Research and development

When we are first approached by prospective clients, we have found that few fully understand what an architect does. Many interview draftspeople and volume builders also, and find it difficult to distinguish between the various levels of expertise and design engagement on offer. Invariably, a large part of our first discussion is devoted to explaining how our services differ from those of other building designers and why there is great value in the cost of on architect.

What follows is the 6th of ten articles that explore the question: why engage an architect? An archive of the series can be accessed here.

6. Research and development

research and development

A house is a complex organism, comprising tens of thousands of individual objects: sheets of reinforcing steel, lengths of timber stud, panels of plywood cladding, bricks, tiles, noggins, light fittings, appliances, bathroom fixtures, screws, bolts, nails.

For each item there are endless options available, each measured by a plethora of characteristics. Take floorboards for example: are the boards solid timber or engineered? What timber species are they? How durable are they? Where was the timber harvested? Do they conform with FSC or PEFC custodianship certification? How wide and thick are the boards? In what lengths are they available? Do they have a long lead-time when ordering? How expensive are they?

To make matters more complex, the building supplies industry evolves constantly. New materials become available and old ones are discontinued. Suppliers change their processes, create new colour options and occasionally go out of business. Considering the many months of documentation and construction, this shifting terrain makes choosing materials particularly tricky: a tile we specify in March may no longer exist by the time the builder is ready in October to start tiling.

All of which is why undertaking regular research and development is so important.

Architects take great care in the systems, materials, fittings, appliances and finishes that we specify. A significant part of our role on a construction project is researching these items and specifying them on your behalf. We develop and maintain a library of items we use regularly, and always have an eye on the next new thing. We value the visible qualities of materials as well as the hidden: ethical production, local manufacturing and environmental sustainability.

Unlike draftspeople, whose work is typically light on detail, we invest a great deal of time in understanding every last element of your house; from the sheeting on your roof to the secret nails in your floorboards.


Image source:

  1. Research and development, author’s own image.