Kings Heath Architect is hiring

Things are pretty busy here at Kings Heath Towers and I would like to give a special person the opportunity to work their magic on my clients. If you are a part qualified architect who would like to go all the way this could be the opportunity for you.

About the shop

The practice is a micro practice based in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Nearly all the clients are end users and the projects are small or very small. We provide a full service from initial evaluation to post practical completion. There are no airports or motorway service stations in the portfolio and almost everything is in Kings Heath.

Your responsibilities

Your first and most important task is to charm the pants off everybody you meet. You can get the builder to cut his price and feel like you are doing him a favour. You can tell the client he is over budget and fire his enthusiasm for the project at the same time. You can find the building control officer’s sense of humour and you make the engineer think it was his idea. Every person you relate to with regard to the practice leaves with an overwhelmingly positive impression of you and the practice. The business reputation is my most important asset and the key to its future prosperity – and everybody knows everybody.

Your second responsibility will be to deliver a full architectural service to my clients – you will meet the client and talk about their ideas, take the surveys, draw up the sketch design options and advise the client. You will design the project up to planning, make the technical design and obtain building regulations consent, you will prepare the tender package and tender the project. When the project is on site you will administer the contract and deal with any issues to make sure that everybody is happy – whatever happens. If you think you will be bored, you might not be the person for this job. Don’t worry, I will help you – but you will have to learn to work fast and to a standard that will impress.

Your third responsibility is to set your own agenda for personal achievement. As a minimum I expect you to aim to qualify as an architect by September 2015, but I also want to hear your ideas for development of yourself and the business. You will be expected to keep the part 3 logbook and attend a suitable course. You will be given time to do this.

Is this you?

I am thinking of a part 2, but if you have a bit more or less experience, tell me why you might be the one.

If you think that you might be the right person for the job, or you want to have a crack at it, or just find out more about it, please fill in the contact form below. You can add a message in the box. I will send you my email address so you can forward your CV. The preferred applicants will be asked to attend an interview with their portfolios, not just the fancy renders either, I need to see your sketchbooks too. Do not attempt to show me a Powerpoint!

If you need to flex for childcare or other reasons, just ask me – it’s not like other practices. Candidates living in or near Kings Heath will have an advantage.


The March of Progress

At the beginning of every month, I like to sit down with my diary and see how the next few weeks are looking for workload. I had a look through this weekend and I can tell you that spring is here for small projects. All my builders are busy and so am I. New enquiries are up and my fee proposals are turning into instructions in days, not weeks. Projects that I thought had gone to sleep forever are emerging out of the ground and starting to look for a bit of sunshine.

What I am going to have to do, if you don’t mind, is to not to visit any new enquiries for the whole of March. What this means is that if you get in touch with me now I will ask you if I can come out to you not right away but in a few short weeks. This will give me time to deliver some great little projects to my existing customers. That’s the plan, anyway. If you can’t wait, just ask. Otherwise, I will see you in April! xx

Contract Value #1

When I give a price for my services on a project, I price the work in stages. The outline design, final design to planning and construction information for building regulations stages are fairly easy to explain and my clients can understand why they need it – the result is a set of drawings showing the proposal, in conformity with the statutory requirements, which show the builder what he is expected to do. Some architects offer this as their main service, or as a “plans only” service. The architect draws up the scheme and gets planning and building regulations approval, then hands the job over to the client. The client then has to find a builder and get the work done on site.

I like to offer two additional services – I organise the tenders and administer the contract. For the tender I put together the list of builders and send out the drawings and specification and chase up the responses. It is fairly straightforward and I know several local builders, but most importantly I use a proper procedure so that the prices can be compared. Sometimes I like to think that the contractor is pricing more a little bit more carefully because they know an architect is involved. Perhaps, like pretending to know a bit about cars at the garage, it makes a difference, at least in the imagination. A good builder should give you a good price regardless. The key thing is to ensure that the builder has a good clear set of documents to price.

Once the client has reached found a bidder they prefer, I like to call a meeting between the client and contractor. We go through the quote to check what is included in the price, such as whether the client will order the bathroom suite themselves, and if everyone is happy, I will witness the signing of the contract. The contract, and the administration of the contract, is what I want to talk about now because everyone asks about it and it is not so easy to explain.

