For the first time, in forever

As a small project architect I often get to tender with contractors who have never used an architect led contract before. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people, they just work on direct to client agreements using their own payment and quality terms. If you come from big practice you might be surprised, but there is a lot of really beautiful work being done by great builders with no legal training.

I had a tender meeting recently with a local contractor with glowing references and, as I was explaining the contract terms, I could feel that he was not comfortable finding out about the contract from the client’s representative at the contract signing. This is not the time to learn about contract. So what I have done is write my own short guide to the contract which I like to use, the JCT Minor Works 2011. It’s a beautiful thing. There are plenty of books about it out there, but my contractors are the kind that have to pick up the boys in the van on the way to site, not the ones with in house QS’s.

If you are a contractor reading this, when was the last time that you did something extra that the client had asked for, as a favour, and then get into trouble because the project ran over? Or your client was unhappy because they remembered your payment terms in a way that was… different? Using a JCT contract imposes responsibilities on both parties (the main ones being that you promise to do the work and the Employer promises to pay you), but these are set out fairly in clear terms. Sadly, when things go really wrong, do you think that your “green print” is binding in the small claims or construction court?

You might not know that even if the project is not architect designed, you can ask an architect to act as contract administrator for the project to ensure that the payments and progress are properly controlled. You can buy a copy of the contract from the RICS website, it’s less than £30.

Here’s my guide to the JCT Minor Works contract for contractors using it for the first time, in forever. 

guidance for contractors using a JCT contract for the first time

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Antiques roadshow

As a Victorian architect I like to use vintage equipment. Like pens.

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Drawing by hand clears the mind and details often just resolve themselves with a series of quick sketches. They don’t have to be beautiful, but they often end up that way just by focusing on what joins to what, where and how. Thus one was sent to a door manufacturer. By email. I can do that too, when I want to.

Just a bit off the end

My second project on Grange road is nearing completion. What was once a freezing tiny kitchen is now (nearly) ready for a new life as a family kitchen with a little dining area and really lovely relationship to the garden. The last run of oak work top should be in by now but the floor tiles will have to wait a little longer: the underfloor heating requires eight weeks for the screed to cure before we can lay tiles. Let me just say a big thank you to our builder, Wow Developments, great job guys!

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Let’s go to tender

This set of prints will be sorted into packs and sent out today for a project in Solihull. Plans, elevations, sections and a specification showing all the work to be priced. When the prices come back I will set up an interview with the client’s preferred contractor and if we have a match, we sign the contract showing the start date, completion date and the price. It is not always the cheapest contractor who wins, they have to win the heart of the client as well!

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P.S. I am working out of the kitchen… Because we have a new puppy! Say hi to Lacey. One day she will make a fine architect’s dog

Station Road – more progress

For the Station Road project the client was looking for a loft room but had low headroom in loft and a stair running between the front and back room. So the room I have designed is a half loft. We put new stairs above the old and leave the front part of the roof space as a loft storage space. The new room at the back of the house is full width as the stairs are out of the way and we find the headroom by dropping the ceiling in the back bedroom and hallway. The front bedroom still keeps its high ceiling and character. I have stolen a corner of the storage loft for a roof light, so a little light trickles down the stairs into the middle of the house. We are due to complete on site on the 13th of June when I will issue the practical completion certificate if I am satisfied that the works are complete. The contractor has done an excellent job so far and I expect an early completion.

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Site Progress Grange Road

This project on Grange Road is having a new loft room and a rear extension. We went down the route of planning permission for the extension so that we can go a little bit wider and taller than the permitted development guidance. The start on site occurred during the really wet weather so my heart out goes out to the guys on site, digging away in the rain to get the foundations in. All passed off by the building inspector, the slab and walls went in quickly. Wow Developments, the builder, sourced some very sympathetic bricks to match the existing wing and I am very pleased with the carpentry. The roofer was out this morning, working in the sunshine.

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Two for you

The client of this scheme has a small house with small rooms and now, a small family. He and she want a large family room where “everything happens”. We can go back 4 metres under permitted development because it is a detached house, so we get space for an open plan kitchen with a little island facing onto a sunny dining area with folding sliding doors to the garden. We can keep living room 2 as a snug sitting area – but I think they might end up with the table round the corner and toys spread out on a rug by the window.

B08 Church Hill Proposed Ground Floor plan

The space is quite big and a bit raggedy for my liking on the ground floor, so I wasn’t really happy to have a flat ceiling throughout. We are using a bit steel anyway to support the external wall at the first floor above the new opening, so I have opted for a double pitched roof over the new extension. This will articulate the space (that’s show or say the idea – in this case the idea of the room as a space with distinct parts. I am not super keen on architect-speak) and give a nice feeing of entry and arrival when we come in through the door from the hall. Why? Because inside we will get two vaults (sloping ceilings going up) with roof lights facing south and north. A bit more air, a bit more light – nice.

B12 Church Hill Proposed Section AA

Notice that the height of the roof is not too tall – we don’t want to bump into the bedroom windows. For the elevation, we get two gables – so much nicer than a horizontal line. You can also get an idea of how it feels to look up, or to sit down or roll around, with all that air above you. Nice project, I am happy!

B10 Church Hill Elevation and Section

One other small thing – the pitched roof is a good place for the south facing photovoltaic (electricity generating) solar panels, if the client wishes to have them.

 

 

 

An engineering problem

Dear engineers,

Perhaps you would be able to help me with a structural problem that is facing one of my projects. The proposal is for a loft room in a large house with a steep high roof. The space is ideal, but the structure is not. The existing loft floor, which will have to be strengthened, is supported near the centre of the house by the brick internal walls which reach up into the loft. At the outside edge of the house the roof drops down into the rooms below and the loft floor is fixed not to the walls, which are further out, but to the rafters. So the loft floor is smaller than the floor below. Imagine a shoe box with a lid that is smaller than the box –  the lid is supported at the centre, but the edges float (or rather are fixed to the roof in the real house). I want to strengthen the floor and support new walls and loads right to the edges. there must be many houses like this. What would your recommendation be?

Yours Sincerely,

Paul Snell RIBA, Kings Heath Architect

Good

Sketches for a scheme of two houses. This is a good sketch, as far as I am concerned. The first floor stairs come out on the attic level into the tall rear wing, which also houses a little bathroom. There is no dormer to the loft room, the eaves are used as storage rooms. The main bedroom at the first floor is the biggest room, but because of the way the windows are placed, the house could be made into a compact (!) four bed, or you could include a little office room facing the street.

Sk03 elevations