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An open letter to your future client, explaining what architects do

This is an article that was published in the Architects Journal on 19 July, 2012 | By Christine Murray.

This column addressed to those of the 2,031 adults surveyed by with YouGov who don’t know what architects do, writes Christine Murray

Imagine a child, standing impatiently on a chair while a grandmother measures their body: the length of their torso, the span of the shoulders, the length of their arms, the inner leg.

The numbers are written down and a paper pattern is made; a flat copy of their body. The skill in the making is in the pattern, in the cutting of the cloth, and in the fit. The grandmother selects the most durable, washable fabric for the best price; the child chooses the colour and pattern. Stitched together and tried on, the outfit is adjusted, and adjusted again.

When finished, the child runs off to play and the garment moves with them. If the grandmother knows her craft well, the cloth follows the body it was made for. As the child grows, hems are let down and sleeves lengthened. The outfit fits until the child is a stone heavier and several inches taller, when it can be passed to another child and adjusted again. The simple pattern doesn’t go out of style.

This is what architects do. They listen to you and take a measure of your needs, along with the measurements of the plot or building to be altered. They make a pattern based on what size kitchen or bathroom will fit the shape of your life. They draw out a plan of your project and adjust it, and adjust it again. They help you speak with neighbours or other involved parties to avoid disputes. They negotiate with the planning authority on your behalf to win permission to build.

They draw how the building should be assembled, out of what material it will be built, and decide who will build it: what bricklayer, what plumber, what electrician. They explain to the builder how it should be done, and make sure it is done that way. They make sure the building is certified for fire, health and safety, and meets building regulations. They choose the best tiles, doors and windows that you can afford. They keep an eye on the budget, and ensure they’ve increased the value of the property beyond what you’ve spent.

We have grown accustomed to the necessary evils of design for everyone, which is really design for no one; of iPods that break and are thrown away, or size 34 trousers that chafe. But surely you can imagine how nice it would be to buy a pair of shoes that really fit, without choosing between a slightly too small size 6, or a slightly too big size 7. They wear out, and we throw them away. The craft of the architect, like shoes that fit, is wrongly considered a luxury. Houses and flats, along with dresses and shoes, are bought off the peg. A well-designed home, like the child’s clothes, can be let out and last for years to come.

A good architect will design you a home that will not just fit you today, but for when you get married, have a child or two, or grow old. Or they will add value to your home so that when it is sold, you can afford something bigger. This is design worth paying for, design that will save, and make, you money.

Most importantly, unlike builders or other tradesmen, to be an architect is to be bound by the ARB Code of Conduct, which means acting with honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and to look after your clients’ money.

In short, a builder will build you a house, an architect will make you a home. This is what architects do.

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