In this the first of a three part article series on the architectural process we will cover the early stages of projects from the very first call to completing the feasibility stage, using one of our small residential development projects as a case study.
The First Meeting
Often we deal with clients on a repeat project basis but in this case our client was new. It was an unusual situation in that he walked through the office door without an appointment to commission us for a site in Hove, East Sussex (see image below). It was clear he had really done his homework on Yelo - he knew all our recent projects, had researched our planning consents and spoken to various professionals about us.
The initial stage in architecture is the first meeting where we make a lot of notes and asking questions about timescales, initial thoughts, budget, type of product required etc. We also assess whether this client is right for us as a business - Are they professional? Do they value architects? Do they desire our style of architecture? Generally if a client has approached us they know about Yelo and what we do so it isn't often we turn down a client but it does happen.
After that first meeting we will carry out our initial research on the site such as finding its planning history - we look at if there are any previous planning applications, if they have been approved/refused and for what reasons. We will also establish if the site is in a conservation area and whether there are any listed buildings either on the site or adjacent. Likewise are there any tree preservation orders affecting trees? Finally we will have a look on Google street view and get a feel for the site prior to visiting and identify what we need to look at in more detail on the visit.
Analysing the Site & Proposal
At the site visit we will meet the client to develop the brief further and make more notes. While walking around on site we will look at the adjoining buildings and land, assessing what we need to be aware of when we design our proposal. Are there windows we need to make sure we don’t look directly in to? Where can we place our building/s? How tall can we go? What style are the surrounding buildings? Are there any hazards we need to be aware of?
Often on this first site visit we will have an immediate feel for the form of the building we could design and will produce an initial rough doodle (see image below right).
Following the visit we will write a detailed letter that sets out the brief, our initial thoughts, the stages that are required, the estimated timescales, the consultant team required and lastly our proposed fees. Usually this letter will be 3-4 pages long as it covers a lot of information, and we attach our standard terms and conditions and then send it through our e-signing software. The e-signing software is brilliant as clients can immediately open, sign, and return the contract within minutes of it being sent. This is a drastic improvement from the days of waiting on post before being able to start on projects!
After our fees are agreed and the contract is signed we start work, normally with more research and investigation (see image below). Utilities information is obtained so we can check if there is anything on site that might impede a development. We also commission a topographic survey to digitally measure the site and surroundings.
Once we have all the research done and the information in the fun part begins - we sketch! At Yelo everything is first designed by hand and on tracing paper. We do use computers later in the process but are firm believers of putting pen to paper first. There is a freedom when using a pen that you do not get with a computer, you need that fluidity and you need to sketch out all the wrong solutions before finding the right one. My pen of choice is a pink felt-tip - a Pentel sign pen because the colour has a great contrast against the grey tracing paper we use.
For this project the client wanted housing on the sit, ideally in the form of 9 flats. We produced many variations in sketches to find solutions that answered the clients brief. When designing we took on board multiple considerations that influenced the outcomes. For instance we knew we could go taller with the building on the south side so we tried variations of 4 and 5 storey buildings. The site was on a corner plot so it was important that it was architecturally distinctive on the corner and the two ‘front’ elevations as it helps wayfinding. To the north of the plot there was a neighbouring house right on the boundary so we had to be sensitive to its occupiers and keep a significant space between our proposal and the house.
Other factors we consider at these early stages include the resale value of the flats we design. We may not know the final values but we ensure the flats make the most of the views available, that living rooms face south, that they are a good size and a sensible shape. All of these factors you can see in the more detailed sketch (see left image) as this now has a rough layout. It is more easily understood by an architect but you’ll see the rooms are listed - L is Living Room, B is Bedroom etc. You can also see the Living Rooms have arrows indicating the direction of view and rectangles suggest a balcony position. We’ll produce presentable sketches of these to show to the client and agree which options to progress further.
Next month’s article will cover the planning process for this project and there’s a few twists and turns to come!