Choosing architects and designers
It is important that you select your architect, and interior designer if you intend to use one, at an early stage in the project so that they can be involved in the dialogue about the vision for, and purpose of, the project. In this way you will get the most out of their skills and they will feel deeply engaged with the project.
Before appointing an individual or practice, do your homework. Architects and designers often have expertise in specialist areas or sectors such as leisure, housing, or education so shop around to make sure you are getting the right sort of experience. It’s always good to visit the offices of the practice you are considering employing and advisable that you get to see a portfolio of previously completed projects. If possible, follow this up with a visit to some of the projects in person and speak to the staff that have worked with the architect or designer. Getting a first-hand account from a client can be the best way to judge how a practice operates.
Good working relationships, and mutual understanding, are vital to a successful project. These can only be developed over time so it is really useful to make sure that clear stages are agreed that are linked to payment. Stages also help allowing you, the client, to have input at designated intervals throughout the project. If managed well, you should feel like you are part of the design team, and that your ideas and suggestions are incorporated and interpreted by the professionals involved. If this close working relationship does not emerge then you may need to revisit the composition of the team.
Recognise the importance and value of consultancy support.
Debbie Callaghan, LSC regional property adviser (west midlands)
Architects and interior designers are not the only professional support you are likely to need. You can see an extensive list of potential advisers in our consideration of stakeholders in the Working With Others section. Here are a few common roles you may not be entirely familiar with:
Mechanical and electrical engineer
One of the most difficult aspects of any build or refurbishment is the provision of mechanical and electrical systems and services including IT. Making sure you contract with a high quality mechanical and electrical engineering organisation is a crucial success factor for the implementation of technology-rich spaces. With this type of space it is also advisable to make separate provision for IT systems and services by hiring in this specific expertise. You do not want to risk ending up with a beautiful building in which the IT and electrical systems let you down or cannot be easily adapted to future needs.
Sound project management is essential to ensuring that the project is delivered on time and within budget. You should weigh up the benefits of hiring a project management company to take on this responsibility against the benefits of local knowledge if you have the skills to take this on in-house.
During the design of the building and its procurement, you need to know whether your cost expectations for the planned features and facilities are realistic. For this you need the professional help of a quantity surveyor. The surveyor should be able to predict whether what you are expecting to get for your money can be achieved and help you to evaluate tenders for each phase of the work to make sure that you are comparing like-with-like when selecting providers. The surveyor may even be able to suggest ways in which you can save money! Provision of external information can be collected in a template such as Space Data Sheets to help with this costing.
An important aspect of learning space is how sound is controlled and managed. You should consider employing an acoustician to help model the noise within the space you are planning and to advise on floor, ceiling and wall finishes that can deliver a suitable soundscape for the space.
Similarly lighting in learning spaces is a crucial factor. You should obtain the advice of a lighting consultant in order to ensure that the space has the flexibility to provide good lighting throughout a daily, weekly and annual cycle.
Artwork can help to provide a stimulating environment and is increasingly being used in learning spaces to add an inspirational element to the space. You should consider using one of the specialist agencies that can introduce you to a range of artists and help you select and procure artwork appropriate for the space.
This is already a long list and there may be other specialist needs particular to your type of project. A concern in dealing with so many professionals is not only how to ensure client needs are understood but also how to ensure what is intended actually gets done (or when things are not getting done as intended what questions need to be asked). You can employ professional help to act on your behalf as an interface between all, or any, of the professionals that you need to work with and with the builders. Such help acts as an ‘Intelligent Client’, that is they act intelligently on your behalf bringing in professional knowledge that you do not possess. They are an interface between you and the supplier.