Last edited 16 Nov 2015

Architects appointment

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Although buildings in the UK are commonly designed by people who are not architects, the term ‘architect’ itself is protected by the Architects Act 1997 which established the Architects Registration Board (ARB). Only qualified individuals that are registered with the ARB can offer their services as architects.

Architects are commonly appointed by a process of:

  • Recommendation, for example, one consultant may recommend others, which can save time for the client and make it easier to establish collaborative working practices.
  • Research and interview.
  • Open competition (with or without design).
  • Selective competition (with or without design).
  • An existing relationship or framework agreement.

There are a number of sources of information to help clients find an appropriate architect for their project:

Form of appointment

It is important that an architect's appointment is set out in writing as soon as is practically possible, defining the scope of services that are likely to be required and the fee that will be charged for those services. If the architect is to perform lead designer, lead consultant or BIM information manager roles, this must be clearly agreed.

A number of standard forms exist for the appointment of an architect:

Where a standard form is not used, it is suggested that the following matters should be clearly identified in any exchange of letters:

Scope of service

Very broadly, the role performed by an architect might include:

However, it is important to note that some of these services will only be undertaken by the architect if they are specifically identified in their appointment documents, and will not be included within the architect's fee on all projects. These are described as 'other services' on some forms of appointment. 'Other services' might include:


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...'.

However, 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.

For more information see: Architect's fees.

Considerations for the architect

When considering an offer of appointment, an architect must:

  • Be satisfied that the client has the authority and resources to commission the work.
  • Appreciate the background to the proposal and understand its scope.
  • Be satisfied that they have the experience and competence to undertake the work.
  • Be satisfied that the office has the necessary finance, staff, and other resources.
  • Be satisfied that the proposal will not conflict with any relevant codes of professional conduct, other commissions and commitments in the office and the policy of the practice.

The architect must consider their position in relation to any other architect who may have been involved in the same scheme. An employer can offer the commission to whomever they wish to obtain alternative schemes, however the architect must ensure that they act fairly in their dealings with other architects. An architect who is approached by a potential client in connection with a project with which another architect has already been concerned has a duty to inform the other architect of their involvement.

Speculative work in which the architect undertakes work at risk on the basis that payment will only be made in the event of the work proceeding is now widespread. Competitive fee tendering has also become commonplace.

The extent to which an architect is prepared to undertake speculative work will depend upon many factors such as:

  • The policy of the practice.
  • The architect’s knowledge of the potential client.
  • The nature of the proposed project.
  • The likelihood of its success.
  • The architect’s existing commitments.
  • The capacity of the office now and in the foreseeable future.
  • The possible income and profit from the commission if it proceeds.
  • The extent of competition for the work.

Even for speculative work, it is important that there should be an agreement between the architect and the client defining the extent of service and the commitment of the client to the architect in the event of the project proceeding. In the event of the project proceeding, it is usual for the architect to be reimbursed for the initial work. It is important that the practice should budget for non-fee-earning speculative work, fixing a limit to the amount it does.

Termination and suspension

  • The contract of engagement between the architect and the client may generally be terminated by either party at reasonable notice.
  • In the event of termination, any outstanding fees for work properly carried out become due to the architect.
  • In the event of death or the incapacity of the architect, it is usually held that the client is entitled to the use of the drawings to complete the work, provided payment has been made.
  • The death of either party generally dissolves the contract, but it is usually possible for a third party to assume responsibility for the completion of the contract.
  • In the event of termination on the ground of bankruptcy or liquidation, the contract can be continued if both parties wish to do so and the receiver agrees.
  • The Scheme for Construction Contracts and the standard forms of appointment make provision for the suspension of work in the event of non-payment of fees.

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