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Last edited 12 Jan 2021
What does an architect do...in Spain
Spain is becoming in many aspects very similar to the UK and for that matter to the rest of European countries due to the increasing influence on the Spanish legislation by the EC, but when it comes to architects’ services there are substantial differences, especially if we compare it to the services offered by colleagues in the UK and France.
To start with, it is obligatory to engage the services of a Spanish registered architect for new builds and for any rehabilitation if it will include structural reforms or changes to the façades in any way or form. A good rule of thumb is to ask at the local council if the works you intend to do require a” minors work licence” or a “major works licence”. An architect is always required for the latter.
 What does an architects do?
The next question is…. what does an architect do?
Ask different architects about their daily responsibilities and you’ll get a different answer every time. What an architect does on a daily basis depends on where they live, what kind of firm they work for, whether they are the principle of that firm, and many other factors.
Jobs are broken into various phases and broadly meet the vast majority of architectural associations throughout the world. While different architectural firms use different terminology, they generally fall into five or six main categories of works or phases. One important point to take into consideration is that, while in most European countries the architect requires the hiring of specialists such as structural engineers and quantity surveyors, in Spain they are qualified to carry out those tasks and they are normally included in fees, this single fact makes their fees very competitive compared with those charged by our European colleagues.
An independent assistant architect (aparejador or arquitecto técnico) has to be engaged by the client by law before the construction starts to supervise the building work. Does that mean that the architect does not supervise the works? No it doesn’t. The architect will supervise the works providing any additional information to the contractor clarifying any aspect of the works that they may need.
The aparejador’s job is to supervise that the contractor uses the materials and specification stated and they normally, (not always) will supervise the health and safety of workers on site. This task can also be carried out by the architect if they so choose and the client agrees.
One, is a geological laboratory which will perform soil tests that will indicate the load capacity of the ground as well as its chemical composition so that the architect knows what type of foundations to calculate and what type of concrete to use in case sulphate or other chemicals may be present in the soil. This requirement is imposed by the new Building regulation.
The other service that the client has to engage before the building work starts is an approved and registered laboratory to carry out concrete and steel testing during the construction of the structure. They will take samples of both concrete and steel and will implement approved tests and pass the reports to us architect and to the client. This requirement is also imposed by the new Building regulation.
(Also called Basic Design, Initial Consultation and Design, or Building Program & Site Analysis, among other things): Here the architect visits and analyses the building site and gathers information from the clients about their design ideas, budget, and housing needs to develop a detailed “program,”. Here it is highly recommended that a written statement of needs and design goals are passed to the architect so that there is no misunderstanding in the future.
It is the architect's job to come up with key concepts and rough sketches showing the size, general layout, and appearance of the building and how it fits into the building site. A couple of options may be presented. It is highly desirable that at this stage the client communicates clearly to the architect what is important.
These two phases may come together in simple buildings such individual houses or relative simple buildings, however in more complicated buildings such office buildings, hotels, airports, hospitals, etc it might be divided in:
Once the client accepts a preliminary design, then it commences the process of producing a rough concept of three-dimensional relationships into a real construction design with floor plans, including roof design, and some of the interior and exterior details that will provide a building its grace and personality. This will usually include some scale drawings, a basic structural plan, and basic specifications for the main components of the building. Today, modern design software, can offer clients the possibility to see a whole design in 3-D and walk around and through the 3D building on the computer screen.
Here the detailed drawings (blueprints) and written specifications or “specs” are prepared that should be detailed enough to obtain quotes from different contractors. Detailed drawings are also required to obtain a building licence.
Where before the architect could specify any materials without any major consequence, this has changed. The construction documents have to follow a protocol of minimum requirements and specifications, so that all materials have to be proven to comply with the new requirements imposed by EC directives on energy saving etc. This new approach has instigated that architects have to produce a minimum of 500 pages in any small rehabilitation work. A single villa project will necessitate 700 to 1.000 pages of calculations and specifications.
Plans and specs are now very precise and highly detailed, where the architect had to comply with the CTE nearly every element that the contractor will handle has to be properly thought of, specified and quantified.
