Lost in translation?

Last time I blogged about our renovation project I think I mentioned the architect had agreed to get the builder chap to come back to our house and redo the sondage. This was on the basis that initially they had decided to look through the floor expecting to find an empty space but were surprised to find earth...I jest. But in all seriousness, our expectation of the sondage was that they would tell us whether we had decent foundations for the house sufficient to excavate part or all of the remaining basement (about a third is already out of the ground) and if not how deep the foundations are, such that they could estimate the cost of underpinning.

It appears that the architect simply wanted to say 'non, too expensive to undepin...let's do a new build extension instead' and his 'wait till we meet' email back in December to view his options conveniently forgot the excavation option completely. We're not overjoyed with this as an extension eats into our garden and we would prefer to remain within the four walls of the existing building. We don't feel at the moment that we have reasonable explanation from him and feel to be honest a bit fobbed off. Could it be crossed wires, translation issues? I think not, I clearly said we wanted 2 options. He gave us 2 options but neither involved the excavation! It reminded me of this little example I used to use in business architecture:

Anyway after Monsieur Architect presented us with his options, we said we wanted him to redo the sondage and give us an approximate cost of the excavation option. He ignored this and cracked on with the extension option then presented us with his fees asking us to agree to move out of preliminary planning stage.

At this point, hubby hits the roof (well he would have done if there weren't another 5 floors above us in our apartment block). I explain to Monsieur that he has missed out the excavation option so preliminary is only 50% complete. He says it will be too expensive to excavate and new build is cheaper. The New build cost also attracts VAT at 19.6% whereas renovation is only 7% - we noticed immediately this increased his fees considerably (albeit to fund Hollande but as it's out of our pocket I still don't like it).

So after my email expressing my displeasure he agreed he would go away and ask the builder to return and redo the sondage.

For a week we heard nothing, then landing heavily with a big thud, comes his reply saying 'on reflection' we don't think the builder is qualified to do a study of the ground works and we need a structural engineer who specialises in this sort of thing. He's basically passed me off to a company in Montpellier.

Now I don't have a problem with employing a structural engineer, but why the devil did he use a general builder in the first place. If all he wanted to know was if there was earth under the earth floor, then I could have dug a hole myself with my kids beach spades and saved myself 600 euros (which incidentally they have not asked for yet & will be given a swift response when they do). I'm not a building specialist but I do think that they could have used a bit more sense to know that if they are to price an excavation then they need to know the state of the foundations around the building.

Well all of this hassle has led us to reconsider the priorities of our renovation project. We have come up with another option which requires a minimal amount of excavation and may/may not require underpinning. We will have to get a structural engineer to do a study so that is our next challenge. Luckily we have some great help on SFN and the path has been made much clearer so I intend to keep on going and am thinking carefully about how to word my reply back to Monsieur Architect. At the moment I'll have to wait a few more days as I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want to repeat myself!

My builder father and his partner, who was the real builder - qualified and all, used to look at architects plans, do the measurements for foundations then start working. They would take a look at said plans now and again to see the shape of the building and where door and windows should go. The building seldom (if ever) matched plans. To begin with, they always said that the pitch of roofs was nearly always wrong, completely out of character with nearby houses. So they did that right. Openings were often not exactly where the architect had put them, since they would often be off centre of a room inside which people do not like. They positioned them from inside rather than from drawings. ...and so on. There are lots of good architects but there are also too many bad ones. Many of them have inexperienced junior people do the work then swan onto site to say what will be done. To this day there is 'tension' between competent, capable builders and these chappies. But to make themselves the extra money, when they are in charge of construction they will use people who should not be allowed near as much as a children's bucket and spade on a beach, let alone build a house. My old neighbour for many years and still a good friend is a planner like Nick and believes the strength of the building industry is in the inspection regime, as long as it is good. Here in France...