How to Choose an Architect in Spain

Published on 5/31/2010 in Buying Process

ArchitectChoosing an Architect is a hugely important decision in any design and build project, so it is crucial that you get it right and find someone you are happy to work with. Obviously, if you are looking to build in Spain, or any other foreign country for that matter, the process becomes that little bit more difficult, and that little bit more important to get right. No pressure! Hopefully this article will help you to understand some of the important things to look for in an architect, and how to go about finding and appointing the right person to work for you.

Firstly, let me present you with two scenarios.

Scenario One - You are the Client

Imagine if you will that you are a successful professional approaching retirement age (which may well be true). You're bored/unhappy with the country you're living in and you want to get out, so decide to sell your home and build a new house in Spain. This is a pretty exciting stage, and ideas will no doubt start flooding into your head about what your house might be like - a huge swimming pool, nice big kitchen, tiled floors and earthy coloured walls - your dream house begins to appear before your very eyes! With this in mind you start to look for someone who can bring these ideas to life: an architect.

You find a company and meet with them but soon start to feel like you're being backed into a corner and making compromises - your huge swimming pool becomes a pond, you're kitchen gets tucked away in a small corner, and your tiled floors are replaced with modernist white concrete. What's more, it's quite possible that you'll feel pressured into accepting all these changes, being swept along by a breeze of flowery language and sales pitches, believing that the architect knows best. Before you know it you're moving into someone else's dream home, not yours.

Scenario Two - You are the Architect

Now I invite you to sit on the other side of the fence. Imagine you are an established architect in the South of Spain with a solid reputation for providing quality homes for individual clients. Someone contacts you wishing to move to Spain, and is excited about the prospect of building a new house there. All well and good, you arrange to meet with them to discuss possible designs.

What you don't realise is that this particular client is coming armed with some pretty exact ideas of what they want. They come with all sorts of sketches of their dream home, which turns out (rather surprisingly!) to be a bright green castle complete with turrets and a drawbridge - and they refuse to make any compromises! What do you do? Obviously you don't want to offend the client, and turning down business isn't good either. However, you live by the reputation of your past projects, and a green castle wouldn't look great to future clients! I imagine you'd give them a firm 'no thanks'.

Enough Hypothesising - What Can I Learn From This?

Obviously no one's really looking to build a green castle (I don't think!), and equally not many architects will be quite so stubborn as to force you into a house you don't like. However, by looking at both extremes of what can happen between an architect and a client, we can see that a strong understanding between the two is crucial in order to produce a house that the client will be happy in, and the architect will be proud to show to his future clients.

A thorough screening process before appointing an architect will ensure you get someone who has similar ideas to you, similar approaches to design, and most importantly someone who you get on with and feel you can talk openly with. There's nothing worse than not wanting to ask a question for fear of it seeming stupid in the eyes of a professional! They are there to work for you, and so should be flexible, open and honest with you. Equally, in selecting an architect, it is important to show some flexibility yourself - after all, they have the training, qualification and experience in the field, so it seems silly not to listen to what they've got to say and thoroughly consider any ideas or changes they might suggest.

So, How do I Start Looking for an Architect in Spain?

So far we've talked in pretty general terms about what to look for in an architect. Now I want to get more specific, and lay out exactly what you might do in order to find someone suitable and willing to work for you. This is where the process becomes more particular to Spain, since every country has it's own accrediting bodies, systems and laws relating to architecture and construction. The following points are a few of the things you should do before appointing your architect:

- Consider the language barrier - If you can find an English-speaking (and honest!) architect, they can become invaluable not only in their ability to communicate easily with you, but also to act as a middleman between you and your builders. Even if your builders do speak English, the language barrier is a convenient way of covering up problems or mistakes on their part.

- Where to find an architect - It is best to collect as many names as possible on an initial shortlist, then begin to narrow your search down from there. Talk to people in bars, look in the local phone book, and talk to builders and estate agents (although some will get a commission for recommending certain people so beware!).

- Talk to them - As I said before, it's really important to have a good working relationship with your architect so, if possible, meet with people on your shortlist face to face, or if not ring them up and talk to them. Ask to see a portfolio of their work and evidence of their licensing in the area you wish to build in.

- Follow up references - It's also important to ask for references from past clients - people will be happy enough to talk to you, and this can often be the most revealing insight into how good an architect is.

- Ask about fees - An obvious one I suppose, but note that architects fees are normally a percentage of the total costs of the work being done (usually around 5-10% depending on where and with whom you build). Check too whether they operate with a fixed priced contract - although they may be reluctant to do so, this can be massively beneficial to you since any unforeseen problems in the design or build will not affect your overall cost.

And Finally

The biggest thing to bear in mind when choosing an architect in Spain is to be completely thorough. Be thorough in your research, thorough in your selection process, and thorough in your questioning in order to get someone you really respect and enjoy working with. At the same time, remember our man in the green castle and be prepared to listen to changes or advice that come your way from the architect. Remember it's a two way process, and they have to decide whether they want to work with you too - showing flexibility should help to ensure this is an easy choice for them.

Written by: John Wolfendale (EcoVida)

About the author:

John Wolfendale is a director of Eco Vida, an architectural construction company specialising in low energy homes.

He graduated in Land Economy from Magdalene Cambridge in 1984. He has been a Chartered Surveyor for 23 years and lives with his Spanish wife and family in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

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Cristina said:
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 @ 8:26 AM

I´m a spanish architect. If you need an architect, contact with me. We are an studio really interested in customers satisfaction, with affordable fees and a big portfolio.
We can do every thing for you, search for land to build, create a project to your liking, help in finding the builder, etc.

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