Here in Spain most architects do not get involved in this phase of the project. They hand over the construction documents to the client and wait to be notified as to the commencement of works. Sometimes they will present the project at the local authorities on behalf of the client, but not always.
It can be advisable to get the architect to obtain tenders and to go through the bureaucratic process of obtaining a building licence. The architect will help obtaining bid from a list of contractors who the architect feels are qualified for the project, although they normally ask that the client to suggest their own contractors to the bid. The architect will answer contractor's questions to clarify items in the plans or specs, possibly make revisions to the plans or specs, and will negotiate with one or more of the contractors. They will then make recommendations about who can best meet the needs of the client in terms of quality, cost, and schedule. The client, however, makes the final decision.
 Construction administration.
Here, both the architect and the aparejador functions as the client’s agents, making sure the builder and subcontractors are following the plans and specifications (there’s always room for interpretation), and not cutting corners. It’s important to note, however, that the architect is not contractually supervising the contractor but the aparejador is. The architect will carry out various inspections in good faith to make sure that the contractor is properly interpreting the project. At the beginning of the construction phase, the architect may visit the site, weekly or even more often than that, to answer any questions that arise. Construction administration will also include preparing additional detailed drawings if needed and approving the contractor’s requests for progress payments, approving any changes to the plans and resolving any issues stemming from conflicts or ambiguity in the plans or specs.
There was a standard fee proposed by the Official College of Architects some years ago but these fees were forbidden by the government as they were considered against the free market, however the standard charges are around 10% to 15% of the official cost of the works (Precio Ejecución Material or PEM) which is not the same as the real costs, they tend to be lower than the real cost. The PEM are official prices that historically were supplied by the College of Architects and are still used by some Local Authorities based on the type of works, locality and size of the project. Overall they tend to be around 30 to 40% of the real costs which makes Spanish architects` fees substantially lower than those of the UK if you also take into account that Spanish architects do include in their projects structural calculations, full bill of quantities and the lower construction price taken to calculate the overall fees.
It is a good idea to find out exactly beforehand the list of services that the architect will fulfil. Anything under 7% is starting to be suspiciously low and anything above the 10% needs to be argued against the services that will be included.
Most architects in Spain charge a percentage based on the construction costs obtained from the number of square meters. They normally have a database of construction prices throughout Spain and can easily work out a construction cost based on the initial brief.
The percentage depends on whether the project is for new construction or rehabbing existing construction. Rehabbing existing construction often costs more because the architect has to investigate the existing construction and the techniques used. In a very old house, they may be dealing with elements that are not up to the new code. In this case fees may be about 12%.
There is an exception to this rule and that is when dealing with relatively small projects. As it has been explained above with the new CTE code they have to produce the same amount of information as per one individual villa so the pro rata rule does not work here.
Although the architect may base fees on the square meters and a total cost of construction the fees once provided should be fixed unless the square meters are changed up or down by the client or circumstances by say more than 10% in which case the fees should be changed accordingly. Otherwise it is possible to start getting into grey areas when determining what counts as a “construction cost”. Not every decision affects the cost of construction. For example, what sort of lighting fixture is going in may have no effect on the cost; the junction box to hook the fixture into is the only thing the architect is concerned with. A rule of thumb is that the elements to be taken into account are going to affect the walls, structural parts of the building or the total amount of construction, it’s a construction cost.
 How much do architects charge per hour?
Many people are hesitant to hire an architect on an hourly basis, mostly because everything takes longer than previously anticipated, especially in Spain. No one wants surprises. However, when dealing with a planning consultation, specific construction enquiry or perhaps managing some paper works with the local authorities, this may be the best method to engage an architect. As a guide typical fees range between 100€ to 150€ per hour depending on the job itself, however it has to be said here that in large development projects an enquiry to the right architect could save many thousands of Euros to the developer and the price cannot be based just on the time factor but also on the relevance of the information provided.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Appointing an architect.
- Appointing consultants for building design and construction.
- Architect's Registration Board.
- Architectural technologist.
- Architectural technician.
- Architect's fees.
- Architectural training.
- Hiring an architect as a domestic client.
- How to become an architect.
- Scope of services.
- The Architects Act.
- The architectural profession.
- The role of architects.
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