Frequently Asked Questions

Compiled here are answers to some of questions that people ask when using Shape Architecture London. To ask us a direct question not listed here, please email us or find us on Twitter / Facebook.

How Do You Communicate The Design Process With Your Client?

At Shape Architecture we explore and develop all design using 3D computer modeling.  Be it the design of a lightwell and stair within a basement, or the modeling of the whole building in context with its neighbours, we are able to produce images that are easily understood by all parties.  This process also allows us to model the play of light within a space with some accuracy.  Such models are an excellent way of communicating clearly to a client and ensuring that they fully understand every proposal put to them.

Do You Have Experience Of Working In Green Belt Areas?

Shape Architecture has obtained planning permissions for projects in Green Belt areas before such as the New Early Years school building at the Anthony Roper School.  These are complex and planning permissions to achieve.  They demand a through understanding of the constraints at national and local level.  In respect of the new school building at the Anthony Roper School there was also an added constraint in respect of the proximity of the river Darent and the subsequent involvement of the Environment Agency and their own requirements.  Nonetheless Shape Architecture created a very contemporary and striking building based on the imagery of a dragon fly with an extensive green roof.

What are Shape Architecture’s specialisations?

At Shape Architecture we have over 15 year’s experience of low energy sustainable buildings.  Our Director has worked on some of the most significant sustainable buildings in the country, particularly in respect of the use of Photovoltaics.

We are able to do the simple things well, in respect of orientation and use of daylight.  We have built recycled buildings, many projects with green roofs and also rubble roofs, buildings built off site and delivered near compete to site.

In residential projects we have a great deal of experience in basement and whole house extension/refurbishment projects, particularly in West London.  As architects working in Fulham we have recently completed six such projects.

As Architects working in London and throughout the South-East we have produced many school buildings and within the practice have an experience of designing ground breaking school buildings stretching back some 15 years.

The use of computer modeling as described below is also a specialization long established as the practice director also has a Master of Science degree in computer visualization and has been working in the field of computer visualization for the last eighteen

Do you have experience of working in conservation areas?

Shape Architecture has obtained planning permissions for numerous projects in Conservation areas.  These include a project recently completed for six flats in Blackheath, London and a double basement in a cul-de-sac in Kensington.  As architects working in conservation areas we have been able to gain planning approval through a clear understanding of the planning issues, coupled with the quality of the design proposal and our working relationship wit the planning departments.

Do you have experience of working on listed buildings?

Shape Architecture has obtained planning permissions for a number of projects on Grade 2 listed buildings.  These are often modern extensions that bring additional space and light to a listed building.  We have worked on listed buildings throughout London and the South-East and these vary from a large scale modern extension to a Grade 2 listed building in Bray, Berkshire to extensions and internal refurbishment to a listed flat in Westminster and the formation of a luxury flat over the Hansom Cab, a listed pub in Earls Court.  At Bray the extension has provided a large an open kitchen dining space with a green roof and wrap around glazing giving onto the garden.

What Are Party Wall Matters?

A wall is a “party wall” if it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owners. The Party Wall Act 1996 provides a Building Owner, who wishes to carry out various sorts of work to an existing party wall, with additional rights going beyond ordinary common law rights. Section 2 of the Act lists what work can be done. The most commonly used rights are:

• To cut into a wall to take the bearing of a beam (for example for a loft conversion), or to insert a damp proof course all the way through the wall

• To raise the height of the wall and/or increase the thickness of the party wall and, if necessary, cut off any projections which prevent you from doing so

• To demolish and rebuild the party wall

• To underpin the whole thickness of a party wall

• To protect two adjoining walls by putting a flashing from the higher over the lower, even where this requires cutting into an Adjoining Owner’s independent building.

It is a requirement, that if work falls on to a party wall you require a “Party Wall Agreement”. In which case you must notify all neighbours in written form at least two months before the planned starting date for work to the party wall. The notice is only valid for a year, so do not serve it too long before you wish to start

What Is Building Regulation Approval?

To comply with the Building Act 1984 and the subsequent statutory instruments known as the Building Regulations, Building regulations approval is required to construct certain structures in the United Kingdom.

Building Regulations approval can usually be obtained in 1 of 3 ways:-

1. By the full plans method where drawings are deposited with a Building Control Body such as an Approved Inspector or the Local Authority and are subsequently checked for compliance with the Building Regulations.

The various stages of the work are also inspected and checked for compliance with the relevant technical requirements of the Building Regulations; by a Building Control Surveyor employed by either the Building Control Body (BCB).

Unlike planning permission, work may start before approval has been granted. It is also quite usual for the final building to differ in some respects to that which received full plans approval, in which case amended “as built” plans are often required to be submitted to the appropriate Building Control Body.

