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At home with Paul & Alan: what we discussed with Terry Huggett

A few weeks ago, Terry Huggett joined Paul and Alan for their latest ‘At Home with’ Q&A. We’ve put together an overview of what they discussed below.

When is a good time to engage with a builder & what are the benefits of doing it early?

We’ve written about this before, and it was great to hear Terry echo our thoughts.

You get the buy-in from the builder if you engage them early and they’re more emotionally committed to the build. They can help identify risk which you can work together to mitigate before work starts on site. This also means that your project will benefit from a collaborative process.

It’s important to be clear about your priorities.

From the briefing process, the tender process and into construction. Some things you’re willing to compromise; others not and it’s vital to hold onto them throughout the process.

Terry also discussed the idea of an open book, cost-plus pricing strategy.

This avoids you having to pay for the perceived risk the contractor sees in the project. You still, ultimately adopt the risk, but if you’ve worked together upfront this should be much more limited. Trust is really important here. If there isn’t an element of trust with any kind of contract, relationships can sour very quickly if things don’t go right.

One thing we are clear on after tendering lots of projects over many years is that, for a given quality of work, you’ll pay the same amount eventually. For this reason, we don’t find choosing a contractor on cost alone is the best approach. It’s better to decide on quality and attitude.

Is it possible to employ a new architect partway through the process?

It’s very possible to take on other architects’ drawings.

It does depend on what stage you’ve reached as to what the specifics of this might require. It’s key for us, no matter what this stage is, to understand the client’s brief first. This will help us to identify their priorities going forwards.

However, it does mean we might also inherit the challenges with the scheme. We’re not afraid of having those conversations if they’re required.

In the past, we have been asked to join a project in order to input our Passivhaus expertise. In this situation, we try to be involved in the earlier stages as well to ensure common mistakes in the design don’t cause us performance headaches later on.

We’re not precious about design.

We’re happy to take on work by other architects, but we’ll be honest if we think there’s a better ways of doing things. We don’t feel we have a signature style and good design goes much deeper than the final aesthetic, so even if an existing design isn’t quite to our taste we’re happy for the challenge.

With an appointment like this, we need to understand why you’re no longer working with your existing architect. We also have a professional duty to check they’ve been paid and had their appointment terminated in a suitable manner.

Can (the client) helping on site reduce costs?

This goes back to the earlier points about builder engagement and costing approach.

The early engagement and working through risks is a great way to reduce costs. If you have an intention to be involved you can also discuss this at the beginning to manage expectations.

In a traditional contract, it’s quite difficult to value the work that you’ve undertaken and to omit this from the contract sum. With an open book approach, any work you do is work someone else isn’t and so has a direct cost saving.

It’s worth interrogating why you’re doing the work and what work you’re able to do.

Being involved on-site has value to your connection with the building as much as it does in money-saving terms.

There are certain jobs that clients should probably stay clear of but others, like air-tightness taping, that is low skill but requires time, patience and care that is perfect for the client to undertake.

Priorities come in here too as the client’s involvement might allow a key priority, say air-tightness on a retrofit, to be achieved for much less cost.

What are the benefits of employing the Architect for the construction stage of a project?

Obviously, we want to see ourselves working with a project on-site. We’re keen to make sure our design intent is delivered with the final project, but we there’s more to our involvement than this.

Terry’s view, as a builder, is unusual.

Most contractors tend to not favour working alongside architects as they think it adds time and complexity. Terry and his team enjoy the technicalities of working with an architect. It makes my life easier working with them as they’re there to help. Good architects will roll their sleeves up and get involved to make sure the end product is as good as it can be. Likewise, good architects aren’t precious and will listen to the builder’s opinions on design details.

The architect is there to guide the project and be impartial as the contract administrator.

If the architect isn’t involved, any debates around cost or design can be more stressful.

It’s also good to have another set of eyes checking everything is going according to plan on site.

In our experience, when we’ve come in late to the build process or not been involved, we have noticed friction can build and communication can breakdown.

Things always go wrong.

We’ve never had a project go perfectly from start to finish – even our own! Having someone in the middle with contractual processes in place removes a lot of stress and keeps the project moving. It’s never going to be completely stress-free, though.

We keep coming back to priorities, but as things progress on site we need to make sure that key design and material priorities don’t get lost in variations caused by unknowns. This is, again, where having the architect still involved is invaluable.

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the Q&A. Follow Terry here.

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