolted together to construct a house (or other types of buildings).  Although there are several companies who already work in this area; Kingspan have moved away from the mass housing market and instead of supplying the larger house builders, now just supply one or two units to small developers or even one-off houses.

On arrival the BTL team were greeted in the meeting room by the National Sales Manager; who gave a presentation about the different products they produce and then showed them around the factory where they are made. They saw how the process works from start to finish; from when the wood comes into the factory to when it leaves on the back of the lorry.  Following this, they drove 15 minutes away to the Potton Self-Build Show Centre in Little Paxton, near St Neots where they have 5 show-houses. The team had the opportunity to look around the show-houses; which showed them the different materials that Kingspan manufacture and the different structures that they are capable of producing.

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Kingspan can help with the design of any house and have a pattern book of designs you can choose from; but obviously being an Architectural Practice, we already do the design for our clients.  However, Kingspan can take our bespoke design plans and prepare “shop drawings” showing the panels so that they can then be fabricated in their factory. It was very interesting for the BTL team to know all about the process and the types of systems available; for those occasions when a client wishes to have a timber frame house.

There are alternative systems available from other timber frame fabricators: –

Open Panel Systems
The majority of timber frame companies use an open-panel system for the internal loadbearing of the cavity wall.  These are made in a factory from a softwood timber frame covered with a structural sheet material such as plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) and fixed into a structure on-site.  They have a waterproof membrane on the outside and are left open on the inside.  The windows and door frames are fixed on-site and when the house is watertight; the electrical and plumbing casing is installed and the insulation put in place finished off with a vapour-proof barrier and plasterboard.

Closed and Advanced Panels
These systems are used by most of the Scandinavian frame companies and are delivered fully furnished and insulated, with the services in and the windows and doors already fixed – with the advantage that it is an airtight structure that needs minimal on-site work. However, it does mean decisions need to be made early on in the design about services and outlets.

Green Oak Frame
This is the most traditional timber-frame building method and is often referred to as exposed timber frame. The oak is often jointed using mortise and tenon joints, draw-pegged with tapered oak pegs and then integrally braced with curved oak bends jointed into the frame.  Insulating panels are then infilled into the massive oak skeleton and it is made waterproof using a system of perimeter trims and water bars; before being rendered on the outside, leaving the timbers exposed.

SIP Systems
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are high-performance building panels used in floors, walls, and roofs and are typically made by encasing a core of rigid foam plastic insulation between two structural skins of OSB, but other skin material can also be used.  The panels are manufactured under factory-controlled conditions and can be custom designed for each home.  SIPs are fixed to the outside of the timber frame, so the entire frame can be exposed in the interior or covered up, depending on the look you want to achieve.

Kingspan are first and foremost an insulation company and therefore, have naturally moved toward the highly insulated end of the market.  Timber frame housing can be extremely well insulated and this form of construction lends itself to the addition of a lot of insulation without making the walls unduly thick (unlike brick and block walls).  However, the really interesting development is the SIP technique as these panels can achieve incredible levels of insulation and therefore, are often found in zero energy projects where no heating is required; other than the heat that is created by simply inhabiting the house (possibly with the addition of some solar heating).

Building Tectonics have designed a couple of very low energy houses and are greatly interested in this area. SIP panels also offer really low air infiltration so therefore, help reduce heating bills and increase comfort as they avoid drafts and cold spots.  They can be very strong and rigid and can be used in floors and roofs; which is a real game changer in the construction of houses, but the building industry has generally not embraced this new technology.  Houses built like this can be erected on-site superfast incorporating all the services and the standard of finish can also be superior.

As a practice we would like very much to use this technology wherever we can; but the question is whether our clients will choose something brave and new.  The major practical difficulty is using prefabrication techniques for extending existing buildings, which is where most of our work lies. Ironically, the big problem would be bolting something so perfectly made (1 or 2 mm accuracy) on the side of an existing building where the building tolerances can often be measured on several centimetres. What we need are clients who can see the benefits of such new techniques and we stand ready to help in any such project should it arise.

Re-modelling of Woburn Sands Cottage Interior

Whilst some clients have a design idea visualised in their heads from day one of how they would like to extend or alter their properties; equally there are other clients who contact us to ask for our help. They are often unsure what they require and need us to come up with potential design concepts to make their homes work better and more efficiently for them. This was the situation with our lovely clients in Woburn Sands; who contacted us on recommendation from a number of past clients, to discuss re-modelling and enlarging their two-bedroom cottage.

After an initial discussion, they took time out to go away and firm up exactly what they were trying to achieve from the design process. This allowed them to then come back to us with a clearer idea of what they needed. Having made the decision to go ahead; they thereby engaged us to generate some ideas for them of how to make their space work best within their budget.

