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.

A Day in the Life of an Architectural Practice

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work in an Architectural Practice for the day and envisaged all the dreaming and designing that goes on? Well now is your chance as we get inside the head of our Chief Designer, Tony Keller to find out what a normal day entails for him and the Building Tectonics team from start to finish.

Tony says “A normal day at Building Tectonics encompasses a number of different tasks but generally starts with a team briefing (accompanied by a cup of tea) to run through which stage we are at with each of our client jobs; to make sure everyone is up to speed and we know where our focus is for the day.

We make sure that any emails, telephone or Facebook messages that have come in overnight are responded to immediately; as we always try to reply within 24 hours where possible. If it is a new enquiry, I will ring the customer to find out more about them and what they are looking to achieve; and we arrange a time to meet them to see how we can help with their project.

Depending on what stage we are at with a particular job, one of the team may go out to a client’s house to get the accurate measurements of their home and also to measure their land boundaries.  It is vital these measurements are correct; as they are entered into our online system and used to draw up the existing plans, elevations and sections that will eventually be submitted to the Council Planning Department and thereafter the client’s builders. These measurements also start the process of drawing up the client design options and from time to time we also use them to produce 3D models for certain projects.

As a team we need to familiarise ourselves with Permitted Development Guidance, Planning Policies and Building Regulations for specific projects and a member of the team will fill in the Planning Application forms and deal with the queries from Planning Officers and third parties.  Detailed Building Regulations drawings will need to be drawn up and the site evaluated to look for any potential hindrances such as sewers, trees, flood risk areas, radon prevalence etc.  As part of this we will purchase and download Ordnance Survey mapping data for Planning Applications and other uses along with Drainage & Water Enquiry maps.

There is obviously a great deal of administration involved for the Building Tectonics team on a daily basis; as we respond to multiple emails and phone calls every day, scan all our client documentation onto our computer system and file all paper copies of projects as part of our audit trail. This then acts as our own Project Management tool to see where a particular project is at any time; and we conduct quarterly job reviews where we check the current status of every live project to make sure nothing gets missed at any stage.

With us being a hectic office, we need to make sure we don’t ever run out of any office stationary including printer ink, plotter rolls and paper as these are essentials for our office to run like clockwork (along with cups of tea!!).

It is very important that all of the team are up to date with the latest developments in the industry and any new changes to legislation, so we all attend regular CPD Seminars (Continued Professional Development) both during and outside of work hours and keep up-to-date on relevant industry news.

There is a great deal of research involved in design projects relating to anything from Planning, Building Regulations, construction problems, product information, Party Walls, Sewer build-overs to just general questions that we get on a daily basis from our clients.

Marketing is essential to all businesses to thrive and we try to regularly blog and share content that is of interest both to our current clients and potential new clients to update them on the industry and jobs we are currently working on.

Working in an Architectural practice, no single day is the same; but I really love working for myself.  I enjoy the variety of work it brings, the opportunities to meet new people and work with other professionals but most importantly seeing the happy faces of our clients when a job is finished. I always meet face-to-face to go through design drawings with my clients; as this is essential to ensure everything is covered to avoid any hiccups at a later stage of the project.  I thrive on being busy but obviously could not do it without the support of my committed team”.

Spotlight on the Team – Mantas Mackonis

Mantas Mackonis – Architectural Surveyor

Mantas started working at Building Tectonics straight after he finished Sixth Form nearly 3 years ago. After working in retail for a short period, but not knowing what he wanted to do career wise, he was put in touch with Tony who gave him the opportunity to work with him and the team.

Originally Tony hired him to try and teach him how to measure a house; as whilst everyone in the office can use the software to draw, no one could actually measure a house apart from Tony. Therefore, this was an area that the team needed additional help with.

His role at Building Tectonics is as an Architectural Surveyor so he basically goes out to the clients houses and obtains all the required measurements, then comes back to the office and draws all the measurements on the system ready for the team to work on potentials schemes.

Three things that inspire Mantas:

The End Goal – The biggest thing that keeps me going is the end goal; as in this industry things can get tough but when you think about the future and how much of a difference you can make on people’s lives, that’s what really motivates me.

Happiness – I love that look on someone’s face when they are smiling, their eyes are bright and their body language is open and jovial – that full-on happiness is inspiring to see. It’s infectious and it’s awesome.

Dreams – Everyone should have dreams that they work towards in their life. Seeing people go after their dreams is inspiring, and it makes me work harder to achieve mine.

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?
My favourite building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; purely as it is the world’s tallest building. It’s mind-blowing to think about how tall it actually is, and this magnificent centrepiece of Downtown Dubai stands at 828.9 metres high. The task of creating the world’s tallest man-made structure was awarded to the Chicago office of American architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril LLP. It’s crazy to think what the future holds and if there will ever be a taller building…

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.

Feasibility Scheme Drawings

We pride ourselves on getting the architectural plans for our schemes right, but this is almost guaranteed not to happen on the first try. So when we are commissioned to do a feasibility study, we will keep drawing up alternative designs until we get something that the client is happy with before moving onto the next stage. Sometimes we come up with a number of schemes which explore very different ideas, and sometimes there can be minor alterations as the client gets closer to a final design. It’s so important to get a design that the client agrees with before moving onto the next stage, as if the client changes their minds at any point after this stage it can cause problems which may well make the remainder of the process longer.

Below is an image of a set of schemes we have been working on in the office to give you an idea of the kinds of ideas which have been generated by our team for a particular client.

Scheme ideas

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.