Project Management

Guide to Architectural Services

Guide to Architectural Services

With varied experiences and unique knowledge, architects have the opportunity to provide valuable services for clients in addition to the basics. While making sure you're building a strong foundation by executing well on the basic services, additional services will enable you to provide your clients with the perfect level of service.

Basic Services

Basic services are what the architect needs to do for every design. These services are considered basic, because an owner should expect each of these to be included in a standard contract. Many of these services have been covered by us as Design Phases so we are just providing a basic overview here. Basic services typically include the following:

  1. Programming
  2. Schematic Design
  3. Design Development
  4. Construction Documents
  5. Construction Administration


In programming, you are determining the scope of work to be designed. No actual design is being developed at this point. You will mainly ask your client questions to gain an understanding of their problems, wants, and needs. This is also where the research and decision-making process happens. This service is mainly a consulting job, but you should have a list of the clients wants and needs by the end.

Schematic Design

Here you will be developing the basic form of the building. There will be a lot of sketching vs. formal drawings. Generally, you want to develop the floor plans, site plans and building elevations. This will give you a complete description of the building systems (structural, mechanical, HVAC, plumbing and electrical), interior and exterior finishes and the building site. You should have a basic design at this point.

Design Development

Now that you have the basic idea, you can begin to refine them. You will be looking at specific materials in this phase and evaluating them for beauty, durability, and price. This is when your client will be selecting the materials for countertops or shower tile. You should have the full design by now.

Construction Documents

During this phase you will be providing a product: two complete sets of drawings. The construction documents will fill in all the details and include every element of the design.

Construction Administration

Construction Administration typically involves the architect acting as the owner’s representative during construction. Size visits, materials testing, and inspections make sure that the contractor is building as specified and isn’t cutting any corners.

These is some debate if this is considered a basic or additional service. More times than not, architects will include this as part of their basic services. Owners should check with the architect if they include this as a basic service. Architects should decide if they want to include it or not. If the architect an owner selects doesn’t offer this as a basic service, it is in the owner’s best interests to request it as an additional service. Most owners don’t have the experience to be their own advocate during construction. An architect can help guide and advise the owner to a successful project completion.

Additional Services

Additional services are services that you are not required to include under a basic contract. The more additional services you can offer, the better you can assist your clients. You’ve already won the job and know you will be providing your basic services. Why not make sure your clients are getting everything they might need from you? Additional services also have the benefit of being extra revenue for you.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the additional services you might provide, but it does give a pretty good start on creating your list of additional services.

Alternative Project Delivery Selection

Most of the time, the two project delivery methods that will work the best are either design-bid-build or design-build. They are the standard delivery methods and owners, architects, and contractors know them best. However, sometimes an alternative project delivery would best serve a project. Maybe the owners need to follow an aggressive schedule, or they need to minimize change orders as much as possible.

Whatever the case, an architect will know a wide array of different project delivery methods and they can help pick the right one for the project. The selection of a project delivery method should be the responsibility of the owner, so asking an architect to help would be an additional service that the architect could provide. As such, an additional fee would be included.

Record Drawings

Every property owner of existing buildings should have a set of drawings that record the building as it currently stands. These are helpful for future development of the building and typically architects need them to start work on a project. For many reasons, the owner could lose track of these drawings. If this is the case, they will need to hire an architect to redo them.

Record drawings are not as-built drawings. As-built drawings are defined in the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice as drawings completed by the contractor to document any changes made to the original design during construction. As-built drawings should show the changes made in red ink.

While the two terms were used by architects somewhat interchangeably, it is no longer recommended that architects use the term as-built. The term as-built brings with it liability that architects want to avoid. Because architects create record drawings using information provided by the contractor, they cannot be verified by the architect and there will be no liability issues for the architect.

Sustainable Design

With the increasing focus on environmental concerns, clients are more frequently asking their architects for sustainable design services.Sustainable design services that an architect might offer could include analyzing materials’ impact on health, design for well-being, energy analysis, ventilation and computational fluid dynamics, carbon accounting, project sustainability assessment, e.g., LEED, BREAM, WELL, and workshop facilitation. These services are not offered by every architect, so any architect who does offer them should collect additional fees for this additional service.

Urban Design

In urban settings how the buildings and structures work together to create an enjoyable environment is just as important as the design of the individual buildings.Urban design extends past the design of a single building to focus on groups of buildings, public spaces, transport systems, services, and amenities. As it includes components of architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning, many architects will need to bring on external consultants with expertise in these urban fields. While the scope expands, the architectural contract can grow to match the needs and build a much more holistic project.