Although it obviously helps when clients are clear about what they are trying to achieve, it is not unusual for us to help them clarify in their own minds exactly what they are trying to achieve from the design process. While our clients had clarified what their needs were and had developed some ideas of their own, they acknowledged that they had no prior experience in extending or modernising a house. They therefore, needed an architectural design company to challenge their assumptions of what could actually work.

One clear problem they identified to us from the start was that the layout upstairs needed to be altered. They needed to be able to access all the rooms from the hallway instead of the current layout of having to go through one room to another.  In addition, they also wanted to add a third bedroom with natural daylight and install a new family sized bathroom. On the ground floor they craved a more open plan layout with kitchen and family space that linked the downstairs space with the garden.

A very steep staircase needed some consideration; as to whether it could be either altered or relocated. We looked at the option of a loft conversion or two or three different layouts to achieve the third bedroom. A strong winner soon emerged which involved altering the ground floor layout to achieve the open plan layout they desired. This meant a first-floor extension would sit neatly over the top. Whilst a loft conversion would have been possible, it would not have worked out as financially economical.

When it came to the staircase re-design, we tried a few scenarios and again a strong contender soon emerged. Whilst there were a couple of issues during the building work; we were happy to help and advise the builder, as even experienced builders sometimes like a second opinion. Sadly, this is not always the case as not all builders are happy to declare their uncertainty over some aspects.  This is a shame and we as a consultancy try to encourage builders to talk to us about any aspects that they are unsure of.  It is always beneficial to foster a team spirit and both sides can learn from discussions on-site and use it for future reference. In this case it involved the correct choice of roof tile for a modified roof pitch.

Following the building work, our clients are very happy to have moved in and have provided us with some photographs of their new home which we are always grateful for. We wish them well in their new extended, enlarged and improved home and look forward to visiting in the near future to see this great space for ourselves.

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Detailed drawings and Building Regulations

We are getting more and more requests to take on projects that have already been started by other design companies (including architects, architectural technologists and amateurs). The problem for us is we almost always have to start again, and so our fees are the same as they would be had no design work been undertaken previously. Of course, this is very annoying for clients who have already paid someone else (sometimes, far more than is warranted) for this abortive work. From our point of view, we feel very uncomfortable having to explain and justify our fees under these circumstances, but the reason is generally two-fold.

Firstly, we need an accurate model of the existing building before any design work can continue, and so we have to undertake a measured survey and draw this using our CAD software. Few companies take as much trouble with measuring as carefully as we do, so although there is an accurate survey and computer model we still have to check it. If it’s wrong, it can and often does become very problematic during the building/construction phase because, for instance, steelwork may have been incorrectly designed, and space the clients think they are getting could be smaller. We always expect builders to check the dimensions before ordering or manufacturing components, but our plans can usually be relied upon to project manage and design individual components; such as steelwork and fittings. For us, the only way to check if a survey by another company is accurate is to undertake it ourselves and compare; this then means that the earlier survey is now redundant.

The second reason we have to charge as if no previous architectural work was undertaken is because quite often, the previous design is flawed. It’s alarming to say that we’re seeing this more and more often for some of the most appalling design work that people have paid far too much for in some cases. I have concluded that there are some “designers” (so-called) out there who commence a project with no intentions of dealing with the later stages of the design process, consequently, they just don’t seem to care whether or not the design works. With this in mind, my plea to those of you commissioning design work is to ask the designer whether they would take the design work through to a detailed design stage; if they say no, you really should wonder why. The architectural design process must consider the practicalities and cannot just be a set of pretty pictures; just because it can be drawn doesn’t mean it can be built. In our field, when we design, we always consider how it will be constructed and we always appraise the proposed design for compliance with building regulations, for instance.

There are many competent design companies and architects to choose from other than Building Tectonics, but if you are commissioning then please, please check your designers competence. Even though we have a long and very successful track record (most of our work goes on to be built, which isn’t true of many companies in our experience), I am surprised how seldom clients ask us for references. In our case, we have a lot of completed projects which can be viewed here on the website, we also have many appreciative comments from previous clients, most of whom’s projects were completed without any significant problems on site. I wouldn’t mind being asked to verify that. I doubt if some of the individual companies who produce these very poor and unworkable designs could exhibit such a vast catalogue of work.

 

One of the first and most important steps

At Building Tectonics we pride ourselves on producing detailed plans for the builder to use on site. The first and most crucial stage of any of our projects is getting an accurate set of plans depicting the existing building to take back to our office and work from. It’s impossible to get it 100% exact but we believe it’s so important to get it as correct as possible and so we can take between 2-3 hours on average measuring up a house, making sure we are as accurate as possible. Many other architectural companies employ an external surveyor to do this for them, but we believe that by doing it ourselves, it gives us more of an understanding of the building.

