Top architects tell all: The best advice at a tiny price

This summer Britain's top architects are offering their expertise for next to nothing – in aid of charity. Ben Naylor asks them to share their top tips, golden rules and tricks of the trade
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The Independent Online

The credit crunch has hit the housing market like a bus. The experts' prognosis is that there will be no long-term damage but for the mean-time it needs lots of rest and absolutely no activity. While it lies dormant, waiting for interest rates to fall – and mortgage lenders to stop being so miserly – prospective buyers and sellers are in something of a stalemate, both sitting uncomfortably in their present positions but determined not to budge. Canny home-owners are realising that they have to work with what they've got.

But, if you're unconvinced by your partner, who is poised sledge-hammer in hand, adamant that they know exactly which wall is a supporting one, then The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) has the answer in its Architect in the House scheme, which offers an affordable, risk-free alternative. The initiative gives homeowners the opportunity to have an hour's consultation with an accredited architect in exchange for a minimum donation of £40 to the housing charity Shelter.

"We often know our home need changes," explains Sunand Prasad, President of Riba, "but how to start and what will it cost? It can be daunting to take the plunge and many of us simply never get around to it. This scheme is a great way to speak to a professional about design potential and discover what works best. And thanks to the architects giving up their time, Architect in the House is a great way for the profession to raise money to help people struggling to find a place to live."

Since its inception 12 years ago, AITH has raised more than £700,000 to help house some of the 90,000 families living in temporary accommodation across the UK and the estimated 500 people thought to be sleeping-rough every night. The current economic climate makes the charitable aspect even more important, with repossessions becoming more common as people struggle to keep up with mortgage payments.

There are 600 architects taking part in this year's AITH and each is expected to make 10 consultations, matched with consultees dependent on their area. Individual requirements are typically varied, with participants seeking advice about building additional floors, saving space, or ways to become more eco-friendly, but there is no selection criteria so if you just feel like a change and are in need of some inspiration, it's still a great idea.

One previous participant Emma Goldman, 28, was in such a situation. "I have a one-bed flat in Tufnell Park. I had been thinking about knocking down the wall between kitchen and lounge but didn't know where to go and didn't want to get ripped off. After I signed up on the Riba website, the architect came round, talked me through the possibilities and explained it would be fairly simple to remove a large section but still be within building regulations. There was no pressure to go through with anything and it was a friendly environment," said Goldman. "At the time I didn't have the money to do it but I'm saving up now."

As with all amazing bargains, AITH is heavily oversubscribed so if you are one of the unfortunate ones or simply need a little more persuading of the merits of an architect, we have spoken to six of the experts who will be offering their services to give you their essential tips and advice – from buying a home to bringing light into a dark space and even frank admissions of when you will actually require their help.

To sign up to the scheme, go to www.architectinthehouse.org.uk

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