If you were to ask a builder to do some work for you to today, you would be forming a contract – that is an agreement for them to work for you and for you to pay them – but there is a good chance that the terms of that agreement would not be clear. If they give you a quote you might think you know the price and they might think that you are bound by the tiny green writing on the back of their letter. If there are extra items or delays or problems with the work, you will probably find yourself negotiating with their goodwill and your money as the bargaining chips. If your builder is good they will value their reputation and try to help because you can’t build a business on unhappy customers – but what if there is no understanding?

For my projects I usually recommend that the client sign a proper building contract, usually the JCT Minor Works Contract. This is a little A4 book of about 40 pages that sets out the agreement between the client and the contractor in terms which are fair, recognised and tested in law and are easy to understand. It’s a contract for small building jobs which have been designed and will be administered by an architect. The first bit – the Articles of Agreement – you fill in. The second bit – the Conditions – set out the terms of the contract. My job, as the contract administrator is to ensure that the parties fill in and sign the agreement properly and that the parties stick to the terms. Because I have read them and I know what they are! I can’t do anything other than recommend you read the actual contract, but perhaps as well you could have a look at my handy guide below.

The Articles of Agreement are as follows: the date, the names and addresses of the parties, a simple description of the project, the list of contract documents that describe the work which the Contractor will do, the contract sum which the Employer will pay, the date when the works will start and when they will finish. Now you have read through this you are probably wondering why anyone would undertake a project on site without agreeing these things. Well, it happens a lot. Next there are the details, the first of which is called the liquidated damages. This is a legal term which means specifically the penalty for late completion owed by the Contractor to the Employer under the terms of the Contract. For example, if the Contractor is finishes one week after the due date for completion without cause under the contract, one week’s liquidated damages must be deducted from the contract sum due. I like to set a day rate of the cost one or two labourers on site, usually between £100 and £150. On a small project that is enough to ensure that the contractor makes diligent progress. Next is the rectification period, usually three months. In this period of time any defects appearing in the work after practical completion must be made good by the builder. So any cracks, leaks or electrical faults in the works are to be fixed at no cost to the client during this period. Next is the retention. This is the sum of money held back from each payment which is only to released when the project is (i) completed on site and (ii) at the end of the rectification period. This small sum of money protects the client in the event of a defect or non completion as the Contractor must complete the work to receive payment of this fraction. It’s usually 5% to 2 1/2%. Then there are clauses for insurance and dispute resolution. If the parties come into dispute under the contract – usually about money – they can go to court. But if they agree to it in the contract they can also use arbitration, which is cheaper and quicker or adjudication, which is a court like process but quicker. You want arbitration, it’s cheap and quick. You can still go to court if for some reason you want to. Then the parties then have to sign it and the agreement is made.

Okay, that’s enough for today – let’s talk about the Conditions and the contract administration next time. See you then!


Tervakoski is the best. It is white enough to copy or scan as white paper and transparent enough to trace through up to four layers. It takes pencil, ink and coloured pencil well, with a fine consistent tooth (roughness to the pencil). I usually buy it here. I am using about 2 metres a week over the last 12 months, but it seems to be increasing. Which is good, because I love it!


Pencil pencil. Sharpen sharpen.

For pretty much all of my professional career I have worked at a desk with a computer. It’s just how architects work these days. Especially on larger projects, where surveys and engineer information comes in by email in a CAD format (“computer aided design” – the “computer” bit is true). Employers (I mean the people who paid me, not the people who paid them) like to see nice hard lines, data on the server. It’s easy to retrieve and transmit, plus if different people work on it, it sort of looks the same. Same title blocks, same fonts, same library elements (cars, tables, toilets, people). You can also build up a body of details that sort of work with different projects.

But if I think back to my student days I did almost everything by hand on paper: there’s no printing to worry about, you can erase mistakes fairly easily, you can collage, annotate, watercolour, glue on photographs, mix trace and paper. Mix hard line with freehand. Draw people doing stuff in your pictures. Add stuff. You can work without a computer, you just need a table and some simple tools. You can also work very fast if you need to – which you always do. When you have to make a presentation, you just roll the drawings up into a tube, go to school and pin them to the wall. No queueing in the print room with a copier card hoping to meet the deadline. It’s painful to watch people late for a presentation pinning up fresh prints that look unfinished. I have seen some amazing computer drawings, but they take a real skill and lots of time (fancy paper and lots of memory help too). Most computer drawings have a very dry, or a very messy look about them. To beat this, you need to work with more than one programme – you draw the hard line in CAD, then export to Photoshop to add graduated colour, sky tones, people, cars etc. It takes time but looks great, especially if your original is a 3D with shadows. But you get a not so easy to edit file format and for the customer it’s a lot of money for two or three pretty images.

