So you’ve decided you want a new extension, but where to start? The big question we often get asked at an early stage is Do I need an Architect? The short answer is… it depends.

If the project is very small and very straightforward, it is entirely possible that your building work can be undertaken by a builder without the need for drawings or the involvement of an Architect. Most of the time, however, the design is not pre-determined, and some drawing work is required, if for nothing else than to accurately define what the builder is pricing for. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, this drawing work can include everything from initial sketches, through Planning Drawings, to technical drawings to satisfy Building Regulations and for the builder to build from. For everything other than the most basic lean-to extensions, this is more than simple ‘drawing work’ and involves some design, whether it is basic space planning, conceptual design sketches, or detailed technical design.

So, assuming the project isn’t very small, it is definitely best to have some design drawings, but does an Architect need to do them? Unlike in some countries in the world, there is no requirement by law for an Architect to be involved in a project, and there is also no protection of the function of an Architect. That means that anyone is allowed to perform the job of an Architect. They are not, however, allowed to call themselves an Architect. Under the Architects Act, only people who have undertaken the relevant training and paid their dues to the Architects Registration Board are allowed to call themselves an Architect. As such, you will find a lot of ‘architectural designers’ on the market, who are not Architects.

So what’s the big deal?

Why not hire an ‘architectural designer’ to do your drawing work for a fraction of the price? There are several reasons, but in short, you have no protection or reassurance that they are competent.

To be a registered architect, you have to undertake approximately 7 years of training, usually involving two separate University degrees, and two stints of on-the-job training. Much of this focuses on the ‘Design’ side of things, but the final professional examinations cover many crucial aspects of the work like contract administration, health and safety, project management, dispute resolution etc.

Architects are also bound by the ARB’s Code of Conduct. This deals with all kinds of aspects including Honesty, Integrity and Competence. Any architect who falls short of the requirements can be reported to the ARB who will hold disciplinary procedures and they have the power to reprimand, issue a hefty fine or remove the architect from the register.

Another key requirement of the Code of Conduct, is the requirement to maintain appropriate Professional Indemnity Insurance. This is important because it protects both the Architect and the Client. If the Architect is negligent and disaster strikes, you may seek legal action and be awarded compensation. The compensation awarded is entirely likely to be more than the Architect can pay, meaning the Architect is bankrupted, and the injured party does not receive all that is due to them. If the Architect is insured, the insurance company pays this compensation.

There is no legal requirement for ‘architectural designers’ to maintain Professional Indemnity Insurance, or have any design, technical or professional training whatsoever. There is also nobody to complain to if the service falls short of the level expected. This means the Client may be unprotected if something goes wrong. There’s nothing to say that some ‘architectural designers’ might have PII or be competent at their job, but the Client needs to be very careful.

If you want to hire an Architect and you are not sure whether an individual is a registered Architect, you can visit www.arb.org.uk and search the register. You will find all three of the partners at Carve Architecture.