Frequently asked questions about architectural design services

Architectural design: some frequently asked questions

3D vs. 2D architectural drawings, when there is a need for a topographical survey and budgeting for professional fees.

We are often asked for more details on various aspects of our architectural design service. Some of the questions arise more frequently than others and that is why this time we have decided to dedicate our blog post to some of the most common questions that we discuss with our potential clients, including those who are thinking about a house extension for their family home or the possibility of building a new build house as an investment opportunity.

3D vs. 2D architectural drawings. Which one to choose?

Architectural Drawings

A comparison between 2D and 3D architectural design drawings for a house extension

We strongly believe that one of the reasons for our fantastic success rate in achieving planning permission – apart from the fact that we are careful which projects we undertake – is that when a set of Ecclesall Design architectural drawings arrives on a planning officer’s desk (or is viewed on a neighbour’s computer as part of the consultation process) there is no room for confusion or doubt. That is why we emphasise the importance of choosing the right type of drawings for your project. 

The 2D drawings package contains floor plans and elevations which are the necessary architectural drawings that will be requested as part of the local authority planning process. The 3D drawings set will incorporate floor plans and elevations but most importantly it also includes cross-sections, street scenes and 3D views. These additional drawings help to clarify the project proposals and add more insight that may support our case and allows us to pro-actively address queries that would otherwise be raised. Additionally, the extra drawings presented within a 3D package make it much easier to accurately evaluate exactly what is being presented to our clients, so you can suggest fine-tuning amendments which will lead to the final set of submitted Planning drawings.

Without the floor plans and elevations the full planning application would not be accepted and, if a particular street scene or cross section with the neighbouring property had not been provided at the pre-application enquiry stage, there is a risk that the planning officer’s pre-application advice would be conditional on the basis that further detail would be required. Ecclesall Design’s way of working is to present the whole set right from the beginning so we can be seen to have considered all aspects from the very start of the extension or new build house design process. This allows us to avoid the situation that others less thorough than ourselves can be subject to, whereby the information would be requested from the agent in a piecemeal way, which presents a risk that the information the architect subsequently puts forward may reveal flaws in the original architectural design.


Do you need a topographical survey? – and what is one, anyway?

Topographical Survey Architectural Design

An example of a topographical survey for architectural design

Topographical or ‘topo’ surveys are detailed accurate plan drawings identifying both natural and man-made features within a specified area. They are carried out by surveyors using specialist technology which could be in the form of a handheld GPS unit or an electronic distance measuring (EDM) instrument – these are the pieces of equipment you sometimes see being used on tripods by the side of a road.

A topographical survey is an essential stage in any medium to large scale project, but do you need one for a smaller project like house extensions or a new build house? In our view the nature of a house extension project is very different from that of a new build house. House extensions are positioned primarily by using existing building as a reference and only a few external dimensions are required to allow us to design proposals that would fit the site. For example, a 3m rear extension starts at the rear of the existing house and stretches 3m towards your garden, while the width of the house extension is determined on site based on the width of the existing building – which is quite straightforward. However, new build houses are essentially independent structures that need to be accurately placed on the site and usually are not joined to an existing building, therefore there are no existing structures to be used as accurate reference points. This lack of referencing creates a much greater need for accuracy in the design process and that is where a topographical survey becomes necessary.

There are several reasons why this is important, and these are all based on the need for accuracy. One of the aspects that is vital to the local planning authority is how the proposed new house would look in the context of the existing street scene. In order to achieve this we need to be working from accurate measurements that provide certain key heights such as eaves, ridges and windows for the surrounding houses. We also need the topographical data that relates to how the land lies so we can correctly position the new build house at the appropriate level in the ground, bearing in mind features such as pavements, road and existing gardens etc.

The topographical survey will also give us an accurate measurement of the curtilage (boundary) of your existing property, which means we can design the new build house with confidence so that when the builders arrive on site the building will sit within the site as expected. This is particularly important on a tight site when a millimetre’s difference either way on the Land Registry plan may make over a metre’s difference on the ground, which could be sufficient to render the property unbuildable without a further revised planning application. We are naturally very keen to avoid this situation and would never – unlike some other architects – undertake a new build project without the benefit of a topographical survey to enable accurate drawings.

Professional fees for architectural design and building regulation details

Prices for architectural services are often one of the important factors informing your decision on who should be entrusted to lead your project and take it forward. You may have read online about approximate cost estimates for architectural services for a residential project being around 10% of the overall build expense. The prices for our services at Ecclesall Design are determined by the complexity of your existing property, the intended proposals and the type of drawings (2D or 3D). We believe our pricing system reflects the challenges and the amount of work involved in delivering the service, making the service fees fair for both the client who benefits from the results and for our team tirelessly working towards the successful outcome. We achieve our very cost-efficient service for our clients by keeping our overheads low and having a small team. You would be dealing with the directors of Ecclesall Design throughout the whole process and would not be passed onto junior, less experienced, members of a team as can happen in a larger practice with higher business overheads and senior management costs to make up somehow.

The fees payable to us, Ecclesall Design, for the architectural design service and subsequent Building Regulation details are a relatively small amount when considered within the context of the potential uplift in value of your current property. This would be many £10,000s once you have built the additional house or house extension. We hope the above sheds a bit of light on the process and why we take the approach we do. It has worked for our many clients over the years and we would rise to the challenge of maximising the profit opportunity you believe you have identified within your own garden by creating a thoughtful design. This combined with our experience and excellent relationship within the Planning team at Sheffield City Council and many other local planning authorities contributes to our 100% success with planning permission for house extensions.


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