The real value of hand drawing for me is something more than just the  convenience and flexibility. When I draw by hand I get absorbed into the project and I begin to think of all the things that might be important to the client but that a CAD programme can’t readily include – light and shadow, access, text, questions, furniture, swirly shapes – that sort of thing. As the drawing appears I can see the whole thing at once and the elements within their context. The relationship between the small and large elements, the proportion, present themselves to me. The spaces tighten up or push out as their needs require. The hand drawings impose a kind of subtle accuracy on the project which is often lacking in computer drawn schemes. Before I know it, an hour or two has passed and the scheme has come to a higher state of resolution.

My colleagues used to wonder why I had my own T square and masking  tape and my desk, but I found it so helpful to resolve a detail or work out an elevation. Now I can draw whenever I like. I still use a CAD package for the final design work, but one day I am going to draw a whole project only by hand. Bite me!

Sk02 A A3 anon

Notification of Householder Prior Approval

So far I have made two applications for larger permitted extensions. The first raised an objection from a neighbour. The planning officer came round (hi Kerry!) to see if the scheme would be compliant with current planning policy, but it fell foul of the neighbour’s right to light guidance. It was a 3.6m rear extension – 3.0m would have passed under normal PD rules, but not this. You can have as many free goes as you want and the neighbour is set to move, so we will take another shot at the title when the champ retires (sort of).

Larger permitted development application number 2 is a happier tale. We sent off the information on the 17th of September and today we got this:

Prior Approval

So the process takes one month, but one detail you might notice is that the work must be finished on site by 30th May 2016. If you allow twelve weeks on site and four weeks for determination, then if you are making your application after January 2016, you better have your contractor ready to start, with a price, when that letter drops on your doormat (or bleeps into your inbox).

Ship’s log Monday 30th September 13

No article today, although I am hoping to do some more on the arts and crafts houses all around us. The fact is, this is a rush week. The 1925 house is on site and the contractor needs information and there are building control conditions to discharge. An enquiry I thought I had lost has come back to me and I have an instruction to make a cautious start on a small extension. Just to explain: a job or a project is work for a client that has an agreed fee and a known brief.

An enquiry is an approach from a client that does not have an agreed fee and usually no agreed brief. What makes an enquiry into a project is the acceptance of a fee proposal, showing the project brief and the fee.

The brief, at it’s simplest, is a description of the client’s needs. For example, they may need a bigger kitchen, a family room or another bedroom. Without a brief it is pretty hard for me to deliver something useful that I can send an invoice for.

There is usually some work involved with an enquiry but the mission from my perspective is to determine what the brief might be and to propose a fee, even if it is just for a feasibility study to see what the possibilities might be. Some enquiries come to me where the client knows exactly what they want – others are looking for ideas. What I definitely want to avoid is getting into a situation where I find myself working on a scheme where there are no good ideas. A good example would be where the spatial solution will never get planning permission, or where the size or location of the property would make investment in it unprofitable. Another example is where the client does not know what they want – there is no brief. So it is very worthwhile for me to take a little time at the beginning to have a good look at the site and to try to talk to the client about the ideas. Sometimes the answers are readily apparent – a straightforward project that shows clear benefits. Sometimes the client might be better moving on. It also happens that the client has ideas that are good, but there are identifiable risks – planning restrictions and costs being the main ones. In these cases the risk is both mine and the client’s. Although it is her money, I definitely don’t want to be in the situation that we have chased a project down the road and come back with no viable solutions.

So that is a little bit about the brief, now that hard part – the money. What a wonderful world it must be for architects that don’t need money. Working endless hours on competitions, preparing great visuals, picking projects for their ethical or artistic value, whether build-able or not. Not so great for the client however, as they wait around for the drawings, or worse, go ahead with ambitious projects that might not work out for them the way they intended. Maybe you have seen some of these buildings. They are usually large and sometimes brightly coloured.