2. By the building notice method where notice of commencement of (minor) building work is given to the Local Authority at least 2 days prior to the commencement of work. The various stages of the work are then inspected and approved by the L.A but no plans are checked. Note that this method may not be used if the premises contain a workplace, or creates new flats.

3. Approved inspectors must issue their “Initial Notice” (stating that that particular Approved Inspector is the building control body for the specified work project, at a specific address and/or building site) to the relevant local authority before any controlled building work starts on site.

Generally Fees are paid to the Building Control Body, with each application, will vary depending on the size and value of the project and between different Local authorities across the country and each Approved Inspector is free to set their own levels of charges. Some types of work may be exempt fees, e.g. adaptations or alterations for Disabled Persons.

Some work such as Electrical and Heating installations can be carried out by persons who can certify work as being Building Regulation compliant, without further inspection by either the Local Authority or an Approved Inspector. Any work certified in this way must however be registered with the Local Authority in the geographical area in which the work has been carried out.

A Building Control Body should issue a “Completion Certificate” or “Final Certificate” upon the practical completion of each building project, to state that the work meets the technical requirements of the Building Regulations.

If an Approved Inspector cannot do this due to omissions and/or known failures of the building work to show compliance with the relevant technical requirements of the Building Regulations, then the relevant local authority should investigate and consider the need to take appropriate enforcement action.

Building Regulation ‘Enforcement Action’ and/or ‘incomplete work status’ is normally recorded in the Local Lands Charges Register, held as a ‘public record’ by the relevant local authority. Solicitors must search these records prior to any purchase of any building.

What Is A Building Notice?

You can apply for Building Regulations approval from your local authority Building Control Service by giving a building notice. In this application plans are not required, so it’s quicker and less detailed than the full plans application. It is designed to enable some types of building work to get under way quickly; although it is perhaps best suited to small work.

If you decide to use this procedure you need to be confident that the work will comply with the Building Regulations or you will risk having to correct any work you carry out if your local authority requests this. In this respect you do not have the protection provided by the approval of ‘full plans’.

Once you have given your ‘building notice’ and informed your local authority that you are about to start work, the work will be inspected as it progresses. You will be advised by the authority if the work does not comply with the Building Regulations. If before the start of work, or while work is in progress, your local authority requires further information such as structural design calculations or plans, you must supply the details requested.

A ‘building notice’ is valid for three years from the date the notice was given to the local authority, after which it will automatically lapse if the building work has not commenced.

A local authority is not required to issue a completion certificate under the building notice procedure and because no full plans are produced it is not possible to ask for a determination if your local authority says your work does not comply with the Building Regulations.

How Does Permitted Development Work In Respect To Household Extensions?

In order to carry out work under Permitted Development the building work must conform to specific criteria, however recent changes in legislation have allowed more scope for what is allowed under Permitted Development. (See: What is the difference between Planning Permission and Permitted Development?)

You can now extend a dwelling by 8m to the rear of the rear facade if it’s single storey construction or 6m if it’s double height.

There are height restrictions. Often this means a single storey extension not being higher than 4m in height to the ridge and the eaves, and ridge heights of any extension not being higher than the existing property.

Two storey extensions must not be closer than 7m to the rear boundary.

It must be built in the same or similar material to the existing dwelling.

Extensions must not go forward of the building line of the original dwelling.

Side extensions must be single storey, maximum height of 4m and a width no more than half of the original building.

In Designated Areas side extensions require planning permission and all rear extensions must be single storey.

An extension must not result in more than half the garden being covered.

You can only do it once and the original building is either as it was on 1st July 1948 or when it was built.

What Can Be Implemented Under Permitted Development?

Under permitted development you are able to do the following:

  • Extend the back of your home.
  • Build a porch.
  • Carry out internal alterations.
  • Convert and occupy the loft space.
  • Install micro generation equipment (apart from wind turbines).
  • Install satellite dishes or antennae
  • Put in rooflights or dormer windows.
  • Put in new doors or windows.

* All subject to design constraints; e.g. porch has to be less than 3m³, rooflights and dormers must not face the highway, etc.

What Is The Difference Between Planning Permission And Permitted Development?

Your local planning authority (LPA) – usually the district or borough council – is responsible for deciding whether a proposed development should be allowed to go ahead. This is called planning permission. Most new buildings, major alterations to existing buildings and significant changes to the use of a building or piece of land need this permission.

However, certain minor building works – known as Permitted Development– do not require Planning Permission- this is because the effect of such developments on neighbours or the surrounding environment is likely to be small. Under the current “existing permitted development” rules, single-storey rear extensions and conservatories can be constructed without planning permission as long as they do not extend beyond the rear wall of the original house by a set distance.

