The Client/ Architect Relationship

As professionals we have a responsibility to coach our clients about the architect's role and responsibility as well as the design and construction process. Cultivating an environment of education fosters trust, creates good communication, relieves frustration, and builds successful relationships with our clients. A good working relationship between the architect and client is crucial to the success of any project. When working with an architect, the value is there from the start in terms of time and money saved during the project.

Architects role 
Written agreements may contain the most important pieces of information about a construction project, the process of deciding what will be in those agreements begins well before they are drafted and signed. It is important for us to educate our clients to understand the architect's role and responsibilities on a typical project. An architect is a person who plans, designs, and reviews the construction of buildings. "Practice of architecture" means the rendering of services in connection with the design and construction of a building. 

Clients role
Architects can sometimes assume that clients have a better understanding of the design and construction process as well as their role and responsibilities in the process then they really do. This can lead to frustration and misinterpretations when the client does not perform the role(s) that the architect expects. We try to help our clients to fully understand the terms of the Client/ Architect Agreement including design and construction phases as well as general conditions and specifications. While a lacking of knowledge does not relieve the client of contractual obligations, it may lead to unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts.

This blog post is intentioned to create success for both parties 

We wish with this article to establish an environment in which educating the client about the role of the architect, building design and construction is routine and understood. This helps both the architect and the client to understand the process from a common perspective. The time and energy invested upfront is likely to be less than required to resolve disputes or misunderstandings later. And, it may have the added benefit of creating a long term relationship. The bullet point list below can serve as a starting point for discussion to broaden clients knowledge. However, it is not intended to be complete or all-encompassing as to the relationship. 

  • Architects provide a service, not products. Those services are focused on meeting the expressed need of the client.
  • And architect is a "clients consultant" whose role is to provide design services and assist the client in securing from the contractor a project that is generally in conformity with the architects design concept and specifications.
  • Contractors, not the architect, are responsible for building a project. Architects assume responsibility for issues that are under their control, and within reason. For example, architects cannot control contractor activity on the site and cannot be held responsible for jobsite safety or contractor or material delivery schedules.
  • Contrary to popular belief, construction documents are NOT intended to thoroughly depict every element of the design; it would not be cost effective to do so. Therefore, a reasonable number of questions from the contractor should be expected. These are not errors or omissions and its the main reason to keep communication open between the client, contractor and the architect all the way through Construction Administration. 
  • It is NOT possible to anticipate every possible circumstance or physical condition that may arise during construction. Change orders are likely to occur on any project. Clients should anticipate changes by including planning adequately for contingencies in the construction budget to cover the cost of any changes.
  • Changes to the project program or the architectural design may require the architect to expend additional time, for which the architect is entitled to additional compensation.
  • Architect produce ONLY approximate cost estimates, not fixed, unchanging or guaranteed cost estimates. Architects have NO control over, or special knowledge of the cost of materials, labor or any other project related expenditure. Although an architect generally facilitates it, coordinating this with a General Contractor is very important and a clients responsibility to create this relationship.
  • Architects do not manufacture or install the project components they specify, nor can they guarantee those components.
  • Construction phase observation services (Construction Administration) are intended to determine general conformity to the construction documents and specifications for conformity with design intent only. Site observations are not intended to uncover every minor deficiency. The quality of the work is inherently the role of the contractor. 
  • The architect and the client must share a mutual understanding of the clients goal for the project, the professional services being provided and the clients expectations.
  • And Architect's performance is measured against the professional Standards of Care, not an arbitrary idea of perfection.

Expectations
Taking the opportunity to align architectural design and client expectations and to give us some options for managing risk and to define how we can meet or exceed expectations in order to have a satisfied client and a successful project.

The Standard of Care
Designing a new building or renovating an existing one can be a challenging undertaking. Despite the best efforts of the design team, mistakes will occur. No architect or engineer can guarantee perfection.
Architects and engineers provide a professional service based on years of education and experience. By entering into a contract with clients we imply that we possess the standard skill and ability necessary to serve the owners needs. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee of a perfect plan or even satisfactory results. Instead, the architects and engineers are expected to use "reasonable and ordinary care" in practice of their profession.
In managing the design and construction efforts of any project, one of the most common challenges architects face is coaching our clients on unrealistic expectations for design documents and construction cost. A good starting point is to draw comparisons to other professions that apply a Standard of Care. For centuries, the law has viewed architectural and engineering services similar to professional services provided by doctors, accountants and lawyers.
In general it is accepted that a surgeon cannot guarantee a perfect procedure or a complete recovery, and an attorney cannot guarantee a favorable judgment or verdict or an investment manager cannot guarantee that they will know all of the market variables. Instead, the expectation is that they will apply their best professional knowledge and experience in a competent manner that best serves the interest of their patients or clients regardless of the ultimate outcome. Architects and engineers, like physicians and attorneys, cannot guarantee the results of their service.

Errors and omissions
Errors and omissions are an inevitable part of any creative endeavor. Omissions usually add value to a project if the addition adds value to the project. Instead of being included at the time of contract award, the building improvement that was "omitted" from the bid package is picked up by a change order. Architects and engineers will normally maintain that the owner should pay for omissions during construction for value gained since the owner may have paid a higher contract amount at the time of the award if the item was included in the contract.
Design errors, on the other hand, are mistakes made by the designer that, when corrected, do not add to the greater value of the project. While a designer error may be recoverable, clients should be aware of the industry and the legal acceptance that there is no such thing as an error free design. Even a modest building design effort requires many professional and consulting opinions that act on hundreds of major decisions to coordinate thousands of building components.  A design effort is a unique, a one-off creative endeavor that does not have the benefit of product testing. A custom design. 

Risk management
It is possible to manage the risks of errors and omissions and the first step is to budget project contingencies. Contingencies are always necessary. Clients also need to be aware that there are other methods available to manage the risks of errors and omissions. These include securing a separate liability insurance, employing third-party review services, using the design build delivery approach and modifying contractual language. Each option comes with related costs and benefits.

  • It is extremely important to establish a project budget contingency for the changes, errors and omissions. Unknown and unforeseen conditions happen during every of the project. Renovation projects should carry higher contingencies as you just cant see behind the existing walls during the design phases of the project. 
  • The cost of professional liability insurance is typically built into our design fees. However, the client has the option of purchasing their own project insurance that typically provides a higher level of coverage, but at a higher cost to the owner.
  • The client also has the option to apply a specialty firm to third- party review the documents. This investment will often pay for itself many times over in cost avoidance savings.

The architect role is to analyze the risk from a professional point of view and provide information to enable the client to assume, reject or transfer the risk. The actual decision ultimately rests with the client.

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