I’m not sure if this is the case for everyone, but I find that things often occur in clusters. For example, the SA Chapter has recently had a series of enquiries from clients wanting to know what level of service their architect should provide. In response we have discussed how services vary, the reason why there is no indicative fee scale, overarching copyright principles in relation to design and what distinguishes an architect from a building designer. These are all important conversations.
We also ask about what type of agreement they have with their architect. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, but having a written agreement is a requirement of the Architect’s Code of Conduct (Clause 4.4) and is essential for establishing a clear understanding regarding what services an architect will – and will not – provide and the fees for those services.
These details are important at all scales of practice. This is demonstrated in the findings of the Lacrosse Building case, where three of the consultants on the project were held responsible largely due to inadequate definition of what services were included and, more importantly, what services they would not provide. These consultants’ contract did not exclude services relating to monitoring compliance of construction that they could not reasonably be expected to inspect. The architect’s argument that they had acted within commonly expected parameters for a design construct project and that this type of service was excluded in the specification was not accepted by the court.
So, what can we take from these experiences?
· Always have a written agreement with your client. This can be a proforma Client Architect Agreement, a contract or a letter. If the agreement is one prepared by a third party always get it reviewed by your insurer and a lawyer prior to signing.
· Make sure that you are clear who your client is at each stage of a project and that the agreement is suitable for this procurement model.
· Don’t rely on standard construction industry practice – because it’s often not standard. Architects operate in a complex and varied context. Be clear about what you will and won’t do and definitions of technical language where interpretation may be possible. For example, the level of documentation provided at building rules consent varies between architects, so make sure the extent of documentation that you are going to provide is defined.
· Be specific about what happens if things go wrong. Be clear about what the dispute resolution procedure is. In the event of the contract being terminated specify what documentation you will provide, any additional costs for active files and how this will affect attribution for the project.
The Institute has recently re-released the Client Architect Agreement to support architects in this important area of their practice. These are now available in a long and short form as editable, digital documents and are free to members. Even if you have developed your own in-house agreement, we recommend that you review these documents to assist you in having a clear and effective relationship with your client.
Nicolette Di Lernia
SA Chapter Executive Director