Understanding the range of services architects provide is crucial for anyone embarking on a building project. This is important not only for an overall understanding of the process, but also in order to properly assess your goals for the project and set things up for success from the beginning. There is a large menu of options that can be included in any project. Clarity from the start helps you design contracts, establish budgets and make sure that the important pieces are taken care of.

This guide aims to demystify the spectrum of architectural services, focusing initially on the foundational aspect: basic architectural services vs. supplemental architectural services.

What are Basic Architectural Services?

Basic architectural services form the core of an architect’s responsibilities in any construction project. These services are not only fundamental but also vital for achieving the successful realization of a building’s design and construction. They represent the standard duties that an architect is expected to perform under a typical architectural contract. Let’s delve into how these services unfold:

List of Basic Architectural Services

Basic architectural services encompass a range of tasks that establish the sequence of steps taken to bring the project from an idea, to a design, to a set of drawings that a contractor can use to build, and then an oversight of the bidding and construction process. The phases are set up as a playbook, or plan of action, with each step ending in a presentation of images and documents (called a deliverable) that is approved by the client for the architect to move on to the next step. Here’s a list of what these services typically include:

  1. Schematic Design: Schematic Design is the first step, where architects translate the client’s needs and desires into an architectural expression. It involves creating rough sketches and preliminary layouts that outline the basic concepts of the project.
  2. Design Development: At this stage, the initial designs are refined and developed in more detail. Architects make decisions about materials, finishes, and the general construction approach. This phase often involves close collaboration with the client to ensure the evolving design meets their expectations.
  3. Construction Documents: This phase involves the preparation of detailed drawings and specifications that will guide the construction. These documents serve as the legal description of what will be built and include technical details contractors need to realize the architect’s vision.
  4. Bidding and Negotiation: Here, the architect assists the client in obtaining bids from contractors and helps negotiate the terms of the construction contract. This phase ensures the client gets a fair and competitive price for the construction work. (See our article on phases of the design to learn more about our process, and why we rarely put a project out for bid)
  5. Contract Administration (Construction): During the construction phase, the architect plays a pivotal role in ensuring the building is constructed according to the plans and specifications. This includes regular site visits, reviewing and approving the work of contractors, and managing any changes to the plan. This role includes making field reports, fielding questions from the contractor (RFIs) and approving requests for payment (where the architect acts as the client’s representative to make sure the billing is accurate with the work completed.)
  6. Post-Construction Services: After the construction, architects may be involved in post-construction services, such as assisting in project close-out, including any final inspections and approvals needed.

Charging for Basic Services

The charging method for basic architectural services can vary depending on the project’s complexity, the architect’s experience, and the client’s specific needs. Common approaches to billing include:

  1. Percentage of Construction Cost: This is a widely used method where the architect’s fee is a percentage of the total construction cost. The rate can vary but typically ranges from 5% to 20%, depending on the project’s complexity and the architect’s expertise.(Renovations often end up requiring the highest fee, percentage-wise, because of the added complexity, the unknown factors leading to additional custom details that need to be figured out and drawn. Buildings with many repeating elements, like towers with similar floor plans stacked up, might be on the lower end of the fee spectrum.)
  2. Fixed Fee: Some architects charge a flat fee for their services. This method is often used when the project’s scope is well-defined and likely to stay the same.
  3. Hourly Rate: Charging an hourly rate is another standard method, especially for smaller projects or when the scope of work is unclear. This allows for flexibility in billing as the project evolves.
  4. Hybrid Models: In some cases, architects may use a combination of these methods. For example, they might charge a fixed fee for the initial design phases and then switch to an hourly rate for additional services or unforeseen changes.

Once the total budget for basic services is established, billing will be broken down by phase. A typical breakdown would have Schematic Design at 15% of the design budget, Design Development at 20%, Construction Documents at 40%, Bidding at 5% and Construction Administration at 20%. Different firms will allocate the amount of work each phase takes a bit differently.

Understanding these billing methods is crucial for clients to budget effectively for their projects and for architects to set clear expectations about their compensation.

