We recently caught up with AC Architects to find out more about them.
1. Tell us about AC Architects?
We are a Chartered Architecture practice based in Scotland, working throughout the UK, specialising in low energy homes for the Self Build market. We have a growing and talented team of 12, including architects, technicians and a Passive House Designer – led by Allan Corfield.
2. You say that you are Self Build Experts can you tell us a little about why you identified Self Build as an area you would like to specialise in.
This direction comes from our passion of designing great homes for families! We really want to change the way in which homes are built in the UK and Self Build is a growing market. We want to help build affordable energy efficient homes, that will allow our clients to save money on their energy bills. We love designing Self Build homes as they are personal spaces, where families will spend the most important moments of their lives. We want to be part of it. We also like challenges, as building one-off homes requires meeting individual needs and requirements we love to get to know our clients and understand their lifestyle to ensure that our design will exceed their expectations.
3. What kind of services does your company provide
We tailor our services to the type of project and then the specific requirements of that client and project, below is a list of our main areas of work:
Self Build Homes – we offer the full architectural services in order to complete the design, planning & building regs approval, through to detailed construction drawings and on site assistance.
Passive House Design and Certification – This is a rigorous German energy standard that ensures maximum comfort with minimum overall energy consumption, from Passive methods. We have a dedicated specialist who provides this service as a standalone or as part of a Self Build design service.
House Extensions – we offer cost effective solutions for local (central Scotland only) house extensions or garage/attic conversion. This service is usually limited to survey, initial design and approvals.
Modular Developments – we have completed a number of Modular projects, where flats are designed and built in a factory and then lifted into position on site. We offer a tailored service for this type of specialist service.
4. Does this differ from other Architects with regard to Self-Build and if so, how do your services offer more for the client?
Our service varies vastly to other architects, our service has evolved over 5 years of working on over 200 projects. Traditional architecture practices are not set up to deal with the differing requirements of Self Build. In order to create a successful Self Build, you need to develop a close working relationship with clients and learn their family’s lifestyle and needs. This is the only way to deliver a perfectly suited design that will then become a dream home to our clients. This attention to detail and sensitivity in building deep relations with our clients is a crucial element to making our service different. As the self-builder is effectively the project manager or main contractor (without ever doing this before) we need to help educate and support the client throughout the build.
5. Building a House is a large undertaking for anybody, do clients approach you with a clear idea of what they are looking to build or is it more of a collaborative process?
It depends, some clients come with a very detailed idea and project brief, others just know that they do not want to buy a mass produced house from the national house builders. Most self-builders are heavily involved in the initial design and then take on a portion of the project management. Others go to the lengths of going on training courses to learn how to fit the cladding or fit the plumbing.
6. How much influence does budget have on the design of the property?
Budget has a significant influence on the design of the property. During our consultation we always ask our clients what their budget is and how they propose to build the house ie. is it a full Self Build or are they expecting a contractor to come in and complete everything for them. This is the single biggest contributing factor to the overall cost per m2. We can be efficient with design and smart with specification, in order to meet any budget. One crucial piece of advice is to be realistic with your budget and re-adjust your expectations accordingly – in order to avoid financial problems that can affect the project.
7. Is there a difference to cost in building a modern house or a traditional and which is the most popular?
It depends if we are talking about the style or method of construction? There will be a premium in building a minimalist contemporary house, as the materials will be more expensive and the labour more precise. Traditional looking buildings usually use materials and labour that are more readily available.
In terms of construction method, the most cost effective ways to build are the traditional ie. brick and block or timber frame. These perform poorly in terms of insulation thickness and airtightness, but are more cost effective. The more modern methods of construction, including SIPS and ICF are much better for airtightness and providing a low energy home – these can be more expensive with far better benefits in the long term.
In terms of popularity, in our practice contemporary build, modern style – is far more popular than traditional.
8. Can you tell us about your most interesting project to date?
We were commissioned by a farmer to design and build a new farmhouse near Edinburgh. Our client had fallen in love with the large log houses built in Canada, and wanted his new home to be in this style. The 2.5 storey house was constructed using western red cedar logs imported from Canada. Structural posts are cedar trees with flared bases and the roof covering is standing seam zinc. Roof overhangs cover large external decks around the house. This is a warm, welcoming, beautifully hand crafted house which has a real presence and style of its own.
