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What services should I expect the architect to provide?

The services provided by architects and their consultants can vary according to numerous factors, such as the project type and complexity, the client’s needs, the city’s permitting requirements, the way in which the contractor will be selected, and the budget. The contract between the owner and the architect should clearly list what services will be provided as well as the services which are specifically excluded.

Although the precise scope of services will vary according to the project, an architect’s services generally cover these six categories or phases. In some projects several of these steps may be combined or there may be additional ones. 

    The owners and architect discuss the requirements for the project (how many rooms, their function, size and location of the spaces, etc.), refine the fit between the needs and wants, and the constraints of the budget, site and local regulations. The output of this phase isa general description of project requirements, called a project program. It is usually a list, spreadsheet and possibly a number of diagrams.


    Based on the program, the architect prepares a number of design concepts to satisfy the program requirements. Historically, this was done as a series of diagrams, rough sketches and simple physical models, but more often today, simple three-dimensional computer models are used, which can be explored and manipulated easily and interactively.Working together in person at a computer screen or remotely through a web based software such as Zoom, this approach delivers a more interactive and efficient environment for both the client and  architect to collaborate in real time. The output of this phase is a three-dimensional model that satisfies the design program and captures the “best of” blend of the various design concepts that were explored.


    Based on the accepted schematic design, the architect develops a more detailed computer model to capture additional aspects of the design and considers the initial structure and major materials. Floor plans and sections show all the rooms in their correct sizes and shapes. Outline specifications are also prepared listing major building materials, fixtures  and room finishes. In reality, with the integration of three-dimensional computer modeling into architectural practice, there is hardly a clear line between schematic design and design development. The schematic design tends to evolve seamlessly into design development while basic design concepts remain open longer for exploration. The output of this phase is a robust computer model that captures the complete architectural design and from which plans, sections, elevations and 3D views can be generated to be used by the client, other consultants and potential contractors to prepare cost estimates. This is often referred to as a BIM or Building Information Model.


    Based on the approved design and initial budget estimate, the architect continues to prepare a more more detailed BIM model, drawings and specifications that will be required for the building permit and to build the project. The architect also works with other consultants (mainly the structural engineer) to coordinate their work on the project and avoid conflicts or other problems in the field. The drawings which are derived from the BIM model, plus the specifications, are the basis of the building permit and referenced in the building contract.


    The client, not the architect, selects and hires the contractor. The architect often facilitates the selection by providing names of potential contractors, sending relevant documents, answering questions and helping the client compare their proposals. The extent and timing of this advice varies according to the client’s experience and the number of contractor candidates involved.  The proposals may reveal that the project cost exceeds the budget or the schedule, or that there are other technical design issues, and the design and/or budget may be adjusted and new proposals solicited. Based on the proposals and interviews, the client selects one contractor with whom they negotiate terms of a final contract. The contractor may use a standard AIA form for the contract, but simpler, “homemade” contracts are common in residential construction, and the client is advised to understand the terms completely and rely on the architect’s experience or an attorney to be sure the contract is complete.


    Once the project is permitted and underway, additional questions are inevitable, as are fresh ideas, opportunities and unforeseen obstacles. The architect stays involved in the project throughout its construction as needed to assist the client in making sure that the project is built according to the plans and specifications. The type and frequency of tasks included in contract administration varies widely. The architect may make site visits to observe construction, review and approve the contractor’s applications for payment,review shop drawings, respond to requests for information, and generally keep the client informed of the project’s progress and quality. The contractor, however, is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules, and procedures.