Recently the government has introduced new legislation in relation to Permitted Development. In a temporary measure, it is now possible to build more under the remit of Permitted Development. For a semi-detached property the previous limit of three metres from the face of a building for single storey extensions (9ft 11ins) and for detached homes four metres (13ft 1in) are doubled, meaning that many extensions which would have required planning permission can now be built under permitted development.

Permitted Development rights apply only to a ‘private dwelling house’ as originally constructed, or as the dwelling stood at a certain point in time. Flats are excluded, as are listed buildings, whilst properties in Designated Areas, such as Conservation Areas, green belt, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and The Broads have restrictions on their Permitted Development rights

While it should be possible in most cases to decide whether or not a proposed project qualifies as Permitted Development, there will inevitably be instances where the decision is less clear cut. If there is any ambiguity or question over whether your proposal passes the Permitted Development tests you have a number of options. It may, for instance, be possible to alter your plans to ensure they meet Permitted Development limits and conditions. For peace of mind you may choose to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate. This is not the same as planning permission but is proof that your household building work is lawful.

This option is recommended even if you are sure your project falls within the constraints of Permitted Development. If you should later want to sell your property a Lawful Development Certificate may be helpful to answer queries raised by potential buyers or their legal representatives.

An increasing number of Local Authorities offer a consultancy service for a small fee, and will confirm in writing whether or not a planning application is required. This can be very useful when it comes to reselling the property within the first four years of completion.

Please note that Building Regulations approval is a separate matter from obtaining planning permission for your work.

What Is A RIBA Chartered Practice?

The Chartered Practice scheme is run by the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) in order to set the highest level of professional standards.  Shape Architecture is an RIBA Chartered practice.

Membership of the RIBA Chartered Practice accreditation scheme is an extra seal of quality with the architectural profession that tells clients looking for architects in London and the South East that we are committed to keeping the quality of our work product high as possible.

We feel this gives our clients the confidence to know that when they place their design and build projects in the capable hands of the team at Shape Architecture, they can expect an impeccable standard of professionalism and an outstanding client experience throughout the consultation and project development process.

RIBA Chartered Practice accreditation also requires that Shape Architecture to maintain Professional Indemnity Insurance, and have suitable Health and Safety and Environmental Management policies in place. We are also required to maintain a continual programme of professional development at all times to ensure all members of the Shape Architecture team are appraised of the latest updates in applicable legislation and industrial developments.

What Type Of Projects Does Shape Architecture Work On?

Shape Architecture works across the Residential, Education and Community Sectors.  Within each sector we work on a variety of project scale and type.

In the case of residential clients, with space at a premium in London, basement conversions have become a specialty of Shape Architecture throughout London.   These are typically allied to side and rear extensions and the further addition of pod rooms and loft conversions, alongside extensive internal refurbishment.
We have undertaken a large number of basement conversions particularly in the Fulham, Barnes and Kensington areas of London, all of which have been commissioned through client recommendation.We also undertake many other forms of smaller extensions to existing homes and always achieve an excellent sense of space and light which dramatically improves the quality of the interior.
As a practice with an extensive experience in sustainable design we are always able to offer advice in this regard and well understand the simple strategic decisions of improving daylight entering the building, alongside the technical details in relation to efficient and appropriate low energy design.

In the Education sector we work all over the South-East on a wide variety of projects, ranging from a Montessori nursery in Brighton, to a new School Building in Eynsford in Kent.  Shape Architecture has a wide range of experience in building school projects of all types and scale.  It is here that our interest in the use of light, colour and materials, alongside the interplay between external and internal spaces, has enabled us to realize a series of well received educational projects.

In the Community sector we again work in London and across the South-East with projects ranging from two Eco-Sheds in Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith, to a large 2 storey community centre in Peacehaven near Brighton and a Church community centre in Bromley, London.  As with our portfolio of school projects, our approach to design and working alongside the client body, has resulted in a number of innovative community buildings.  Each of which has explored sustainable design in the architectural form and detail of the building.

Shape Architecture has also designed and built a number of apartment schemes throughout London.  These range from the recently completed duplex apartments in a conservation area in Blackheath, to a series of Town houses recently completed in Wandsworth and a scheme in Herne Hill, granted planning permission in 2012 for 9 apartments on a prominent corner site.

Can You Recommend Other Consultants?

Shape Architecture works alongside a wide range of consultants and with many building contractors.  We have established good working relationships with these companies over a number of years on a wide variety of projects.

Particularly in the private residential sector and over various specialisations such as basement extensions in London, we have excellent relationships with Structural Engineers and Party Wall Surveyors and this is key in ensuring a successful outcome.  Equally, we maintain good working relations with Lighting Designers, Kitchen Designers and Audio Visual consultants throughout London and can advise the client on their selection.

Our experience of working with Contractors on various scales and types of projects allows us to recommend building contractors with whom we have worked with on previous projects.  We are able to suggest those contractors whose strength is basement conversions in London for example, or else are expert at installing complex glass installations.  The selection of a design team and contractor with whom we are confident of delivering a successful project is of the utmost importance to us.

