The Unique Challenges of Briefing for a New Build

Monday, June 27, 2016

Last week, I shared some advice on how to prepare a brief for your architect so that your project can hit the ground running. Most of that advice applies to new builds as well as existing, but new builds do feature some crucial differences to the briefing process which deserve special attention.

Tabula Rasa

First of all, you need to overcome the intimidation of the blank page.

When you’re working from an existing house, it’s relatively easy to take a pen to some plans and scribble away walls and add extensions. But when you have nothing to work from but an empty plot, it can be very difficult to know where to start.

Typically, people break through this barrier in two directions: either they go entirely off the wall and think up designs that have no chance of ever being built either due to costs or physics, or they fall back on convention and struggle to imagine anything but a typically house shaped house.

Finding the right balance between the two is the difference between a beautiful, cutting edge contemporary home and a daydream that never gets past the drawing board.

A good start is to look at other contemporary homes in the UK – particularly within the area and budget you’re going to build – and compile a photo library or, even better, visit them to ask about the owner’s experiences of the build and get a tour of their home. Develop a sense of what you do and don’t enjoy in contemporary design. A new build is your opportunity to design around your taste from the ground up, so there’s no sense in incorporating a feature you don’t entirely enjoy just because it’s in vogue.

For instance, while plenty of contemporary architecture features open plan design, including many of our own builds, you may find that you prefer the intimacy of smaller rooms. Or, you might prefer traditional stone and a rustic finish to clean white exteriors and sharp lines. Become confident in your taste and your perfect home will start to form in the fog.

New Builds are Defined by Their Limitations

At DGA, we’re proud of a contemporary portfolio that pushes domestic architecture forward and tests the limits of what is achievable in a home today. But though some of our builds may appear as if they were built with complete freedom, each was in fact shaped by an incredibly strict list of rules and restrictions.

The UK does not have a building industry like Los Angeles, where you can simply buy a plot and do on in what you may. Building control puts intense scrutiny on new builds so that they do not negatively impact neighbours, the landscape, the environment and more, whether in their complete form or during the building process.

But, like a great poem, having a structure in place does not necessarily impede creativity and, in some respects, can enhance it. Having to balance all the factors involved in a new build forces us to be smarter and more creative than we might be if we could simply do whatever we wanted.

What this means for you is that you won’t know what your house will look like until you understand the restrictions of the site. Some will only allow you to build within a certain boundary, some will enforce a height limitation, others will only let you build with a similar aesthetic to surrounding architecture.

This is why you should seek advice from an architect earlier in a new build than you would in a renovation. If you’re working from an existing house, it’s easier to get a sense of what is and is not possible by looking at the current structure and what’s been achieved elsewhere in the area. Many home owners mull over their plans for years before contacting an architect. But if you’re starting from scratch, you need to understand every rule and restriction of the site down to the letter before you can so much as sketch a box with with a triangle on top of it.

At DGA, we’re always happy to discuss your plans, whether you have pages upon pages of briefing documents or just want to know what’s possible on your site. Click here to book a zoom consultation with me.

John Dyer-Grimes