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1303 J Street, Suite 200
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Phone: (916) 448-9082
Fax: (916) 442-5346

Your building can do much more than keep the rain off your business; it can advance your business plan. To capture the full value of your capital program, you will do well to engage your architect in a discussion of your business goals, with your business leaders.

Compensating Your Architect: Variables that Affect Fees

No two projects are ever the same, and architects' fees, based on a wide range of building requirements and factors, can vary widely. Part of the pre-planning and early design process is to identify the variables that will shape your estimated fees and payment schedule. You may want to proceed on an hourly basis until the variables have been identified and the project planning completed. Generally speaking, the cost of clearly defining project goals at the outset is money well spent, as it will greatly reduce the likelihood of costly changes in midstream.

Project Delivery

One of the first variables to identify is your preferred method of project delivery. Building industry professionals use this term to refer to the process that begins with design, proceeds through construction, and concludes with the building ready for your use. Project delivery methods are distinguished from one another by the structure of contractual relationships among owner, designer, and builder and by the roles and responsibilities assigned to each. Because the architect's roles and responsibilities vary with the project delivery method, the choice of method can have a significant impact on the architect's fees. The most common project delivery methods—Design-Bid-Build, Construction Management, Design-Build, and Integrated Project Delivery–and their variants are described and compared in "Understanding Project Delivery," available at

Project Changes

Changes and additions to the project design beyond the original scope of work defined in the owner-architect agreement (also known as "scope creep") incur additional costs to the architect. These costs become higher as the project progresses; the closer to completion the changes occur, the more expensive they become. These costs are typically outside the original fee, and a discussion with your architect should be included in your contract negotiations so that a payment option can be agreed upon in advance for any work occurring outside the original scope of work.

Other Common Impacts on Architects' Fees

Because of the complexity of building projects, many factors affect the time and effort required of the architect and accordingly have an impact on fees. Among these factors are:

  • Services required: the type and number of services required of the architect are fundamental to the setting of fees.
  • Size of the project: while some forms of repetition in a building, such as repeated apartment unit plans, may offer some economy of scale in the design process, the amount of effort required of the architect remains closely linked to the overall size of the project.
  • Site conditions: difficult sites may require more extensive engineering and entitlement efforts–gaining approval from local and state authorities.
  • Availability of information: from property surveys to traffic and environmental reports, a wide range of information may be required both for design and for entitlement; if the information is not readily available, there will be costs for its discovery or creation.
  • Location of the architectural firm: projects that lie at a distance from the architect may incur additional costs for travel time or may require the involvement of an additional, local architect for agency liaison and contract administration.
  • Type of architectural firm: projects that lie outside of a firm's usual business model or project type may incur additional costs for outside consultants.
  • Personnel requirements: level of expertise and staff resources required.
  • Specialists required: subcontractors, consultants, and/or engineers to be hired, consulted, or managed.
  • Complexity of design: more complex designs require more time and may add additional cost.
  • New technologies: newer technologies may require extra time to incorporate into desired designs.
  • Design and documentation method: the choice of method–hand drawn, two-dimensional CAD programs, or three-dimensional Building Information Modeling (BIM)–has fee impact; more sophisticated, collaboratively utilized documentation methods, such as BIM, can reduce construction costs through better coordination of the complex, intersecting systems of a building, but they typically will add cost to the design and construction documentation phases.
  • Project scheduling: project delays, accelerated project schedules (fast-tracking), multi-phase projects–each of these will affect the architect's personnel costs.
  • Repeat work: even if a design already exists or the current work is a replication of a previous project, there may be additional fees for site adaptations, different agency requirements and standards, coordination with different utility companies, and the like.

Building is a complex undertaking, and every project is unique. A clear accounting, from the outset of the project, of all the factors affecting it will assure that you and your architect are fully in synch and that all the bases are covered, allowing you to proceed with confidence. The outcome will be a building that is much more than the sum of its parts.