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  • Writer's pictureTim Carter

How to avoid compromising the design, before you’ve even begun

At Habitat+ Architects we pride ourselves on being great designers and using our expertise and experience to create carefully crafted, creatively sustainable buildings and spaces. The benefits of great design can have a wide range of positive impacts on the people who use the buildings and spaces. These include improved health and happiness, improved environmental performance minimising the impact on our environment, making our buildings more efficient, and building stronger communities. These are just a few of the many ways great design can benefit us.

There are often pitfalls which prevent projects from maximising their potential. We’ve assembled our top five, and with them our tips which we use as standard to create better solutions.

Concept proposal for a site for community land trust housing in the Cotswolds, constrained by the AONB, Conservation Area, trees, access and heritage. Early understanding of the constraints and opportunities of the site were key to unlocking its potential and allowing the client to understand the risk and potential added value.

  1. Don’t rush the early stages. We often hear “we just want to get on site”, or as the planning system is notoriously slow, “we want to get into planning ASAP”. These ambitions often result in the compromise of the early critical stages of the project. It is vitally important to establish a strong brief and define goals, developing a concept which works best with the budget, site and context whilst meeting all the aspirations for the project. It’s imperative to get the early stages right and making sure these first steps are not rushed or missed is guaranteed to lead to a better project and save time and cost later.

  2. Tell us what your trying to achieve, and the problems you’re trying to solve. Trust us. We know what we’re doing - we do it a lot! As well as your ideas and aspirations which are a valuable part of the design process, we need to understand the problems which you’re trying to overcome. This way you will benefit from innovative solutions which you might not have expected which may be more economical, produce a more cohesive or exciting design, and certainly allows us to create something that can bring something special to your project.

  3. Commission the surveys, use the consultants. Surveys and consultants are often a significant expense, but it’s important to realise that not undertaking them is so often a false economy. An accurate dimensional survey, a preliminary ecological appraisal or tree survey can provide information which shapes the design, avoiding the need to change things later down the line which can be more costly and time consuming. Equally, engaging a good quantity surveyor might seem like an unnecessary expense, but understanding the cost implications of a design in the earlier stages can again avoid compromising the design later in the project. ‘Value engineering’ to reduce costs later down the line inevitably compromises the goals and aspirations of the project and can be largely pre-emptively avoided.

  4. Let the site and the constraints guide the design. Great design must respond to many external factors, and pre-conceived ideas can inhibit the potential of the design. We love it when our clients know what they’re aiming for, and this needs to be paired with an open-minded approach to allow the design to evolve. Let the path of the sun dictate how the house will heat during the day or let the slope of the site influence the concept. Trees, water, ecology, boundaries, neighbouring properties, local buildings, wind direction, geology - there are many site specific elements which have influence over the design.

  5. Be brave. The planning system in England can often stifle creativity. It can directly lead to poorly designed buildings and spaces, compromising the quality and positive impact of the projects. This shouldn’t be a reason not to push design and seek to achieve something better. We use our experience and design acumen to actively engage with planning authorities, always striving to achieve the best design. We develop all elements of a design to enhance the project and this has led to us successfully challenging policy and local authority attitudes, securing approval for more adventurous and better design solutions.

A contemporary extension was proposed at the Willows to reimaging the site and to contrast and compliment the traditional house. The proposals stretched and tested planning policy, but the bravery of the client was ultimately rewarded with a planning approval.

We design better buildings.


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