We’re always looking for ways to improve the way in which we work; to be more efficient and try to keep up with the latest trends. However, the way in which we survey has remained the same with good old pen and paper proving to be the most reliable option. Recently, we’ve been putting in the research looking into different CAD apps which could be used on a mobile device such as an iPad or Android tablet, some of these might help us to significantly reduce the time taken to measure up a property.

This research has resulted in considering apps such as Roomscan Pro which gives you a variety of choices of how to draw out your floor plans. The first of which would be using the device as if it were a piece of paper, and your finger/stylus as if it were a pencil and drawing directly on the device. The second choice is using the camera, placing markers where each point of the room is and allowing the app to create the floor plans automatically from those. The final option is using GPS built into the device by holding it against a wall, taking that point and then moving it to another wall and letting it measure the distance between them. Of course, there are some cons to these methods of surveying; when using the camera method, if you move the camera the markers move out of place, making the plan inaccurate. Using the GPS based method relies on the mobile devices system being accurate to within a couple of centimetres, and I don’t quite think we’re at that point in the technology yet.

The second app we shortlisted was called Orthograph, this uses your freehand drawings to create tidied up plans which can then be edited for accuracy. You draw a rough version of the room, and the app will recognise this and change your rough sketch into a CAD drawing. You can then change individual wall thicknesses and lengths using measurements you’ve taken with a laser measuring tool; or you can use a bluetooth laser measuring tool and link it directly into the app to get each measurement as you go. This could save us both time whilst measuring, and some human error in putting the wrong numbers on the survey. The cons with this app occur when trying to link rooms and staircases. It allows you to create one room at a time, which can then make it difficult to relate them to others when drawing up the plans.

If we could find ways around these cons, the likes of these apps could be incredibly useful to us in saving time, and making us more environmentally friendly by drawing digitally, and then emailing the drawings to the team in office, therefore, saving paper. Until then, we’ll stick to pen and paper.

Hopeful Plans.

When people are sad or they feel down, they try to find something which will make them happy again. For one of our past clients, that happy thing is getting out the plans we did for her and looking through them. Just looking at them, because she doesn’t have the money to make them a reality yet.

She lives in a bungalow which she wanted to make into a bigger house, and has plans involving an extension to do just that. The mere dream of this new house uplifts her mood, and seeing the plans reminds her of what’s to come when she has the money to spend on her home. Tony (our company director) found this out the other week when he and the client came across each other one weekend, chance meetings are usually the only way we find out whether a job went ahead or not as we don’t pester clients.

 

Elevations vs. perspective drawings

Historically we, like most architectural practices and designers, have used plans drawn in parallel projection, that’s to say that they are not in perspective.  We do this because plans in parallel projection can be to scale and from a technical standpoint it’s less easy to cheat and/or mislead.  However, perspective drawings can add something to the communication process as some clients find it easier to read these types of plans, whereas a projection drawing requires the reader to use their imagination, and some people cannot do this as well as others.
 
Before computer graphics, a perspective drawing would be drawn on paper or film by a draftsperson or a specialist perspective artist, it could be either quite sketchy or almost photo realistic. Even now, we in the Building Tectonics office still sketch something out in perspective, usually to communicate something to another member of the team so being adept with a pencil is still very handy. 
Of course the computer and the software we generally use can generate very complicated 3 dimensional models and from that a perspective drawing, but it does require a lot more information and time to do this. You may also be surprised to know that these types of graphical representations of a job can take all night for a computer to process (even quite a powerful computer). For this reason we have to charge extra for such work and if the client can do without it then all is well and good.
 
There is another side to this subject. Perspectives can be very misleading as they can give an impression of a building and perhaps its surrounding, or indeed the inside of a room but it will not be to scale, and by playing with the perspective vanishing point the impression of space and proportion can be altered. There is a trend now to produce photo realistic drawings too and these can be very seductive, but we worry that the client is wooed by the image and does not concentrate on the actual architecture. Most people will come into contact with perspective or a 3D type of representation when they order a new kitchen, and I have heard people say that the end result, when the kitchen is installed does not always have the same feeling or sense of space that was engendered by the graphical representation.
 
Planning departments and builders still require parallel projection because they can trust them (if properly prepared) to give them the accurate information they need.  However perspectives, walk throughs and fly round visualisations are required by some clients and so we do, if asked, produce them for an extra fee. 
 
We would be very pleased to learn of your experience of viewing types of graphic display, whether they helped you to make a decision about a particular design, and ultimately, did the building or kitchen live up to the promise of the presentation?
Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.