I am an independent design-led developer specialising in custom build. My vision is to help change the way that we build, buy and live in our homes in the UK. I wanted to write this open letter to architects to explain how for me, the way that developers and architects interact needs to change. The old rules have been re-written.
I get emails, beautiful brochures and meeting requests from a lot of architects and designers. I enjoy the overtures, but unfortunately, while I work with some brilliant architects and would love to work with more, the reality is there aren’t enough projects to go around.
Observation #1 – Don’t wait for the commission
At time of writing, we are actively working on 5 live projects. This is not unusual for a developer of our size. Our projects include doing the marketing and sales on three developments, and project managing two. We chose the architect in only one of those projects. So, even though we have plans to grow, it will still be only on the odd occasion that we have the opportunity to commission designers.
Observation #2 – Join the pitch
Development for me is bringing everything together, the design team, the money, the building team, the legals, the marketing and the sales down to the queries of the end purchasers.
We look to architects to create the vision for the project, but an architect will only produce a great building if the developer is on board.
In the movie industry, directors and producers find a good script and pitch to the studios together. This is how I think it should be in the building industry. I want to get together with an architect to work up an opportunity on land for sale to a point where I can secure the site and go out and raise money. This is not commission, this is collaboration.
Observation #3 – Spot the opportunity
If I see a piece of land for sale, I will have to choose which architect to work with and that will depend on a number of factors – their experience, size of the opportunity and the location of the site.
Some bits of land for sale already have planning, and some plots will be sold without planning. We have about 30-40 architects who we would like to work with and there are probably 1-3 projects in a year where we need architectural help. So, as they say stateside, ‘you do the math’.
However, architects who have come to us where they have spotted an opportunity, but need help in getting it off the ground, have ended up both with a site-finding fee and the design work. Site-finding is a skill and architects have the basic skills down pat. You are trained and experienced in planning, you can come up with creative solutions to gap sites and you like to cycle (which is by far the best way to spot off-market land)!
Observation #4 – Most developers don’t use architects
I have grown up with architecture in my blood, but not every developer has done so and most developments are ugly, bland and crass. Most, unsurprisingly, don’t use architects at all. I’ve heard that as few as 20% of new schemes have architects involved.
So, when you’re pitching to developers, you have to pick the ones that value architects.
Don’t pitch to people who want the smallest possible flats and the flimsiest possible build quality – they don’t want you, and probably, you don’t want them either.
Instead, pick your developers carefully and they will buy into you and your design vision.
Observation #5 – Come prepared
The next time you request a meeting, don’t simply introduce your practice with a beautifully designed glossy brochure and past projects, come with an opportunity that you’ve spotted. It’s more fun, rewarding and more likely to lead to working together.
Developers will be impressed with your pro-activeness and I’ve never known a developer to turn down the chance to look at an interesting opportunity.
A word of warning, take care you don’t give away the land for sale to unscrupulous developers who will bid on the land from under you and then use your ideas.
I hope you found the above helpful and I would welcome your thoughts but most of all, I look forward to working with as many of you as possible.
Gus started in the property world over 20 years’ ago when he accidentally project managed his own loft conversion and then went on to do his own self-build home in NW London. He has been in property ever since. His believes self-build and custom build delivers better quality, better design, better value and is better for the environment. He sits on the national executive board at NaCSBA and chairs the custom build developer group. He is a member of the Expert Advisory Group and contributed to the Bacon Housing Review for Government. He is a frequent architectural judge and speaker and is a member of two design review panels.
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