Practically every architect in the land will have at some point referred to The Architect’s Legal Handbook. The widely used reference manual, first published by the Architectural Press in 1973, has become the default legal textbook for architectural students and practitioners alike. In 1997 Charlotte Baden-Powell’s bite-size Architect’s Pocket Book provided a wealth of architecturally-relevant data in accessible, bullet-point-style format. And now practising London architect Matthew Cousins has deftly combined the two concepts with his recently published Architect’s Legal Pocket Book.

The book describes itself as “the definitive pocket reference guide on legal issues for architects and architectural students.” Clearly it is an ambitious work, not only covering the labyrinthine tentacles of the English legal system but extracting information salient to architects and then packaging it in a handy, accessible format. Accordingly, it is conveniently split into ten sections dealing comprehensively with matters ranging from planning law to contract administration. There is also a detailed index, extensive glossary and chronological lists of relevant legal precedent cases and statutes which in themselves make fascinating reading.

The book deals with highly complex matters with masterful clarity and precision. This is not an epic academic tome designed to be pored over from cover to cover, it is a concise reference manual to be dipped into as and when necessary as an invaluable source of practical information. Crucially, it does not interpret the law; it relays it objectively and anticipates its impact on the building and procurement process.

A key element of the book’s effectiveness is its simple design. This is a naturally text-heavy paperback but it is relieved by bold headings, flow-charts, diagrams and tables, all of which strengthen its claims to accessibility. Its pocket-size measurements also make it handy and compact and its graphic design format neatly identifies it as part of the same series as Baden-Powell’s earlier work.

Why the need for the Architects Pocket Book when the revered Architect’s Legal Handbook is already standard issue throughout the industry? Two important reasons. One, this book is a far more accessible size and format providing key nuggets of summarised information rather than extended subject related essays. And crucially, the Architects Pocket Book has been written by an architect rather than a barrister. This enables the legal subject-matter to be filtered through a highly specialised, uniquely architectural perspective, a rare asset indeed. The result is an in-depth and invaluable legal repository specifically customised for architects.

Architect’s Legal Pocket Book achieves what is very nearly impossible: it humanises the law. The law is an intimidating beast, no less so when configured to the equally complex and routinely truculent machinations of architectural practice. But by adopting a highly effective combination of forensic detail and lucid presentation, Cousins is able to make sense of highly complex subjects and convey their meaning in a simplified way that should be easily accessible to all within the industry. Watch this space, this handy and indispensible guide could well usurp its coveted predecessors and emerge as the essential guide for the next generation of architects and students.


Architects Legal Pocket Book is published by the Architectural Press