Considerations When Hiring an Architect

Oftentimes, owners find themselves wondering if they need an architect of design professional for their project, and might be unfamiliar with the terms and forms used in their contracts. This article provides a refresher on the types of projects an owner should have an architect for, and the typical forms of contracts used for the project.

An architect licensed and registered in New York provides services related to the design and construction of buildings and the spaces around them, where the safeguarding of life, health, property, and public welfare is concerned.[1]

Although there are situations where involving an Architect is discretionary on the part of the owner, generally, if new construction, alteration to an existing structure, plumbing, or HVAC is contemplated, construction drawings sealed by an architect will be required by your building department before your project can begin.

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Additional factors were hiring an architect makes sense include the following

  • Architects think in three-dimensions. If you ask, “Can we move this wall to over there?” an architect will usually respond with an answer that will also state the ramifications to the roof, the foundation, and adjacent walls as well as systems.
  • Architects are educated, trained, and licensed to design.
  • Architects begin the design of any building or remodel of a building by examining the site or location and its environment.
  • Architects have intimate knowledge of building systems, materials, and how these components can work together conflict, or clash to express different design styles.
  • Architects help clients determine their true needs and prioritize their wants.
  • Architects act on the owners’ behalf, rejecting defective work, bringing into the design process any and all necessary or desired consultants.
  • Architects coordinate consultants and their work.
  • Architects have professional liability for their work
  • As a design professional, Architects are typically paid through the use of the following contract types:
  1. Lump Sum Contract: Under this form of agreement, the designer is paid a predetermined sum for all duties performed, plus any included reimbursable expenses, such as printing. Under these contracts, the Owner needs to verify that all of the duties expected of the architect are clearly stated and defined.

2. Cost Reimbursement Contract: This format compensates the Architect based on its time and expenses incurred. This form of contract should specify the applicable hourly rate(s) being charged by the architectural firm. It is customary for the designer to be provided a retainer up front, and the owner will receive invoices (usually monthly) thereafter through the architect’s work. It is common for the retainer payment to either be credited to the final invoice or otherwise refunded to the owner at the conclusion of Architect’s work.

3. Percentage of Construction Cost: This format compensates the Architect based on the percentage of construction costs. It is important for these contracts to specify how and when the cost of construction is calculated, and typically progress payments will be made to the architect during the work. Percentages charged by Architects in this format can vary from firm to firm and locale to locale.

Whichever format of contract ultimately used, there are numerous terms that should be reviewed and negotiated properly to provide the level of protection needed and avoid unintended consequences.

With this preliminary information, an Owner is in a much better position to interview architects and further select the architect right for their project. Suggestions for questions owners should consider asking when interviewing an architect will be the topic of a pending article.

Your comments and future article topic suggestions are invited in the field below.

John Caravella construction lawyer

The author, John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: or (631) 608-1346.

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1 thought on “Considerations When Hiring an Architect”

  1. It’s great that you mentioned how architects could help their clients determine their true needs and prioritize their wants. I saw a documentary about a construction project on the TV last night, and I was quite impressed with the work of the architect that I’ve seen. From what I’ve seen, it seems there are a lot of architectural firms nowadays and they could offer quite a variety of services, like make higher education building designs for example.

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