When I talk to a client about money, of course I am trying to win the work when the project looks good. But for some reason it is quite hard to explain to the client what the costs are and to get the fee right. In particular I need to be able to determine how much work I think the project will need – drawings, meetings, reports, letters, e-mails, permissions – and how long it will take me. But when preparing the fee there are two risks facing me – that I might take on the job and run a loss or that I might price to high and lose the work. So it is in construction. The contractors who tender for my clients face the same risks and it is good for the client to know that the prices are keen, but also to understand that the fee bids are made on an equal basis. I recently lost a job to a very low bidder but I do wonder what work the client was being offered in terms of service. In my fees I show the fees for the stages – outline design, planning, construction information including regulatory approval and tender and contract administration. Perhaps in future I will show two total sums – one for the full service, one for “planning and regs”. Professionally speaking I think that the client needs to understand the value of looking at the options at feasibility, having a proper tender process and a recognised construction contract supervised by an architect. I have the impression that it is very hard for my clients to understand this – they look at the bottom line and if it is above a certain figure, they just won’t. If the project is simple and the client has a builder on board from the start, maybe there is a way for me to protect the client’s interest and offer a shorter route to delivering the project. If the client then comes to the view that I can help them further then that might be the right solution, if they find a happy partnership with a trusted builder, then that’s good too.

Happy Birthday / How’s it going?

Today is one year since the first Kings Heath Architect blog post – happy birthday me! I have been in sole practice for a little bit longer than that, but I feel like this is a good anniversary for the shop. Looking back over the year I can see a (fairly) steady progress as the enquiries have turned into projects and the projects have gone onto site. In central headquarters though the general feeling has been either one of two things – “will I ever work again?” and “when am I going to going to get everything done?”. Sometimes on the same day. Today I won a project, with a commercial client, that should keep me non-stop busy for about a month, which is very good. A project which seemed to be going nowhere a few days ago is now on site – and the engineer is waiting on my drawings. Two sets of tenders are due back this week. And I have a client who said he would be back in touch “when he gets back from holiday” to meet on site on Saturday. So that’s looking pretty busy with all paid work. At the beginning of the month I was looking at the blackboard and there was one small project. How things change.

So what have I learned in a year? Well, some things are going really well and the first is this: my customers like me. I like them too – they have great ideas for projects and so far have all shown good judgement and serenity with what can be a stressful process. The next thing item is this: if you want to make money as an architect – and I don’t mean big money I mean any money – you have to work super fast, super hard, non-stop metal bashing. Not all the time, but a lot. Hammer like crazy, send invoice, hammer like crazy. However… part of my job, a very important part, is daydreaming. Lots of daydreaming, doodling, numbers, drawings that go somewhere and drawings that go nowhere. Without daydreaming, the hammering just leads to more hammering and not to a good solution, or a beautiful resolution. So, to another year of serenity, hammering and daydreaming.

Dear Diary

There are usually two reasons why websites or blogs go all quiet. Thankfully the recent dry spell on KHA (if we can call it that) is for the second reason – the shop is so busy I haven’t found time to update it. In fact I am approaching the state that is small business nirvana – I have work to do now and work in the diary to do later – some of it much later. My customers are forming an orderly queue, like at a well known high street coffee shop.

Trying to plan the office workload is notoriously difficult for an architect. I might visit a client who is thinking of a big project and it leads nowhere, or I hear nothing for weeks – or months – then the client wishes to proceed at top speed.  When a project progresses smoothly, there is usually a body of work leading up to a planning application, followed by a wait of eight weeks or so for the council to give their determination before the construction information package gets underway. So it’s nice to be able to have one project slowly rising in the airing cupboard, one in the oven and another being kneaded on a floury counter top. But this is not so easy to do in practice!

I have drafted various charts and lists to try to sort out what we call the office work programme with some success, but at the end of the day new enquiries need attention, existing clients are eager to see their drawings and the mortgage needs to get paid. For all these reasons, the post this month has been a bit slow… Hope to give you the attention you deserve soon. Next week maybe?


I like to sketch out some rough ideas at client meetings in my notebook. I have added a little colour to this one in Photoshop. It shows the key ideas of the proposal in a very concise way, it is quick, personal and can be sent by email. The top drawing shows the loft plan with Velux roof light, winder stair and b for bathroom. The middle picture is a through the wall perspective showing the stair, dormer with large window and door to bathroom and finally the elevation at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Tomato Wollivar for his old scanner : -).