Our process

What is it like to work with us

We love what we do! There may be easier ways of making a living, but there are few that are as rewarding as seeing a satisfied client using and enjoying their new building. We pride ourselves on our responsiveness to programme and budget constraints, and (within reason) we welcome those constraints as a spur to creativity. And while architects don’t generally have a good reputation for listening, to us it’s an indispensable skill – it helps that Nigel worked for many years as a part-time counsellor. Listening is particulary important when trying to build consensus, whether within a client body or between the client and other stakeholders, such as neighbours or planners. 

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At Archangel we pay as much attention to the little things as to the big picture.

We try at Archangel to pay as much attention to the little things as to the big picture – a beautiful building usually shows an attention to detail at all levels, from how it sits in relation to its landscape and amongst its neighbours all the way down to the choice of materials, the detailing or the signage.

If you’re new to the process of creating buildings, then embarking on a building project can seem unbelievably daunting; clients often wonder where on earth they should start. The good news is that with the right tools and the right guide it is not only achievable, but can be one of the most significant things you ever do. If you like the feel of this website, then please contact us – we would love to discuss whether we are the right people to accompany you on your journey.

A road map

Most building projects go through the same stages, and in the same order. The following is an adaptation and simplification of the RIBA Plan of Work 2020; the point of a road map such as this is to promote consistency from stage to stage, and to guide clients who often will be undertaking their first and only building project. 

Each of these stages can be summed up by a question that it must answer; click through for more information on each of these.

01. Pre-Design. ‘Is there a project at all?’

02/03. Concept Design. ‘What sort of building would meet the brief?’

04. Technical Design. ‘How is the building put together?’

05. Construction. ‘Let’s make this happen!’

06. Handover. ‘Enjoy!’

Architecture is an exploratory process. If you already know what you want – and you’ve properly understood the implications – then you don’t need an architect. But one of the key things that architects (should!) bring to the table is an ability to think strategically, which can add a great deal of value. The process therefore starts by opening up possibilities in stages 1 and 2, and is then followed by a narrowing back down in stages 3 and 4; until by the end of stage 5 you have a completed building. Breathe in… and breathe out…



Before design work can begin, it is important to consider whether a construction project is the best means of achieving whatever requirements the client is seeking to address. If construction work is required, then a feasibility study, accompanied by measured surveys, will often be the first stage. By the end of this stage, a project brief will have been developed and it will be known in principle that this brief can be accommodated on the site.

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Is there a project at all?

Feasibility Studies vary in their focus and content, depending on the circumstances and what questions need to be answered. Typically a feasibility study might include a diagrammatic layout of the possible building work, an initial indication of possible costs prepared by a quantity surveyor, and the fruits of pre-application discussions with planners and/or other permission givers. Other relevant elements might for example include a structural investigation, or a conversation with Building Control, where that might significantly impact the feasibility of a proposal.

Having first established the need for a project, the point of a feasibility study is to identify and evaluate the principal risks to a successful outcome. A good feasibility study will give preliminary answers to these important questions. It should only go into sufficient detail to establish that the project is worth pursuing, and should be thorough in process but not overly detailed. The result should be a clear strategic direction for the client, and the development of the client brief, ensuring that everything needed for the design process is in place before Stage 2.


Concept/Developed Design

Taken together, RIBA Stages 2 and 3 form the first half of the design work proper. They involve developing a design concept, often through several iterations, to fit the client’s vison, brief and budget (Stage 2), before, the geometry and appearance of the proposed design is fixed and signed off by the client (Stage 3). With the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM), the boundary between Stages 2 and 3 has blurred, and at Archangel we tend to combine them.

What sort of building would meet the brief?

Sometimes, different design options may need to be explored in parallel and the pros and cons of each considered, before the best design strategy for the project is established. With Archangel’s use of BIM technology, the client is able to understand and therefore to shape that design strategy as it develops, with multiple updates to the 3D model as the strategy becomes clearer. This also allows broader consultation earlier in the process, for example on church and community projects.

Each stage in the process adds to and refines the information, presenting it for a different audience. By the end of Stage 3, the design is sufficiently complete and coordinated to avoid all but the most minor of iterations at Stage 4; the scheme can therefore be presented to the planners in a planning or Listed Building Consent application (or equivalent) to answer the Stage 3 question: ‘Are we allowed to build this?’.

It is tempting, like children on a long journey, to start asking ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ The answer is ‘No’ – there’s a lot of design work still to do…


Technical Design

Stage 4 is about developing the information required to construct the building, and is the second half of the design work; the audience changes to the builders who will price the project, and beyond that to the craftsmen on site who will do the actual building work. It is essential to understand how the building will be put together and to eliminate any potential clashes between different elements or trades.

Architect using 3d drawing model on site with ipad

How is the building put together?

The main permission required in this stage is Building Regulations approval of plans. However, depending on the nature of the project, it may be that discussions with Building Control will have been ongoing from as early as Stage 1; as always, the aim is to manage this process to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

The output from Stage 4 is a package of technical information – typically detailed drawings, schedule of work and reference specification – which is sent to an agreed list of contractors for tender; once these tenders are returned, a tender report is issued to the client. Tendering is a one-round bidding process, which is based in part on science and measurement, and in part on sentiment and the contractor’s appraisal of risk; having a sound package of technical information, and a sound professional reputation, are a great help in reducing the potential variance. Once tenders have been discussed between client and architect, it may be necessary then to negotiate modifications to the tender price with one of more the tenderers; if so, this is provided as a separate service. Then a contract is drawn up, and the contractor appointed with a start date agreed.



At last we get to build something!

For the Construction phase, the architect sets up a construction contract between the client and the main contractor. The contract is very simple: it involves the contractor giving the client an undertaking to build what is shown in a named set of documents, for the sum of £X, starting on date Y and finishing on date Z. That’s it. The rest of the document deals with how the work is paid for and how those terms can be varied if – as is often the case – things don’t turn out quite in the way envisaged. 

Architect on construction site with client

Let’s make this happen!

The architect is not a party to the contract, but is named in it as the Contract Administrator – essentially the referee in the relationship between client and builder. That involves making periodic inspection visits, and confirming how much should be paid to the contractor and when through issuing Interim Certificates. It is important to note that inspection is quite different from supervision of the construction process, which is the responsibility of the main contractor. This stage also involves frequent discussion between contractor and architect as site queries are raised and answered.


Handover and Feedback

With the contractor off site and the building handed over and in use, in Stage 6 the focus moves to resolving any remaining snags and defects and concluding the Building Contract. Like bookends, this phase begins with the issue of the Certificate of Practical Completion, and ends with the issue of the Final Certificate. Between these two is a rectification period, typically of 12 months, which allows the building and its systems to go through the full cycle of the seasons, to ensure everything is working as it should be. Only once any resulting defects are rectified are the remaining retention monies released to the contractor.


In order to receive the handover of the building and to begin using it, the client will need to be shown how various systems within the building work. As with any intimate relationship, this ‘getting to know you’ process between client and building takes time; when being shown how to operate the new controls, we have found it very helpful to video the instruction. And of course it is important to keep manuals and warranties in a safe place.

Even when the Final Certificate is issued, we are still not quite done! In order to improve the quality of what we do it is important to learn whatever we can from each completed project. For this reason the RIBA Plan of Work includes Stage 7 ‘In Use’, which runs all the way until the building reaches the end of its life. We are very keen to learn from your experience living with the completed project, and therefore like to stay in touch.