Basic Architectural Services
by Don Leighton-Burwell, AIA/Tenth Times February 1997

In negotiating a contract or agreement for design services, it is important to know what you are getting, and what is customary to the profession. Clients are often confused about what architects do in performing design services, and many design professionals have difficulty conveying what it is that they do (and do not do). It is not unusual for prospective clients to call and ask “do you do blueprints?” The drawings are just part of the overall service that architects provide, with much work performed before and after the completion of the final design documents.

The most widely used contract/agreement for architectural services is the American Institute of Architect’s Document B141, “Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Architect”. This document has stood the test of time and is well accepted within legal and construction establishments. It is generally used for “full service” needs, so other documents may be substituted if only “partial services” are required.

At the core of this document is the description of the five basic services. These are the services most often required of clients and their projects, and consist of the following areas of service: Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding or Negotiation, and Administration of the Construction Contract. This document includes the “normal” structural, mechanical and electrical engineering services required of most projects.

Schematic Design consists of producing drawings (and other documents) that illustrate the general scope, scale and relationship of the project for approval by the Owner. These are drawings of a conceptual nature (sketches) and are based on the project requirements or “program” (see Tenth Times 12/96) supplied by the Owner.

Design Development is described as drawings (and other documents) that fix and describe the size and character of the project for approval by the Owner. This will include materials considerations as well as structural, mechanical and electrical systems. This phase essentially “firms up” the design and will closely approximate the project scheduled for construction.

Construction Documents involves the preparation and production of drawings, specifications and other materials required to bid, permit, and construct the project. These documents additionally include all the final engineering drawings. The construction documents are what the public has commonly come to know as “blueprints”, which is actually only the method of reproducing the drawings. The drawings and specifications actually become an integral part of the owner’s agreement with the contractor, so they are essentially legal documents. The specifications are written performance standards for materials and systems that supplement the information on the drawings.

Bidding or Negotiation involves the pricing of the construction by either several or one general contractor. The architect uses the bids or proposals in awarding and preparing documents for construction. If changes are required due to budgetary constraints, those items are typically addressed at this phase.

Administration of the Construction Contract by the architect consists of a myriad of duties including site visits, coordination of submittals and shop drawings, processing requests for payment by the contractor, preparation of punchlists, and establishing substantial completion of the project. This is an exciting and often stressful time for the Owner, and the architect’s presence and experience can be a valuable asset during this phase.

Services that clients often assume are included within an architect’s basic services, but are actually considered additional services (with additional compensation) include: civil engineering, pre-design services (including programming), financial feasibilities, site analysis/zoning approvals, significant changes in project scope, detailed estimates of construction cost, interior design services, etc. Understand that within the basic scope of services resides most of the work required of most projects, so speak with your architect about what (if any) additional services might be required of your particular situation.

As you can see, much more is involved in performing architectural services than just “doing blueprints”. Talk to your architect about what you can expect and review your contract thoroughly. Don’t assume that a particular service is included if it is not specifically stated as such.