Last edited 04 Sep 2020

Architect's appointment



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:

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:

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:

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

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[edit] Professional Obligations

A chartered practice must be aware of the three Codes they must follow: ARB, RIBA and RIBA Chartered Practice Codes of Conduct.

  • ensure the appointment is written down in accordance with ARB standard 4.4 and RIBA Principle 2.3
  • the architect must consider whether they have the skill, knowledge and resource to service the project in accordance with ARC standard 2.4 and RIBA Principle 2.1
  • Firms must have adequate PI insurance to cover the project under ARB standard 8 and 9.1, RIBA Principle 3.10 and RIBA Chartered Practice Criteria 5

In addition

  • - LOCAL COMMUNITY; RIBA members must have proper concern and regard for the effect that their work has on users, the local community and society under RIBA Principle 2.14
  • - HERITAGE/CONSERVATION; ensure that work affecting Heritage Assets is only carried out if you are sufficiently qualified, competent or experienced to do so in the circumstances.
  • - ENVIRONMENT; when considering sustainable requirements in the brief or local policy, have regard for RIBA Principle 3.3

[edit] Issues Relating to an Appointment

It is essential that any arrangement between the architect and their client is recorded in writing, even at the earliest stages of a commission.

It is in the interests of both the architect and the client that they fully understand the agreement.

  • It is imperative that all staff working on the project understand clearly the limits of the services that the practice is contracted to perform on the project. This can mitigate the risks of producing abortive work and not complying with professional Codes.
  • It is important for the client to know exactly what services are being provided so that their expectations can be managed and met by the architect.

Bespoke forms of appointment drafted by the clients solicitors/produced by the client can potentially increase the liability of the architect.

Bespoke forms need to be carefully examined with appropriate advice from professional indemnity insurers and legal advisers.

The appointment document/agreement should;

  • define and record the services to be provided
  • state the obligations of each party
  • identify the associated terms and conditions
  • set out the fee proposal, method for calculating the fee and method of payment

The appointment document must state that individual architects are required to be registered with the ARB, and are subject to its Code and to the disciplinary sanction of the ARB in relation to complaints of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence.

The architect should write to the client advising them of their responsibilities under the CDM 2015 regulations.

The architects may also wish to refer to any additional services they are able to provide (this may incur an additional fee).

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