Abracad Architects was established in 1982. The name resulted from us being one of the first to adopt Computer Aided Design (CAD).  Since then we have designed thousands of buildings, mainly residential, offering an efficient service turbocharged by the latest computer technology.

However, computers are only as good as their users and can’t perform magic on their own, which is where we come in like musicians performing with their instruments to bring things to life.  We offer a personal bespoke service, explaining the options to help you choose what’s best for you, so all our designs are different, reflecting the needs and wants of our clients rather than our own ego.

Whatever we do we add value in many ways by using our skills and decades of experience.  We negotiate the best permissions, we add to capital value, we minimize construction costs, running costs, delay and disruption, and we create places that are both practical and exciting.  Builders often tell us our drawings are the best they’ve seen.

Design matters

Nature knows the value of good design as only the fittest and most adaptable survive.  Everything man-made has been designed, from the wheel to the internet, from the aeroplane to the teabag.  Good design will reward you in many ways and can even save your life, which is why we think design needs to be given top priority.

The Roman Architect Vitruvius asserted that there were three fundamental ‘pillars’ of good architecture, which still hold good today:

Firmness – it should stand up robustly and remain in good condition

Commodity – it should be useful and function well for the people using it

Delight – it should be beautiful and raise the spirit (we are not robots and need things like privacy, views, light and colour).

At Abracad we seek to design better buildings that uphold these three fundamental principles.  Even on relatively small house extension projects we add value by skillful design, often making use of space and d’light to WOW.

We have a background in building and development so well understand all aspects of building design and procurement from the Planning system to how best to construct.  Whether you don’t know where to start or whether you just want best value for money you have come to the right place.

Remember the ‘Good, Quick, Cheap’ triangle, you can only have one at the expense of the other two – if you want Quick and Cheap then you will sacrifice Good.  If you want Good and Quick then it won’t be so Cheap, if you want Good and Cheap then it won’t be so Quick.

If you think it’s expensive employing a Professional, try employing an Amateur!

Process

Obtaining Planning Permission is the key to any development, for without it you cannot legally build. 

Certain extensions, alterations and outbuildings can often be done within ‘Permitted Development’ limits.  However, The Permitted Development Order has been badly written by government with many ambiguities, so we normally recommend applying for a ‘Certificate of Lawfulness’ to be sure that what you are building is legal.  There may also be other restrictions that apply if your house is a ‘listed building’ or close to a ‘listed building’ or is within a conservation area. 

We can advise further about the more detailed criteria and sometimes work with specialist Planning consultants where necessary.

If your extension does not fall within Permitted Development criteria then you will need to obtain planning permission. The Planners are concerned with aspects such as parking, overlooking, use, materials, tree root protection, massing, appearance, planning policy, etc. and the planning system, although rather subjective, is aimed at protecting everyone from unneighbourly development.

Simple planning applications should take 2 months for the Council to process, but sometimes matters arise that cause delay – even getting an application registered by a Council can take several weeks. The system is now so bureaucratic that sometimes months or even years can be added to a project.

Prior to making a planning application it is worth discussing proposals with the Planners to check the relevant policies and views and also to discuss proposals with neighbours to try and resolve possible objections which can at least cause a delay. It is also important to check your deeds re. extent of legal ownership, potential restrictive covenants etc.

When any planning application is made the Planners will make their recommendation. If no contrary views are received the Planners will then normally issue a planning decision using their delegated powers if possible – some Local Authorities operate slightly differently however, so best to check with your particular Council.

If a contrary view is expressed (e.g. from a neighbour or Councillor) then the proposals will normally go before the Development Control committee made up of elected Councillor representatives for their decision, which can over-rule the Planners.   This all causes delay as the committees only convene once a month and often then defer an application whilst a site visit is arranged.    Sometimes there is merit in lobbying Councillors so they are made aware of the benefits of your application.

We can also advise about matters including The Party Wall etc Act and Disability Discrimination Act, both of which now have a bearing on many projects.   Other planning matters include Highway aspects, the Environment Agency if the site is prone to flooding, landscaping etc.

Good design is now being given a higher priority and we often have to submit a detailed design statement with an application to explain our response to the various constraints and opportunities.

If a planning refusal is the outcome there is then the opportunity to appeal (within typically 6 months) to the Secretary of State for the Environment but this can take typically 6-9 months to be determined and may agree with the planning decision, so if at all possible it is best to submit a scheme in the first place that keeps Planners, neighbours and Councillors happy.

See Example Drawings and 3D Views

Once a Planning Permission has been granted it is then worth proceeding to Stage 2 where we add the technical construction detail and dimensions (although you can gamble and do this at the same time as Stage 1 to save time, particularly if you think Planning Permission is likely to be granted).

The Building Regulations are a set of minimum government standards, regularly being updated, relating to aspects such as accessibility, structural stability, safety, insulation, drainage etc. There will be a Building Regulations fee, payable separately to the Council (or private alternative), the amount depending on the size/cost of the proposals and will normally be payable in 2 stages, the first when plans are submitted for statutory checking and the second after the first of a series of site visits once building work starts.

