|Charlie Luxton Design|
We had to select an architect prior to buying the plot. The mortgage company couldn't process our application without drawings of what we intended to build. They wanted elevations, floor plans and cost estimates.
This resulted in a very short period of time in which to select an architect, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. We wanted someone who was experienced/interested with working with Passive Design principles. We also knew that a strong contemporary design was important to us. We had a preference for working with a practice that was local to us. We had been given advice to look for a smaller practice where we would be a big job and given care and attention rather than a small job at the bottom of a pile and the least priority.
I looked up local architects and used their websites to see whether or not I liked their portfolio (I was really surprised and shocked to find how boring and ordinary most architectural design is. Is that because the clients won't take risks, planners are negative about contemporary design or architects just take the route of least resistance?) We also used the RIBA architect recommendation service. For us this wasn't terribly successfully as the practices which came back were located nationwide and too far away. I shortlisted five different practices.
I began by calling them to discuss
-their experience and knowledge of passive house design
-their average cost per m2
-whether they thought that they could design a house which would fit our family for the budget allocated.
Two of the architects were experienced passive house designers. One immediately said that they wouldn't be able to build a house on our budget. The other went away for a week or so and tried to see whether they could develop a low cost supply chain using contacts they had used previously. Unfortunately they felt that at the moment things weren't in place but said that we were their perfect clients in two years time as that was what they were currently working towards, passive house design at affordable prices.
One was a local young practice whose design portfolio we really liked. They did contemporary design. However they had never designed at our end of the budget and as yet had not worked with passive house design principles.
We ended up choosing between two different practices.
One was a reasonably local practice. We liked their portfolio, they weren't too big a practice. We would go through the design process with one of the partners. They hadn't any passive house design experience but were happy to pursue a low energy design. We talked on the phone, had a meeting with the architect, and went to visit a house they had designed which was most relevant to our brief. All good stuff.
When we first told family about our plans to search for a plot and build a house Dimitri's mother told us about a lovely young man she had met at her village's low energy group! She thought that he would be good to talk to as he was passionate about sustainability and had mentioned that he designed houses and spent a lot of time dealing with Planning Departments. So we smiled politely and nodded thinking we weren't sure we wanted to talk to some random bloke and he may not be interested in talking to us! Anyway she eventually passed on Charlie's contact details. I gave him a call and he seemed to be the perfect bloke to talk to as we were interested in the same 'eco' issues. He agreed to meet us one weekend when we were back in the village visiting Dim's Mum. We were at the beginning of the search -we had actually put in an offer for another plot - and we really wanted to find out whether he thought that what we were hoping to achieve was realistic with our budget. We chatted about passive house design, and it's additional costs. We were also interested in discussing how this all sat within the context of green technologies such as air and ground source heat pumps, rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling, solar thermal and photovoltaic panels. We were grateful for the advice and left feeling like we were on the right track.
Once we found our plot we got back in contact to see whether he was interested in our project. We then went to visit a couple of his projects.
Charlie and his design practice were chosen for many reasons. From his portfolio we were confident that he would produce an exciting design. We were also confident that he was committed to the idea of the lowest energy building he could design within the budget. We were happy that we would be able to have frank, open conversations with him and be able to disagree and find resolutions. We also liked the fact that due to his TV work he had visited lots of projects and so would have developed extensive knowledge of ideas & products, what works and doesn't, which would benefit our project.