The Architect-Owner agreement can assume many forms but it should achieve clear delineation of the professional services to be provided by your architect in relation to project attributes such as scope, schedule, construction budget, responsibilities of parties and terms of compensation.

Providing architectural services is considered a professional undertaking by the authorities having jurisdiction in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.  A competent architect will approach your project with the due diligence of the task and, as your advocate, represent your interests to produce an efficient and expedient solution.  Clients should expect to be participating collaborators in a productive process that the architect will lead, through their training, experience, and expertise, to produce concepts and tangible materials in order to convey the Design Intent of the project to a third party which will be responsible for the construction activities.  Architects and their professional consultants are bound to perform to a professional standard but should not be expected to warrant or guarantee results.  Warranties are introduced with the involvement of the General Contractor, Sub-contractors, and Suppliers within the appropriate contractual agreements.

The nature of services and delivery methods will vary according to the specific requirements of the project and the capabilities of the professional engaged to perform the task.

One common delivery method is design-bid-build in which the owner engages the design professionals and construction entities with separate agreements placing more management responsibility in the hands of the owner with the architect acting as an owner advocate but with no control over construction activities.  Design-bid-build is ideal for projects with longer duration of design and construction, a high level of systems complexity, and an owner with in-house experts to manage the process.  This is an architect as informed observer delivery method.

Another common delivery method is design-build in which the owner engages the designer and builder as a paired team to collaborate on design and construction responsibilities.  Less management is required of the owner past the initial stages of the project as the team is responsible to deliver on clearly defined goals, established at the outset, and there is a single source or accountability for project component performance.  Design-build is typically chosen when a project has a condensed schedule, a need for ongoing flexibility, and an owner without sophisticated in-house construction management knowledge.  This is an architect as engaged build team member delivery method. 

With these criteria in mind, an owner should select an architect and delivery method that is appropriate to the specific project with emphasis on the architect’s design ability, experience with similar projects, level of professionalism, and compensation.


The requirements of your project will undoubtedly be unique given factors of site conditions such as soils, slope, solar orientation, property configuration, utility access, use history and the like.  The programmatic requirements will also be specialized due to variations in building use, organizational structure and priorities, socio-economic factors of the area, scope and budget.  The material approach of the structure will be determined by desired design appeal, available building products, common skills of the workforce, performance requirements, and costs.  In this way, every building is a prototype of sorts which demands careful study and planning.

For these reasons and more, an owner should have personal confidence in the capabilities of the architect and a comfort in communication as this will greatly affect project outcomes.


An early determination of budget and scope ranges should be of paramount importance to the success of any building project.  Be prepared to work with your architect to determine parameters for size, quality, levels of detail, performance, maintenance, and priorities for costs.

The architect is not responsible to verify the funding sources of the owner and final project costs are determined by the Contractor’s bidding process.  Unsavory budget overruns can often times be mitigated through use of a design-build approach where the architect and contractor develop the project attributes and pricing in concert.  This can result in a GMP (guaranteed maximum price) at an early stage of the process which allows the owner to make financial preparations with confidence that pricing will not escalate without significant changes to scope.  An owner should be aware that significant modifications to a project past the initial design phases is likely to result in additional efforts by the architect and contractor, for which the owner should expect to provide compensation.


A knowledgeable client understands the direct relationship between providing adequate compensation for professional services with quality outcomes and the benefit this provides to themselves and the design professional.  A properly compensated professional can devote the appropriate attention to the tasks at hand without need to overcommit themselves to the pursuit or execution of an unreasonable amount of projects to maintain practice viability.  It is therefore critical to arrive at a clear understanding of what the client expects from the architect and by what means the architect intends to accomplish this design scope.  Communication is key in this regard.

Agreed upon compensation will become due at the completion of the design effort, unless otherwise stipulated in the Architect-Owner Agreement, regardless of the commencement of construction activities.  Typically, the architect has no control over initiating this process and is being compensated for providing professional services only.

Compensation can take several forms including the following:

  • A stipulated lump sum proposed by the architect based upon the design services scope
  • A fixed percentage of the total construction budget
  • An agreed upon hourly rate

or some combination of these approaches.

The architect will be required to document the time devoted to specific projects and tasks to substantiate billing with any of these compensation forms.  This is typically tracked on an hourly basis, or a portion thereof.

Often it is necessary for the architect to incur expenses for items such as copying costs, expended mileage, and other materials related to your project.  In order to provide transparency in the billable hours and communicate the costs for these items, an itemized list of applicable “reimbursable materials” will accompany invoices as appropriate.


Most importantly, all involved should be grateful for the opportunity to create something new.   While the acts of design and construction contains many serious components that should be respected as such, building should be exciting, and fun.  Many architects understand that projects with the most rewarding results emerge from a process filled with playfulness, exploration and delight.