Robert Evans has unofficially extended the RIBA’s architect in the house scheme – to the benefit of all concerned
I signed up for the ‘Architect in the House’ scheme when it began about a decade ago. At that time it was strongly linked to Architecture Week in June and was heavily publicised in the national press. Soon the RIBA’s ‘matchmakers’ put me in touch with anxious local householders considering modest modification projects. I quickly found that clients were happy to treat the one-hour consultation simply as a welcome opportunity to clarify their thoughts.
While a by-product of the scheme had always been to generate small-scale commissions, I was equally happy that I could decline such offers, yet still leave on cordial terms. This has suited Evans Vettori as, with much larger projects in the office, it can feel ungrateful to turn away local domestic enquiries.
Over time the annual ‘matching’ process has dwindled – due to reduced publicity I suppose. However, when we received a call one January from a local householder I hit on the idea of suggesting an ‘unofficial’ Architect in the House consultation. I arranged an evening visit, and printed off a form for her to send with a cheque to Shelter. This worked so well that since then, whenever we receive a small domestic enquiry, one of our architects immediately offers a one hour consultation in return for a donation to Shelter. Nobody has yet declined this offer. We must have done 20 or so consultations on this basis. The client, often initially nervous of architects, feels no obligation to proceed with a commission and is pleased to have made a donation to charity.
It benefits the profession too by ‘humanising’ architects and allows them to make a series of positive contributions to their locality. For Evans Vettori, we feel our time is valued, our reputation is increased, we have no obligation and it is a good opportunity to meet local people and understand the way they live. And of course Shelter gets donations.
Where in the past we may have declined to visit a householder due to pressure of work, the ‘Architect in the House’ scheme makes it easier to go out and promote architecture to a wider range of people.
Relaxed and realistic
The ‘no obligation’ visit with the pre-agreed donation to charity also removes some of the usual tension from the initial meeting. Clients are more relaxed and realistic when airing their hopes. I always enjoy these visits, meeting people to discuss their living environments.
Interestingly, only two of the consultations we have done over the years have actually ‘converted’ in a commission. Both were from clients who contacted us after some research, and had already decided they wanted us to be their architect. Both projects are relatively large with a high degree of architectural content and planning challenges. Even then, the initial ‘Architect in the House’ consultation set a positive tone for the rest of the project.
I would recommend that fellow architects consider adopting a similar response to the many small domestic enquiries we receive as a profession. It benefits everyone –architects, the public, and the homeless – and it’s fun!
Robert Evans is director of Evans Vettori Architects
The RIBA welcomes members using the scheme format to break down barriers between homeowners and architects, and get work while helping to raise money for Shelter, but notes it is important to make it clear to homeowners these are not part of the RIBA-Shelter administrated scheme.