architecture & design
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Planning a Project

Starting a project can be a daunting task, and most of our clients have never been through the process before. It is never too early to get in touch with an Architect or interior designer as we can help you formulate your initial ideas and advise on how best to proceed. We regularly visit potential sites with clients and produce sketch feasibility layouts to help them get an idea of whether the property is right for them.

Professional designers have a unique ability to identify opportunities and constraints from the widest possible perspective; and also focus in on very small details which make your project unique and specific to your needs.

The brief

We always advise you to start by drawing up a project brief, setting out your design aspirations, functional requirements, budget and timescales. An accommodation schedule identifying the number and sizes of spaces you need is also a great starting point, considering what should and shouldn’t be adjacent. This process will also help you to identify what is most important to a successful project, and enable you discuss costs upfront with the professional and avoid disappointment at a later stage. Your brief is essentially your wish-list for the project. We will then develop it with you into a formal document that acts as a guide book throughout the process. 

Extract from a KVIST briefing document for an office fit-out a client with key aspirations

At your first meeting, the first thing the designer will do is ask questions; the more information you can give them with your needs and how you wish to use the space the better. 

Finding a Professional

To find a professional you could use:

What to look out for when buying land with a view to building or to starting a renovation Project

If you are planning to start a major renovation project there are a few things you should have in mind, for example if you are situated in a conservation or restricted area. The restrictions in these special areas are important and not all projects are permitted.  

Explore your preferred area and talk to locals and the council about restrictions on possible plots and as well as surrounding land. If you are planning a commercial development carry out market research to understand how suited your development is to the area. Before buying a plot without planning permission you should ask yourself why it doesn´t have permission already, especially if it is apparently straightforward. Also consider if there are structures to demolish as this adds cost and what services (water, gas, electricity, sewage, telecoms etc) the plot has already. Your architect or project manager can also assist with arranging assessments for ecology, topography, structural integrity, asbestos, traffic and so on which may influence viability.

Extract from Design & Access Statement for a development at South Woodland Farm in Devon, comprising a veterinary hospital, gun room and coffee shop.

The possible presence of protected species on a development site can have significant implications on programme and construction. Surveys will have to be carried out by certified ecologists at certain times of year and mitigation strategies can take a long time to agree and implement. [Image: The Ecology Consultancy]

The Process

1.    Appoint a lead design professional.The earlier that you consult an expert the better they can advise you. Often feasibility work can be done on an hourly rate.

2.    Preparation and Brief:Identification of surveys and professional input needed for the project, and formalisation of your requirements into a formal design brief document.

3.    Concept design:The concept design process explores options for the site and presents proposals for how the building will look and function, according to your brief. At this stage a pre-application submission could be made to the council, to get feedback on whether you are going in the right direction with your project. This can add another 6 weeks to the process but worthwhile for complex sites in restrictive areas. A specialist planning consultant may be required.

4.    Develop the design:If you haven’t already, now is time to appoint other professionals such as structural engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, building control Officer, quantity surveyors etc. The design team will coordinate and develop the whole design for the project and prepare the document for the local authorities.

5.    Planning application: It takes a minimum of 8 or 13 weeks depending on the size and complexity of the project. Usually residential projects are 8 weeks only. Local authorities could ask for extra documents if they consider that they need them to proceed with the application.

6.    Technical Design: In this step the team will develop the technical details for the building to be built. Giving enough time and detail to this stage is critical to reducing risk and accurately anticipating costs. Multiple experts will work together to identify opportunities and problem solve together. 

7.    Construction:During the build your contract administrator (usually the architect or project manager) will liaise with the contractor to ensure that the works comply with the design. They will help you make any necessary changes and advise of time, cost and quality implications. You may have a main contractor who coordinates all the trades; or be employing specialists directly.

8.    Handover and Close Out: Handover of building and conclusion of Building Contract. This process includes snagging and teaching you how to ‘work’ your building systems like alarms, heating, electrics etc.

Early concept sketches for Kent Wildlife Trusts’ new visitors centre in response to the design brief

(Left) Collage visualisations exploring different forms in the landscape for Kent Wildlife Trust during the concept stage. (Right) Developed site strategy & room arrangement for Kent Wildlife Trust.

(Above) Developed design for Kent Wildlife Trust visitors centre

Planning advice and Permitted Development.

A pre-application advice submission is a process where you consult the local authorities about the planning considerations for your project. This will tell you what local and national policies are applicable, what supporting surveys and reports will be required and what the view is of the local authority in relation to securing permission for your site. Do note that this initial response is not binding, and approval is subject to the final decision of the planning officer. This process is especially recommended when there is no comparable precedent in the area. 

Permitted Development rights relate to changes and building work that you can carry out without applying for permission. The Planning portal has helpful online guidance and an interactive house tool which outlines what you can do. If you are not sure, your architect will be able to advise.

Planning Portal Interactive House Tool

What to ask contractors

There are a few recommended questions you should ask a contractor in advance to avoid possible future problems. When you start a major renovation or building a new property there are a few things that could go sideways and is really important to have a contractor and a professional who you trust and can communicate well with. Setting clear expectations before the start on site is vital to a smooth build.

-       Have you completed similar projects before?

-       Are there previous customers or trade references I can contact?

-       How busy are you at the moment?

-       When can you start and what is your estimated timeline for completion?

-       What warranties are in place your services and materials that are used?

-       What types of contracts do you use?

-       How and where will tools and materials be stored?

-       What other details do you need from me?

-       How do we deal with changes to the specification?

-       Can I see certificates for your insurance?

-       Do you know what sort of permissions I will need for this project?

-       Who will be working on the project and who will be our main point of contact?

-       How will you leave the site every working day and at the end of the project?

-       How do I pay for your services and what is the payment schedule?

-       How will additional charges be dealt with?

-       How would you like me to get in touch with you?

-       How do we resolve any disagreements?

(Left) Planning stage building strategy for South Moor Vets at South Devon Farm near Ivybridge. (Right) Under construction and completed images of the new large animal hospital for South Moor Vets [Image credit South Moor Vets]