Church Times Surgery: Building up with a new architect

02 November 2006


"We are planning a building project. Do we need to use our quinquennial architect?"

THERE CAN be reasons for employing another architect, and it is perfectly permissible. Perhaps construction will be innovative, and you want new ideas. Sometimes a new vicar is looking for change. But there are good ways of going about the search.

interview more than one
Make your own list of architects and ask the Diocesan Advisory Committee secretary for recommendations. If your project is repairing a listed building, you may want a conservation specialist. If you are planning to build a new hall or extension, select architects with public-building experience. If you’re changing your church interior, select a creative architect who understands liturgy in a multi-use space.

Your invitation to an interview should say a little about the church and its aspirations, the type of function for which you want to build, and times the candidate can visit the building before the interview.

Select an interview panel of three or four people from a cross-section of the church. The panel should be the same for each interview; so hold interviews successively on the same day. Plan for each to be 30 minutes followed by a gap in which the panel can complete notes of what they have just heard, preferably against pre-agreed key points.

At the interview, invite the architects to explain their approach, as well as talking about similar work they have undertaken. Ask all the architects how they will calculate fees for the work. Most are likely to say "within the RIBA guidelines" (Royal Institute of British Architects), as this is the industry standard.

If all the candidates are pretty equal, choose the one with whom you believe you can work most easily. The decision will need ratification by the church council.

start well
As soon as the appointed architect does any work on the project, he or she is entitled to be paid fees. Before you ask for any work, ensure you are ready and have the money to pay. Often architects do preliminary design work on an hourly rate; once they sign a contract for the main project, they move to a percentage of the value of the building project, payable at times, again in line with the RIBA guidelines.

You should not get an architect started on the work unless you have first prepared a brief. Many doubtful and abortive designs become the subject of dispute with architects, because a church does not fully decide what it wants to do.

Questions you should ask yourselves: What is the new building for? How many people will use it and when? What kinds of use? What special needs? What quality of design and materials? How much money do you have available for the work, or how much can you realistically raise?

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