by Jez Bond

Three years ago we moved in to our new home, a run down pokey one bedroom ground floor garden flat. To say that decor hadn’t changed since the seventies might perhaps be a little too kind. You couldn’t eat off any surfaces in the kitchen and using the shower was not a pleasant experience. The carpet was home to a number of creatures, most of whom would come out at night.

This was our dream home!

The plan was to gut the property, build a back extension and a side return, re-wire, re-plumb, re-plaster, landscape the garden, erect a fence and then, well…. bob’s your auntie!

I decided that we didn’t need to employ an architect. I could do it all myself. I engaged in conversations with local estate agents who suggested ways of maximising the space. I consulted with various colleagues and heard their opinions. Eventually I had designed my perfect layout. I contracted a draughtsman who worked from my sketches and, drawing in auto-cad, produced plans from which the builders, who I contracted, were able to work. I project managed the entire operation, I sourced all the materials and I did the majority of the plumbing and wiring as well as fitting the kitchen and bathrooms. I thought I could do it all myself – I was right.

The place is now beautiful and admired by all – a modern, minimalist, open plan, airy, bright apartment. It’s a pleasure to live in it, and well worth a few weeks of crunching critters on the carpet.

As our search for a venue intensified and we engaged in feasibility studies on a number of buildings, there was a part of me that thought I could use the same process again, just on a larger scale.

The difference between a 900 sq ft home renovation and a 12,000 sq ft commercial rebuild/conversion is vast. At the planning stage there are more than half a dozen different reports required by the council and a further half a dozen required by building control – meaning over a dozen specialist consultants are required to be on board; and these are incredibly technical reports that only specialists in their respective fields can write. Of course being a theatre building there are a further number of consultants at the table too, some for common sense reasons and some as a requirement. In preparation for the build there is a vast amount that needs consideration – the structural steelwork scheme, the acoustic and fire regulations and required bits of kit, the amount of toilets required by the british standard versus the amount suggested in the ‘technical standards for places of entertainment’ versus the amount that one would ideally like, versus what is practical in the space. All these considerations and more come in to play before, and during, any discussions about the actual design of the building, the layouts, the internal ‘feel’, the look of the external facade.

But who brings all this together? The architects. They not only liaise with every single member of the design team and construction team and pull them all together, they liaise directly with the planning consultants, heading up the entire operation. They undertake research – visiting other theatres and arts buildings. They engage with us, the client, along the entire process – responding to our often changing needs and moods. They act as financial advisors, costing out different options for the build and doing comparative studies on the economic viability of using one material versus the other. They share their knowledge on past projects and can happily debate about the pros and cons of anything from air hand dryers to polycarbonate skylights. They have a nose for property in general – they’ll tell you that the estate agents have undervalued your apartment. Throughout all this they are people people. They laugh, they joke, they remain open and honest and show a remarkable resilience to whatever pressures surround them. I’ve been frustrated along the way, sometimes with situations and sometimes with people. There have been things that, although cathartic, I couldn’t write about on the blog. This is, after all, a public document. But I call up the architects, or send them an email. Sometimes they answer, sometimes they just listen, sometimes it’s just about having someone to say things to. In that sense they’re therapists too.

Six months ago there was a part of me that thought I could do it all myself. Boy, that’s a mistake that I’m glad I didn’t make!

When I talk about architects I am always referring of course to ours – Hughes Jones Farrell. I don’t presuppose that all architects are like this. Check them out at: www.hjfarchitects.co.uk – plus there’s a link to their blog on the right of this page.

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