Choose the right architect

Private Property South Africa
Natalie Billings

The right architect will help you to shape the spaces in which you live, sleep, bathe, entertain, celebrate and grow your family.

As with most things in this world, word of mouth is often the most reliable source of information when choosing an architect. However, if you don't move in a circle that uses architects, then you will need to do some research – starting with the web. Search by location and specialty. Local design magazines often provide useful references and, if you spot a building that makes you catch your breath, don’t hesitate to ask the owner for a reference.

The quality of workmanship varies from architect to architect, and some specialise in certain types of construction – such as residential or commercial – so you need to shop around to find one whose interests and core values are in line with what you are looking for.

Be honest about what it is you are looking for, both from your building and from your architect. Compile some imagery and references of spaces and elements that appeal to you and profile your taste. This process can often guide you in the direction of the designer who is best suited to your needs.

However, don’t be guided by style. A good architect will help you shape a unique home to suit your distinct lifestyle, and will accommodate appropriate stylistic preferences. Look rather for quality, for an understanding of materiality … for spaces that flow comfortably, lighting that resonates with you. This can be difficult to pin-point as it is often the spaces in which you feel most at ease that you notice least.

And don’t forget to check your architect’s professional accreditation. She should be registered with SACAP in order to submit regulatory plans on your behalf. Her affiliation with other organisations is not a sign that she is better qualified, but rather that she is committed to the values and standards of the organisations. You may want to ask one of these governing bodies (SAIA or SACAP) for a recommendation, or get hold of a directory such as the Architectural Digest, which lists a wide range of architects with pictorials of their work.

Once you have a list of potentials drawn up, call them up for a chat. Ask them about their recent work. Describe your project and ask them for their opinion. Then arrange to meet them in person if they sound up for the job.

Check out their last few jobs and interview the home owners. When you visit the architectural firm, make sure that the person you meet is the one with whom you are actually going to be working. Look at the support that the architect has – is there a large staff of people from whom you can draw advice?

Of course, fees will vary and this will influence your choice: some architects work for an hourly rate, which can make it difficult to estimate the final fee; others work

on a percentage of the cost of the building work, depending on the range of services that you require.

The location of the architect is also worth considering. Be conscious of the travel fees that you are likely to incur.

Successful design is a collaborative effort, a relationship built on a common goal. You should choose someone with whom you feel comfortable and to whom you can communicate your requirements. The client-architect relationship is often a very personal one. You will need to openly share the intricacies of your lifestyle with this designer in order that she understands your expectations of your living environment.

Your home can expand your reality! Your sacred and personal space can be an extension of your soul. You have the opportunity to enrich and expand the way you engage with the pragmatics of life … just get yourself the right architect.

Written by Natalie Billings of Fabians, 083 448 5656 or

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