New French site makes finding an architect easy

Finding an architect when you need one for planning permission for house restoration projects can be frustrating.

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France has very good architect departments in universities and specialised graduate schools but it is not exempt from the chronic stop/go nature of the building industry.

This makes it difficult for the thousands of young architects who get their degrees each year to establish themselves.

When the building industry starts to “sneeze”, it is inevitably the new architects who are the first to catch flu and have to shut their businesses. As a result, long-established architects are often busy and not keen to take on what, for them, are minor renovation projects.

It can be especially frustrating for people who have a good idea of what they want and what is possible in a renovation, and know how to draw their own plans but where the home size is or goes over the 150m² point where an architect is required for planning permission*.

If the plans are of a good standard, all that is needed is for the architect to “stamp” them, but doing so puts the architect in a legal grey area, and finding one willing to do so often involves digging among friends.

Professional standards mean they should only sign off plans after going over them carefully, making a site visit, and checking that all relevant regulations are met – something which takes time, measured in months not days, and usually a minimum fee of €4,000.

One solution is proposed by internet start-up firm Archibien. For a fee of €1,900, it will take your ideas and draw them up into a specification (cahier des charges), putting them out to tender to three architects near you.

Within three weeks it guarantees detailed replies from the architects, including price estimates, allowing you to select.

Simon Jézéquel, one of the founders of the website, said: “Because of the detail included in the specifications, there is not often a large variation in the fees proposed.

“What is interesting is the great variation in ideas which come from the architects, who are able to express their individual creativity and often come up with solutions the clients had not thought about.”

The site only takes projects with a budget of more than €25,000, and claims to have about 360 architects signed up across France.

Propositions from the three architects are promised to include builders’ plans, images of how the completed work will look, a brief description, a detailed budget and an agenda showing how long the work will take.

As with many internet offers, it is the client, at the specifications stage, who will have to do most of the legwork, filling in forms with sizes, budgets and wishes.

Mr Jézéquel said: “It allows people who do not know an architect, or only one by word of mouth, to gain the full benefit of a trained professional.” Because of the dubious nature of just having plans stamped, Archibien does not put such projects out to tender.

Mr Jézéquel said people looking for a compliant architect often have low cost as a major factor, excluding them from the service the company offers.

He said fees for house renovation projects usually start at the €4,000 mark but clients are usually happier with the result than if they had tried to go door to door by themselves, trying to find an architect.

There are a handful of other French, internet-based architect-finding services, mainly free and funded by advertising, which provide listings and contact details of architects.

One,, is run by professional body the Ordre des Architectes and promises to give you contact details and the ability to book a rendezvous with an architect near you.

The contacts are in the form of pins on a map, determined by your postcode, which open up to give a brief description of some work the architect has done and contact details.

If your postcode is a rural one, expect the returns to come from towns and cities some distance away.

A quick test using rural postcodes in Dordogne and Charente gave returns with the nearest some 30km away.

* For smaller houses plans can be drawn by the applicant, as long as they are of the same standard as architect’s plans.