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Agree early with your architect

26 August 2016

Your architect is paid by you to do what you want. He or she is not some minor deity who must be obeyed at all costs. I knew a church­warden who asked for a new external oak door to be finished with oil of some sort, but the architect insisted that it had to be varnished. Eight years after it was done the architect’s way, they were paying for the peeling varnish to be removed before finishing it in oil.


I THINK I may have met the architect who believed that he always knew the correct way — or even the only way. Varnish on wood eventually cracks and peels; oiled wood (French polished) does not crack and peel, although updating the oiled finish occasionally will delay the time when a complete makeover is needed. Think of your garden furniture, where a renewing rub or spray of oil extends the life of the wood.

The interesting point here is that the situation was ruled by the architect’s declaration. It is far better to discuss such issues with the architect until you come to a con­sensus; each side will have good reasons for the choice it prefers — reasons that may not immediately be apparent. For example, some churchwardens are definitely ready to renew the oiled finish annually, but stripping and redoing varnish may be a job too far.

When a church is choosing an architect, it can be helpful to meet or interview several of them. It is important to check that each has the necessary qualification and experi­ence for the particular type of church building; some really are better and more experienced at, say, Victorian architecture or medieval buildings.

Then, discuss as a building group or PCC which architect you would most like to work with, taking into con­sideration how he or she will ap­­proach the work, and will work with the client, the church.

It is not helpful when an architect is unable to work in tandem with the PCC and churchwardens, each offering expertise and experi­ence. An architect designs to meet the needs of the church and con­gregation in a manner that is in keeping with the building, with all its merits and technical challenges.

Because the church “pays the piper”, it also “calls the tune”, bear­ing in mind that the professional in the equation is the architect (with other members of the design team). It is better to say: “We would like the drainage pipe to go through the wall here”; the services engineer can then say: “That’s not a great idea, as the mains drains are on the other side of the church.” The architect may say: “That is the only area of medieval wall surviving in the church; better to avoid it.”

Meeting on site will allow everyone to walk around, discuss the pros and cons of drainage, and come to a common mind. It may be that it is no one’s first choice, but it may be the best that can be done.

Send your issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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