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Architecture and the unknown

Somebody once said that few things in life are certain - they'd probably say the same thing about building projects.

Of course, there are many things that can be and have to be controlled - the design has to be frozen at some point, despite the endlessly evolving potential of the design process, and approvals from planning departments and building control must be confirmed where required.

Despite this, in my experience it really helps to approach a building project with an open mind. This is particularly true when renovating and extending existing properties. Even armed with a raft of research and surveys, it's not always possible to know what's going on under the ground, in the walls or in the ceilings until you start to dig, or cut in to, or dismantle.

It's obviously very reassuring from a safety and environmental perspective that the Building Regulations are constantly being revised - the flip-side being that what was once acceptable and approved in construction would not be so today. For this reason, it's not uncommon to find things during construction that need to be amended, such as existing structural elements, electrical wiring, plumbing and other services. These often need an expert's involvement to decide a way forward and at worst, can delay a project and cause unanticipated costs. As a great and good structural engineer once told me, 'most of the risk is in the ground' - meaning that ground conditions and existing foundations may not be adequate, despite investigations and other case studies of similar properties.

It's incredibly useful to work with a team that can proactively find a solution that works for all parties when unexpected issues arise on site - from design team members to carefully selected builders. The right team also means the right way of thinking, from a design, cost and buildability perspective.

How do we move forward from this? I would always advise to budget in a contingency figure for unexpected finds like the above - then at least the project begins with preparation and a mind-set for whatever the construction phase might bring.

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Single storey extension Stockport, another architecture and interiors

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