9. Can you tell us about your most challenging project to date?
One of the most challenging projects is or modernist self-build house in Aberdeen. This was built using Structural Insulated Panels, the house is nearing completion. It is a really complex project and the design had to be very precise for all features. The external timber and composite cladding had to line through with all of the large windows and doors. This precise detailing continued into the interior with recessed lighting features and shadow gaps that ran around all of the openings. To understand it better see the picture below or look at the project in our portfolio
10. Do clients approach you after they have purchased the land to build or before and do you ever advise on the suitability of the plot.
I would say that in 70% of cases self-builders approach us after they have already purchased the land. However, in the situations where they are still looking for a suitable plot we are happy to provide a free site review. We assess the clients requirements against the planning and site conditions, to see if it is viable before purchase.
11. Can you explain the process of appointing an Architect to design your house and the key questions a client should ask?
Our advice is to conduct thorough research of the architects (online) and compare at least three or four, then interview them and ask to see previous work or visit a current project. If a client wants to build a self-build home, they definitely should choose a practice that is experienced in building domestic homes.
Make sure that you will prepare a simple design brief which will help you to discuss your preferences and whether the architect understands your vision.
Have a look at their portfolio. If you like their previous projects, there is a big chance that he is able to design the home you like.
It is good to ask the architect whether they are a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which will give you an additional security as it certifies that the practice complies with strict criteria in terms of insurance, health safety, and quality management systems.
Choosing an architect should not be cost driven. However, expensive architects have to be able to justify their price. You need to feel that there is a good connection between you and the person who is supposed to work with you for next 1-2 years and design the house you love.
Finally, always get a fixed cost from the architect, never work from a % based fee proposal.
12. How much does it cost to commission an Architect to Design a house.
There are three different ways of paying for an architect’s service. The first and most common is based on a percentage of the build cost. It is usually between 5-8%. The second one is a fixed price in which you know how much exactly you will pay to your architect. The last solution you can across with is based on hourly rate, for example £70 to £100 per hour of work (depending on location).
We would advise to try to choose the second option. Firstly, it is easier for a self-builder to manage their budget if they know exactly how much they pay. Secondly, because an architect’s fee is based on a percentage of the build cost, there is no incentive for them to save the self-builder money during the project as it will reduce their fee.
You can see how we breakdown a fee proposal on our service page on our website.
13. How often do you work with interior designers and how does this relationship work.
We are working more and more with external designers, including interior, lighting and AV designers. It is so important to work with the best qualified professionals for each stage of your project, the interior is hugely important, it is after all the place where you will spend most of your time!
Working with a quality practice like John Evans makes our job so much easier, you can focus more time and specialist knowledge into each room, creating stunning spaces. The relationship between architect and interior designer is very important – both designers need to work in tandem to create a seamless space.
14. What are the top 5 tips you would give to anybody contemplating building their own house?
- Educate yourself – Preparation on your self-build journey will help you to make good decisions throughout the project, therefore avoid costly mistakes. Attend the homebuilding show, self-build seminars, research the subject online and get some specialist books. You can even get our ‘Introduction to Self Building’ ebook from our website that will direct you throughout your self-build venture.
- Prepare your Self Build brief – the basic version of your design brief should be prepared when approaching architects in order to find out whether they are right people for the job. However, a good design brief is an ever-evolving document so be flexible. Your design brief should cover such information as number of rooms, architectural styles (both what you like and you don’t like), your family’s lifestyle, your budget and timelines of the project.
- Choose the right team – make sure that you spend enough time on finding the right people for the Job. Choose an architect, structural engineer. Be responsible, if there are any potential planning issues with your site, you may consider appointing a planning consultant and other specialists. Make sure that the specialists that are going to build your home have good reputations and they do their job well.
- Set realistic budget and timescales – the part of the brief should have the information about the budget your Self Build has. It is important as it will allow the architect to let you know whether your requirements may be met with the budget you have. Work out what you can afford, and revise your expectations with the architect or speak to mortgage providers to see what they might lend you. Another advice for you is to set realistic timescales, have in mind that there are a lot of ups and downs throughout the process so be prepare for delay.
- Stay involved as much as you can – remember that this is your dream home. Have an active part in your self-build project. Keep track of progress and take an interest in each stage as it is happening. By doing this, you make sure that every part of your requirements is met the way you imagined. Regular meetings with your architect, project manager and professional team will limit any issues and problems and if there are any they can be picked up early and quickly rectified.
For more detailed information on various elements of the self-build process visit our Self Build blog and remember: you are the one who will have the most invested in the project and it will be your home and you should be entirely happy with the outcome so if you see something that you do not like or you think is wrong – say so!
To find out more about AC Architects visit their website: http://www.acarchitects.biz/