Our relationship with contractors has proven invaluable when a contractor has been brought into a project term at the design stage and has been able to offer value engineering advice.

What Is Your Involvement On Site?

Shape Architecture London architects can provide our clients with a number of different on-site services to suit their individual requirements and this is something that will be agreed upon at the inception of the project. In general, our involvement on site will normally depend on the scale of the project, so for example with larger projects you can expect us to provide a greater level of on site service. However, no two jobs are exactly alike, so the team at Shape Architecture in London is always happy to tailor any involvement on site to suit your individual needs.

On site involvement for larger projects:

When working on big projects such as community, schools or larger scale residential work, Shape Architecture is able to provide a full on site service for our clients, and in these instances, we would also typically act as a Contract Administrator to ensure the job runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Shape Architects in London have found through many years of experience that maintaining a constant on site presence is usually the best way to make sure small problems are dealt with before they snowball into much larger (and costly) issues.

On site involvement for smaller projects

When working on smaller residential projects, it is not normally necessary to maintain a full on site service for clients, so we generally offer an on site service on a smaller scale to suit each individual job. This would typically include being available to answer any questions about the project you might have, plus visiting the site to deal with any issues that may have arisen during the course of the job. We can also visit the site at completion of a project and produce a snagging list for our clients.

What Is The Basis Of Your Fee?

Shape Architecture London architects charge our clients on a lump sum basis (exclusive of VAT). This lump sum fee is then broken down into separate key stages, as per RIBA guidelines, to reflect the different nature of the work involved at various points in the design and build process. These include:

1. Submission of planning permission to the appropriate planning authority

2. Production of technical designs

3. Tender services

4. On-site services

Why do we charge our clients on a lump sum basis?

Lump sum fee proposals are most appropriate when the scope of design and build work is clearly defined from the very beginning. A lump sum fee arrangement will also give you a sense of certainty and peace of mind that the overall cost of your project will not increase (unless the time scale, size or estimated cost of the project is subject to any major fluctuations, in which case the lump sum fee may need to be adjusted accordingly).

A lump sum fee proposal will normally be put forward following an initial consultation with you to discuss the scope and value of your project. All services to be included in the lump sum agreement will be defined at the outset and any other additional work and services required, but not included and defined in the lump sum agreement, will be charged at an additional cost—this includes any out of pocket expenses.

Please do remember that all fees and any out of pocket expenses charged by Shape Architects London are subject to VAT at the current rate, so budget accordingly.

Do You Have Any Specialisations?

As London Architects, Shape Architecture specialises in a number of fields, both in respect of building types and also the design methodologies that inform our work.  We have a wide experience of all aspects of sustainable design, which has been gained through the design and construction of many low energy buildings, and our Director has been involved in the development of some of the most important and significant sustainable buildings in the UK.  We look to ensure that the principles of sustainable architecture are fully integrated into the design and not a ‘bolt-on’.  This starts with the simple strategic decisions around orientation and use of natural light and then moves towards the specification of materials and rigorous detailing that embodies the principle of ‘seal tight – vent right.  We also look at the use of renewable energy sources that range from simple solar photovoltaic or solar thermal panels to the use of heat pumps.  We also look to integrate an ecological approach through the addition of green roofs whereby we have completed six projects with green and sedum roofs and also a project with a brown rubble roof.

In designing sustainable buildings the use of natural light as noted above is vitally important and we make extensive use of 3D computer visualisations to ensure that we as designers and the client understand the effect of locating windows and rooflights throughout the building.  The 3D model will also give a good sense of the space and enable views to be taken across the various spaces.

These working methodologies allied to our portfolio of completed projects helps to inform our work in all sectors.  In the school and nursery fields we have a wide ranging experience from the schools built by our Director over the last fifteen years to recent school projects such as at Anthony Roper primary school.  In the community sector we have built and continue to work on a diverse range of community buildings that like those in the school sector explore the issues of sustainable design.  In private residential projects we have a diverse range of projects from the very small to the large scale refurbishments and new build projects.  Each project from the very smallest onwards, embraces the principles of light, space and transparency and provides creative solutions to the architecture.  We have a particular expertise in the complex area of basement conversions, having recently completed six such projects throughout west London.  These projects typically involve a basement conversion with added side and rear extensions, loft conversions and general refurbishment.  In the private residential sector we also have a wide range of projects concerning listed buildings, ranging from the formation of a luxury apartment over the famous Hansom Cab public house in Kensington, to the extension and refurbishment of grade 2 listed apartment in Westminster.  The specialisation in this area is an important feature of our work given that the projects can be technically complex and as such we have been able to build close working relationships with other consultants such as structural engineers who can help ensure a successful project.