• Benny Kuriakose


Do you need an architect? What is his role?

You know best about your requirements for the new house you are going to build. When you design a house yourself without consulting an architect, you will be happy since your requirements have been met. There is nobody to impose their taste on you. You can choose all the details and you have complete control over the project. You may think that you do not need an architect to build your dream house.

There are many books with drawings and the design of the houses available in the market. The design of the house is much more complex than buying a new car or a washing machine. There are much more than the physical requirements of the house, the home should evoke feelings and should be something where you would like to come back to always.

You may think that some of the ready-made plans which come in various magazines and books may suit your requirements. One disadvantage of copying a ready-made plan and elevations from one of the books is that they are made for a different site and a different person. Your site might have a large mango tree or it might have a beautiful view of the mountains or it might be sloping in one direction. The ready-made plan might not be taking into account these aspects.

Kodaikanal House designed by us. Click the image to visit the project.

My experience is that there is a tendency among the house owners to get influenced and carried away by the elevations of these buildings. You may think that you will save the cost of hiring a designer. Many run into problems when they make changes to the plans to suit your requirements and due to lack of their experience, some other disadvantage may crop up which one never notices until the construction is over. If you make changes to a ready-made plan, then they have to be done carefully, because one change in a positive direction may bring in a new disadvantage if the expertise is lacking.

But there are chances that certain aspects, which can be foreseen only by an experienced architect, may get overlooked. Although you may save the fees to be paid to the architect, an architect’s advice may be useful in the long run and save money also in the long run.

Is the role of the architect needed only during the initial phase of design? Some house owners terminate the role of the designer after the drawings are given. I will say that the services of the designer are needed most during construction. Even if you can do the planning aspects of a house, you need technical expertise. It is difficult to know the beam size or slab thickness which may vary from room to room. To know the depth of the foundation is something which even an experienced architect might not know and he may be consulting a structural engineer specialist since the soil conditions are different in different areas.

Click the image to visit the project.

The job of an architect does not end by giving away the drawings for construction and his job is also to coordinate the construction between the civil, electrical, plumbing and other related works. He also controls the costs and sees that the original concept of the design is being carried out during construction. The responsibility of the designer might be even more if the works are handled by different agencies or sub-contractors. Good contractors will study the drawings thoroughly, but the sub-contractors may carry on with the works without studying the drawings properly. Although many of the masons and carpenters are good at doing the works, they may not know how to read the drawings. The details will be overlooked or misinterpreted. The architect can supervise the construction just like the way an auditor keeps an eye on the accounts.

If the house owner has prior experience in construction, then things may be seen differently and the owner himself will be able to manage the construction.

My personal experience is that in many cases, the contractors are not interested in having the best design. In at least some cases, they want to maximise their profit and as a result, the design suffers. Many house owners do not have any knowledge about construction and they might be closer to the contractor or would have known him earlier. They tend to listen to the Contractor more than the designer. The Contractor may also prefer not to have the designer since he can do the construction the way he wants.

Double-height floor to ceiling glass window to enhance the interior space by connecting it to the exterior view. Click the image to visit the project.

For the majority of the house owners, this is once in a lifetime project. As usual, he will be discussing the house and seek the opinion about the design with different people. According to me, the house owners should discuss all such suggestions with the architect, and the architect also should be open enough to accommodate the suggestions by the house owners. There are many cases where the house has been spoilt because the house owner decides to make the changes to the house without consulting the original designer. They may not understand the logic or reason behind making such a design. I have seen many owners who may not have understood the implication of the changes, which they are making without consulting the architect. They might have done this with the good intention of not disturbing me with a small change in the plan. When I point out the mistakes, they realise the “huge mistake” of making the small change.

The house will be successful in terms of quality in case everybody works towards the same goal. It is a collaborative effort between the contractor, house owner and the architect. The needs of the house owner are compromised when the Contractor or the architect entrust the job to less qualified people or do not give enough attention to the projects.

During the construction phase, it is better that you should have an understanding of the different phases and aspects of construction. At the same time, you should be able to communicate this to the architect and the contractor. There should be no hesitation on your part to communicate this to the architect and the contractor since your satisfaction is dependent on how the final product of the house can meet your needs.

A House designed by us in Conoor. Click the image to visit the project.

Many house owners may not be able to hire the services of an architect, because they cannot afford the fees. In such a case, they seek the services of a lower grade professional. In many cases, this turns out to be a useful alternative. Perhaps the disadvantage will be that they will not be able to introduce many innovations in houses like an architect. The house may not turn out to be unique. Also in some cases such as the extension for a toilet or a garage, you may not require the services of a designer.

It is not the look that matters, but the feel of a house. The architecture is to be experienced and not to be seen as nice pictures. It is not enough that the food served looks good, and it has to be tasty too. A good designer should be able to give this feeling to the house you are going to live in. He can do projects that are not only functional but also looking nice and feeling good. You will have to choose an architect based on his previous creations. If the previous house owners are happy and the designs are looking nice, then they are an indication that the architect is good. In the creative field, it is not the qualifications or the university degrees which matter. Indeed, at least 90% of the buildings in India are not designed by architects. Design of homes is nothing but common sense. But common sense is not common either.

(This is an article which I wrote for a Malayalam magazine few years ago, but getting published in English for the first time.)

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© Benny Kuriakose & Associates 2021

Architectural Designers & Conservation Consultants

Flat F, Third Floor, Springwood Apartments, No.6, Ranjith Road Kotturpuram, Chennai 600085.

Tel: 044-24474794