Bidding/Negotiating/Price Discussions

Often the architect is the only one on the owner’s side who has experience with construction and how much it costs to build a building. The owner usually has little to no experience with the negotiations. They might not know how much it should cost.

This is where an architect can be extremely helpful. They know what cost is too much and what is too little. They know what changes can be made to lower costs without impacting the integrity of the original design. If a client is uncomfortable doing these kinds of negotiations, it's worth it for them to hire an architect to guide them.

Project Management

This would include any services that the owner doesn’t feel capable of dealing with on their own. This could be the selection of various materials or any coordination with other involved parties.

If an architect is asked to include project management as an add on service, it would typically be included under an hourly rate. Neither the owner nor the architect has a clear idea how this service will look during the project, so an hourly rate versus a flat fee covers both the owner and the architect no matter what arises.

3D Renderings

Thanks to modern design software, architects can now render 3D models of designs. This gives the owner a clear feel for how their building will look. It can also be used as promotional material to gain support for the project. Many times, architects will put together a short film showing a camera moving through the 3D rendering of the project. While basic services would include the design drawings, 3D images are not typically included as a basic service because of the extra cost and time to produce them.

Most clients only care about the deliverable of a beautiful, legible image and not your process for deriving said image. Outsourcing the rendering services to other firms is a common source of revenue for architects.

Feasibility Studies

A feasibility study determines if a project is worth the owner’s investment. Normally, architects will look at the proposed location and other factors to determine if this project will bring the outcome the owner desires. A feasibility study also takes a hard look at the legal right to build what the owner envisions. If codes prohibit the owner from building what they want, a feasibility study would help them figure that out.

Mixed Use Architecture

When owners have a concept for a building that will have a mixed use, they need to find architects who specialize in that type of design. What mixed use means is single buildings that serve as residences, restaurants, workspaces, medical services, or other combinations of building use. More people are wanting buildings that create a village-like feel. This is often combined with urban design to create urban spaces that have micro neighborhoods where people don’t have to travel far to work or play.

Site Selection

Where a building is placed is equally important as the design of the building. Site selection is a multifaceted process that varies depending on the use of the building. Site selection for a retail space will often look at things like the amount of competition and the cost of living in the area. It wouldn’t be great to put a business where it has to fight with several similar businesses or where the locals cannot afford the products or services.

Single family homes will often be a bit different during the site selection process. Usually, the land has already been purchased by the owner. An architect can help situate the home on the best spot on the property.

Building Condition Audits

A building condition audit is done on an already existing building. An architect can help look for structural issues or building components that might be out of code. An audit might look at questions like: how is the building’s overall condition, can the current capacity be safely increased, is the building sufficiently able to serve the owners needs, and how much longer the building can last?

Full-Time Site Representation

Construction administration provided under basic services is a part-time site representation. The architect will only be on site for specific activities, like inspections, testing, or oversight of sensitive construction activities.

In some cases, the owner might need more full-time representation. This could be for legal needs or if the project is complicated. If small failures could cause huge headaches for the owner or put people in danger, full-time oversight might be needed.

Electrical Schematics

While electrical schematics are an important part of the design for a building, architects are under no obligation to provide these. Architects are the most qualified to provide these drawings, as they intimately know the final layout of the design. If a client wants electrical schematics, they will need to be included as an additional service with an additional fee.

Cabinetry Elevations

Cabinetry elevations is a more detailed drawing of the configuration and design of cabinets. Typically, cabinetry elevations require a very high level of detail and it can take hours to create this level of design. This is something that is not required by any sort of housing authority. Just like with electrical schematics, architects are the most qualified to create these drawings.They will know what configuration of cabinets will go best with the overall design.

Multiple Contract Preparation

During a project the owner will typically have to prepare multiple contracts with several different entities. Having an architect help to pull together these contracts means the contracts will be more consistent. An architect can also make sure all the components of a contract are included that will make the project run smoothly for the client.

Interior Design

Some architects will provide in-house interior design. If the architect does offer this service, it is worth including as an additional service if the client is looking for an interior designer. It benefits the project to have the holistic approach that includes all design elements from the beginning. It makes for a more complete and cohesive final project.

As we said in the beginning, not every architect will include the same things in basic services and as additional services. What you include as additional services depends on your abilities and strengths. Every client should go through the contract to ensure that the basic services they expect to see are included and that any additional services they might need are in the contract.

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