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Grant Erskine Architects Architect
Last edited 13 May 2016

Architect's fees


[edit] Introduction

Fees charged by architects vary very significantly, and since the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) abolished their indicative fee scales, there is very little benchmarking information freely available.

Fees are commonly quoted as being between 8 and 12% although, according to a survey by Building Design (a survey which in part relates to fees paid by housing associations and local authorities, presumably for new build projects which traditionally attract lower fees than works to existing buildings, and which was carried out during the worst depths of the recession in 2012), '...only 21% of architects achieve fee levels of above 5% while 55% are paid fee levels of 4% or less...'.

As fees are entirely dependent on the nature of the project and the circumstances of the appointment, the figures quoted above are not very illuminating. Generally speaking large new build projects attract much lower percentage fees than small works to existing buildings, commercial work attracts lower fees than private residential work, works to historic or listed buildings attract higher fees still and so on.

Fees will vary based on:

  • The architect appointed (a 'signature' architect may charge more than an 'unknown').
  • The type of building required.
  • The size of building required.
  • The complexity of the building required.
  • The quality of the building required.
  • The location of the architect and of the project.
  • The amount of bespoke design required.
  • The level of service required (from basic planning drawings, through to a full design service, site inspection and post occupancy evaluation).
  • The amount of information available (about the nature of the project required, the project brief, the feasibility of the project, the site conditions and so on).
  • The state of the economy (in times of recession, architects may struggle to find work, and can offer lower fees simply to keep work flowing through the office, conversely in boom years, they may not have enough staff to meet demand and so will push fees up).
  • The perceived risk to the architect of undertaking the project.

Attempting to save money by driving fees down can be a mistake. Fees represent a small part of the whole-life costs of a project, but poor design can have a long lasting and expensive impact.

This is sometimes demonstrated by reference to the following notional, relative costs of a typical project:

Ref. Report of the Royal Academy of Engineering on The long term costs of owning and using buildings (1998).

However, this has been criticised as misleading, not least because the construction industry accounts for around 7% of GDP, implying a much more significant proportion of business costs than the ratio suggests. Other ratios of construction costs to operational costs to business costs have suggested figures as low as 1:0.6:6 for some types of buildings. However, the usefulness of these ratios is questionable, other than if they are calculated based on actual figures for specific businesses.

Traditionally there are 3 standard ways an architect may charge:

  • A percentage of the build cost. This requires that an approximate build cost can be estimated (so that an appropriate percentage can be calculated) and that the scope and nature of the services required from the architect are known.
  • Lump sum fee. This is popular for home owners and small clients as it gives certainty about the total cost at the outset. Lump sum fees are appropriate where the scope of work required is well known when the appointment is made. If the nature of the appointment or of the project varies beyond agreed limits, then the fee may need to be re-negotiated.
  • Hourly rate. This is generally reserved for work where it is difficult to define the scope of services required or the nature of the project when the appointment is made. It is important in this case that fees are capped to a maximum that can be charged without prior agreement and that detailed records of hours worked are kept.

All three methods will generally bring the architect to a similar position. This is because there is a relationship between the type of the project, its build cost and the amount of hours required. Ultimately, the fee quoted is likely to come down to how many hours the job will take multiplied by a charge out rate.

NB when appointing an architect:

[edit] Role of an architect

It is important that the scope of services required from an architect is properly described and is set out in writing, along with an agreed schedule of payments.

Very broadly, the role performed by an architect might include some or all of the following services:

If the architect is to perform lead designer or lead consultant roles, this must be clearly agreed.

It is also important to be clear to what extent expenses such as; travelling, print costs, model making costs and so on are included in the fee.

[edit] Additional services

Some services will only be undertaken by an architect if they are specifically identified in their appointment documents, and otherwise they may not be included within the fee. These are described as 'other services' on some forms of appointment and might include:

NB A survey by the RIBA in 2014 (Ref RIBA Journal February 2014) revealed that the most common methods of appointing architects were:

Direct appointment 50%
Competitive fee bid or financial tender only 21%
Framework agreement with or without further competition for specific projects 10%
Invited competitive interview (no pre-qualification questionnaire PQQ) 4%
Expression of interest / PQQ only (no design work) 3%
Expression of interest / PQQ followed by competitive interview (no design work) 3%
Expression of interest / PQQ followed by design competition 2%
Invited design competition (no PQQ) 1%
Open design competition 1%
Other 4%

Smaller practices tended to be appointed mostly by direct appointment (61%), whereas this was less common for larger practices (25%).

For detailed descriptions of the sequence of activities necessary to appoint architects, see the article: Appointment, and the work plan stages:

This is an amended version of an article created by --Grant Erskine Architects 11:11, 14 January 2013 (UTC)

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