Can you please give us a description of your professional career?
I have worked for a number of architects and urban design practices geographically, from Oxford and as far as India, applying building conservation and urban design skills and learning about the riches of history and culture. In 2005, I formed lapd architects with Opinder Liddar and we explored the holistic nature of what architects do by carrying out our own development projects and offering a construction service to build out the projects we designed. This gave us a unique insight into the whole process of a project that has ultimately fed into the ideology at lapd; how we care for those we work with and understand the process from a variety of viewpoints.
How did you come to specialise in the self-build market?
From its start, the core of what lapd does has focused on residential projects and those wishing to build their own homes. The National Self Build and Renovation Centre became aware of this and invited us to be part of what they were trying to achieve. We were surprised that the architect profession was poorly represented in this market and discovered that most members of the public did not understand that an architect is ideally placed to help and guide them through the process and resolved to address this. We are pleased that we were able to encourage RIBA to become a part of this and architects are now a regular fixture offering free advice at the centre. Through just doing what we do, we have won awards for ‘Best Self Build Architect’, ‘Sustainable Design’, ‘Technical Innovation and Housing Design’ from RIBA, RICS, LABC and Build It. We are also a member of The National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA).
What has been your most notable self-build project to date?
There have been a number of high-profile, award-winning projects, but we take most pleasure in providing solutions to enable clients to achieve their vision and seeing how this can make a difference. This can be as humble as a new garden room to contemplate life in, or a lifetime’s ambition to create a contemporary, sustainable dwelling.
What have you witnessed as a main concern for today’s self-builders?
Finding a suitable building site for their new home and financial borrowing to achieve this. It is good to note that both appear to be improving. Also, a client knowing when they may need help; this is probably the most expensive investment a client will ever make. Employing an architect ensures that what you build will not be a series of compromises. We see so many people at shows where the design produced by others is not right for them or beyond their budget. If it is not right, then it will not be right when it is built!
What do you think is the greatest challenge for self-builders today?
There are so many products and systems in the marketplace that it can be a very confusing and contradictory place. How can so many different ways of achieving the same thing exist and each be the best?
How do you approach a self-build project?
What does the client want to achieve in an ideal world? Our skill is in advising and guiding how the client can get there in reality. This is all tempered with the opportunities of the site, construction budget, planning issues, the ability of those building it and the list goes on. Have you witnessed any self-build design style trends recently? Sustainable technologies are becoming more common and the market is producing more affordable options.
In your view, what do you believe is the best material to build a self-build from and why?
Self-build or custom build now include those laying the bricks themselves to where a main contractor takes responsibility. The construction method will depend on which route is taken. For those carrying out much of the building work themselves, we would encourage systems where the building is modularised as much as possible; timber frame/SIP. Where a main contractor is employed, we would tend to move towards a more traditional form of construction as this generally ensures best value.
What advice would you offer self-builders when it comes to budgeting?
The ‘it will be alright on the night’ system never works. We use contractors’ pricing software to give the best guidance we can and keep a track on tender prices for projects. Divide out the project into trade work stages; groundworks, external walls, first fix joinery, roof structure etc, to understand how the overall cost is apportioned. Make sensible allowances for fittings and fixtures, it is easy to get quotes for kitchens and bathrooms. Always include a contingency of circa 10% on top of all costs, you will need it. Limiting the ‘wow’ elements of your design both enhances them and keeps a check on your budget – a win-win situation.
What advice would you offer to those self-builders currently plot searching?
Your local authority now has a responsibility to keep a register of those wishing to carry out a self-build project and to address this need through planning approvals. Register as soon as you can.Serviced building plots are becoming more available, the Graven Hill project at Bicester, Oxfordshire, is one. They are rolling out plots that have the infrastructure already installed.