At this stage we normally include extra information that the builder will need such as radiator & electric positions, key details etc.

Please also allow for design input from an independent Structural Engineer that is normally required as part of Stage 2 including structural calculations for any steelwork, advice about foundations, etc. In some cases some preliminary investigation of subsoil and existing structures may also be beneficial in removing uncertainty.  Engineers tend to charge their services at a similar rate to Architects.

See Example Drawings and 3D Views

We normally recommend getting competitive tenders from at least 3 builders, usually based on fully detailed drawings and a specification (not just Stage 1 information) – vagueness at this stage will just lead to ‘extras’ and disputes later.  Larger jobs may need the involvement of a Quantity Surveyor.

We normally then administer a standard JCT Contract to formalise such things as cost, stage payments, timescale, insurance, potential dispute resolution etc., acting as a policeman/referee between client and chosen builder.  Without this you are vulnerable to all sorts of potentially very costly problems, often resulting from the client and builder having different expectations based on different assumptions.

We can also advise about Health & Safety – clients now have a duty to appoint a Planning Supervisor (which can be the Architect) for most jobs of any significance.

Every job of over 30 days duration should be formally notified to the Health & Safety executive, together with a statement of Method and Health & Safety, the aim being to reduce accidents in a notoriously accident prone industry.  The following points should of course also apply to even the smallest of jobs and the list is far from complete:

Ladders should be secured with a suitable grab rail at the top and not left usable when builders aren’t there.

Scaffolding should have a handrail and protective fencing to fully boarded walkways.

All working platforms should be appropriate and stable.

Appropriate protective clothing should be worn – hard hat to protect head from falling debris and walking into obstacles, solid or waterproof boots, gloves to protect hands from chemicals, goggles where eyes are at risk, masks to avoid dust and fumes inhalation etc.

Beware of timber left with nails sticking out.

Holes should be fenced against people and animals falling in and the sides suitably shored.  Stairwells should be guarded.

Materials should be stacked and fenced off if appropriate so as not to pose a danger.

Work in progress should be suitably stabilised.

A first aid kit should be kept on site.

Tripping hazards (e.g. trailing wires) should be avoided.

Rubbish should generally not be burnt on site.

Unfortunately the above and other hazards are often ignored (with many imaginative excuses available) and although I endeavour to point them out repeatedly when making a site inspection, it would also be helpful if clients would assist in an uphill struggle to promote prevention in place of cure (and a possible fine!).

FAQ's

No building project happens without changes, but certain decisions need to be made at certain times. For example, when the electrician arrives is a good time to discuss exactly what electrical fittings go where, an extra socket can easily be added for a little extra cost, but change your mind once everything is complete and adding a socket then becomes expensive, due to the knock-on implications involving the other trades and general disruption to the process. Late changes of mind cause disproportionate problems so try to avoid making them.

As the project progresses the final cost becomes clearer, but it is impossible to know everything at the outset, so allow yourself some contingency money to cover for the unexpected (often hidden under the ground). There is a general tendency for people to underestimate cost, time and disruption at the outset.  As a general rule of thumb, expect good builders to quote at least £2,000 per sq metre of new floor area (mostly for labour) then allow extra for alterations, fitting out kitchen and bathrooms, anything special such as wide patio doors, design and VAT.  It’s not uncommon for builder’s quotes to vary by large amounts and the cheapest isn’t always the one that will offer best value. 

We once had to step a floor up to avoid a large diameter and apparently major pipe which was unearthed in an unexpected place – later in the job we discovered that it was an empty pipe that had just been dumped!  Unfortunately we don’t have X-ray vision, but at least the split-level room was liked.

We understand that builders are producing a labour intensive and largely hand-built product in less than ideal conditions, because we have been builders ourselves, and we are also familiar with common concerns by clients, such as seeing the foundations going in and thinking that the building is going to be too small or worrying about shrinkage cracking.  By understanding the building process as well as the product we are able to minimise potential problems which often result from misunderstanding. 

Be very wary of demands for money up front as this will immediately put you in a weak position.

Typically 2 years from start to finish (only about 1 month being due to us). The Planners can cause months of delay which is sometimes unpredictable, more detailed construction information then needs to be produced before builders can tender sensibly, the builders will then generally need some lead-in time (many good local builders currently have a waiting list of over a year) prior to building works happening, which generally then takes 3-6 months for relatively small projects. Rushing to start early tends to lead to problems later.

No, the title ‘Architect‘ is protected by law and reserved for those who have successfully completed at least 7 years of recognised training to become a Registered Architect, (a Chartered Architect is a Registered Architect who has joined the RIBA club).  Beware of cheap imitations such as ‘architectural designers’ who are not qualified and do not have to comply with any standards.  Architects are expected to attend Continued Professional Development courses regularly to keep their skills up-to-date, and must maintain Professional Indemnity insurance.

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