About our agreement

I’m an architect. That means that my professional life is governed by the architects registration board (who are against apostrophes, probably for aesthetic reasons). One of the consequences is that any agreement I make with a potential client has to meet certain standards as set out in the architects code (see what I mean?). So that, if my client decides to sue me, the terms of our agreement are clear. You can use a special form of agreement, like the RIBA Concise form of Agreement, which is pretty thorough, but I’m not sure that any of my clients would want me to include a 36 page legal document in their fee. Traditionally, a lot of architect appointments have been by letter and case law has led to a need for standard forms. On a large project I can understand this and having worked in commercial practice I feel confident in saying that some architects could really tighten up in this area. For a minnow like me, the letter is definitely the way to go. I like to spell out in the letter what I think I am being asked to do, the work I am pricing for (survey, drawings, that kind of thing) and what my fees will be. Then, for the small print I like to put in something like this. If you are an architect, or a lawyer, let me know what you think.

About our agreement:

If you would like me to go ahead with this work, this letter will become a contract of appointment for the work stated on this letter and for the fee shown above, between the parties at the top of the letter. If either party wants to change this agreement, for example add to or change the services, this will need to be agreed in writing. I have professional indemnity insurance cover up to £250,000, which I really hope I won’t need. I am registered with the Architects Registration Board and I am subject to the architects code. My job is to help you but if you feel that I am not doing that, please write to me about it. If we really can’t agree then either party can go to arbitration or you can tell the ARB about your concerns directly.

My name at the RIBA

here I am. I’m on the ARB too, here. Not sure what this is? The title “architect” is protected, so only people who have the degree, the postgraduate diploma and the professional practice diploma and the required professional experience under the guidance of an architect and agree to comply with the professional code can use the title. Hmm. Medical school might be cheaper, kids. The ARB – Architects Registration Board – keeps the register of architects. Since 1997, if you are not on this list, you’re not an architect. The ARB also gives accreditation to training courses and qualifications, keeps the architect’s code up to date and investigates complaints at the professional conduct committee.

So what’s this other thing? The RIBA – the Royal Institute of British Architects – has been around since 1837 when it got the royal charter from those nice people at the Privy Council. Since the ARB now does what the RIBA used to do, the RIBA now concentrates on other stuff that the ARB doesn’t, as well as “helping” the ARB do it’s job with regard to qualifications and title. So, for example, when I was registered with the ARB, I was an architect. Now I’m registered with both I’m a chartered architect. Super. The RIBA also has a nice building in west London town with a gallery, cafe and big bookshop, it gives out prizes (like the Sterling Prize), it has a two year presidency, it has strategic priorities and it tries to influence policy and advance the profession.

That’s great. No minimum fees though, these went in 1997, with the passing of the Architects Act, which also created the ARB. And no special minimum wage for the skinny kids or tired dads behind the computers either (which could be a requirement of the chartered practice status, just saying). Oh and it is nearly all boys for some reason, even though the women I have worked with have been generally excellent: Heike, Svetlana, Borghildur – they generally don’t come through the UK route for some reason. But RIBA does organise conferences and they approve industry led training seminars.

So there you have it. For me, I get the letters which people in the industry recognise, I get to use the logo on my card and sign board. Who knows maybe one day they give me a prize. For a lot of architects though, the RIBA is an annual fee and a quarterly magazine.

Ask an architect

Feeling shy? Have a question? Come and meet me to talk about anything. It’s free and you can get a coffee (although you will be expected to pay for that upfront) because it’s at my favourite local cafe, right here in Kings Heath.

11th November

3pm – 6pm

at Cherry Reds, York Road, B14 7RZ

If you can’t wait until then, ask your question below. If you want to ask something private, click on my get in touch page and send me an email.

Tell her (or him) about it

There you are burning the midnight oil on a concept layout. Or maybe trying to draw up and issue that construction detail before the school run. Working working. You have your fees, you have your deadline. But what about your client? What do they know about your work? It’s their project but you act like it’s your project, caring for it, making it neater, sweeter and maybe even a little bit cheaper. Take a minute to sit down and write a letter. The client loves a letter. Say what you will do, what you have done so far. Tell her (or him) about it. They will feel included, they will see what hard work you are doing. They will trust you more and feel that they are getting value for their (very modest) financial investment in your services.

Sending an email instead might seem like a good idea, but it is not. The client will assume that you want an immediate reply and will use the opportunity to issue an ill advised instruction via their shiny smartphone. Unless you want to spend the rest of the day trying to put their idea to bed without upsetting them, do not reply – phone them and tell them what a good job you are doing.

So, what do you do?

People are sometimes pretty unclear about what my contribution, as the architect, is. It’s not my house or building site and that’s not me buttering up the wirecuts (that’s brick talk). I don’t award the permissions or inspect the foundation trenches. I don’t even calculate the beams or Target Emission Rate. Oh no. My job changes according to what we like to call the stages of work – A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K and L. You can read about them here.

As most people imagine, I prepare the layout, design drawings and the specification (the document that says what’s what). But what most people (and some architects) don’t realise is that my most important role is to guide the client. I meet the client and discuss their requirements – what do they really want? More space, more light, better access to the garden, a special space. They usually have a pretty good idea about that. What they don’t know is how to make it work. Not just in terms of arrangement and construction, but the whole process from intention to completion. I like to steer the client through the stages – feasibility, making some options, developing the design – and get their decisions. Getting the permissions is mostly an administrative task. What follows then is the part that a lot of clients don’t know about – tendering the work and administering the contract.

Building work is expensive. That loft or extension is a big investment. By taking a full set of drawings to three or four builders to get prices – tendering the work – is the best way to find a builder with the best price. I help control that process and supply the documents. With a good set of drawings, everyone is pricing the same thing. In the old days the builders came back with two figures – the cost and the time. Once the client makes a decision, they need to get a contact signed. Not the A4 sheet with the small print on the back, but a proper building contract that complies with the building contract law, like JCT Minor Works 2011. You have the right to make stage payments and to go to arbitration in the event of a dispute, whatever that tiny green writing says. At the front of your contract it says the names of the parties, lists the tender documents (the drawings – which need to be signed by both parties) and gives the contract sum (what you want to pay) and the contract dates (when it better be done by). At the back is the terms – payment, changes, delay, workmanship and materials. The contract also names the architect – my job is to  make sure that the parties adhere to the terms and to determine who pays when they don’t. One small but important point to note: throughout the process, my job is to work in the best interests of the client  – except at the contract administration stage. When I have my contract administration hat on, I work for the contract – new instructions have to be valued, delays have to be compensated and only the work that has been completed must be paid for.

Part of the confusion about the architect’s role comes from the industry. On the one hand new forms of procurement (special contract arrangements, like design and build) confuse the loyalty of the architect. Also building with new materials, larger spans and, yes, incomprehensible thermal performance regulations, means that a lot of specialist knowledge comes from other people. But part of the blame has to lie with architects. During the “good times” pricing of architectural services was, how shall I say, competitive? As a result, the bulk of the fees lay on the drawing package, for planning, statutory approval and tender. Advising the client became part of the service that did not show up on the fee proposal. Sketch designs replaced briefings and contract administration ended up in the hands of the quantity surveyors. So, old fashioned it may be, but my services include those items – it’s my job to act in the clients interest at (nearly) all times.