Why a higher fee for higher construction cost? What do you get for higher/lower fees?
Custom design takes more work, quite simply. The details that separate high-end work from standard-grade work are often unique to the project. It takes more time to make the return air vents disappear, to make sure the ductwork is tucked away in the floor and walls and doesn’t require bulkheads, to get everything to line up properly, to design custom paneling, moulding profiles, to make sure the structure doesn’t force you to shrink a window, reducing light and view.

Charging for Basic Architectural Services

What are Supplemental Architectural Services?

Supplemental architectural services extend beyond the basic scope of work typically outlined in a standard architectural contract. These services are additional tasks that an architect can provide, often tailored to the specific needs or desires of the client. While not essential for completing a building’s basic structure, they add significant value and can greatly enhance the overall project.

List of Supplemental Architectural Services

The range of supplemental architectural services can vary, depending on the project’s nature and the client’s requirements. Some of the commonly offered supplemental services include:

  1. Site Analysis and Selection: Before the design process begins, architects can assist in evaluating potential sites for the project, considering factors like location, environment, and zoning regulations. At Vera Iconica, We often get involved in site analysis from a health and wellness standpoint, looking at a variety of factors to find the best location on the site, optimize the room layout, and avoid any hazards that might turn up down the road.
  2. Feasibility Studies: These studies help determine the viability of a project, assessing factors like budget constraints, regulatory issues, and project timelines. This is another pre-design exercise that we often take part in. The more clarity there is about what you, the client, wants to build, and what issues might come up that will make it more difficult, expensive or time consuming, the better.
  3. Wellness and Sustainable Design: With a growing emphasis on environmental sustainability, architects often guide healthier design practices. If you’re looking to pursue a certification like Passive House, LEED, Living Buildings Challenge, and so on, your architect will play a big part in guiding the project toward these goals. The same is true for health and wellness goals, whether it’s pursuing WELL certification, or following Building Biology principles. At Vera Iconica, there is a baseline level of wellness and sustainability expertise that goes into all of our designs. We specify healthy materials and finishes, and recommend high performance (above and beyond code minimums) building envelopes and systems as a starting point. Adding the next level of customized wellness design is determined at the outset, and would be considered a supplemental service.
  4. Interior Design: Beyond the basic structure, architects also design the interior spaces, including selecting finishes, fixtures, and furniture. Architects generally design the architectural level interiors. Designing space is a big part of the project, and the materials are part of the vision. Some firms have an interior design department that will handle more involved selections of furnishings, millwork, colors, finishes, lighting and decor. If a separate interior designer is brought onto the team, it is good to establish clear expectations so the relationship functions smoothly. This can be determined in the initial contract.
  5. Landscape Architecture: This involves the design of outdoor spaces, including gardens, parks, and other green spaces that complement the main structure. Again, the architect will often have a vision for how the landscape surrounding the house will feel, and how it will connect to the experience. A landscape architect might be brought on to bring their expertise to the team.
  6. Historic Preservation: For projects involving historic buildings, architects can provide specialized services to ensure that renovations or restorations align with historical accuracy and preservation guidelines.
  7. 3D Modeling and Rendering: Advanced visualization tools allow architects to create detailed 3D models and renderings of the proposed design, providing a more tangible representation of the final product. Many architects use design software that incorporates 3D modeling as part of their standard work flow. This can help put you inside the design at an earlier phase. Advanced photorealistic renderings take an additional level of work and are there for a supplemental service.
  8. Project Management: Some architects offer comprehensive project management services, overseeing every aspect of the project from start to finish.

Charging for Supplemental Services

The billing for supplemental architectural services can differ from basic services, often reflecting the specialized nature of the work. Common charging methods for these services include:

  1. Fixed Fee or Lump Sum: Architects may charge a fixed fee for well-defined supplemental services. This provides clarity and certainty regarding the service cost for both the client and the architect.
  2. Percentage of Construction Cost: In some cases, particularly for larger or more complex supplemental services, the fee may be calculated as a percentage of the overall construction cost.
  3. Hourly Rate: An hourly rate may be applied for services that are more open-ended or less predictable in scope. This allows for flexibility in billing based on the actual time spent on the service.
  4. Customized Billing Structure: Architects may develop a customized billing structure depending on the nature of the supplemental service and the client’s specific needs. This could involve fixed fees, hourly rates, and percentage-based charges.

While the billing for basic services is done by phase, billing for supplemental services is done independently. These will show up as separate items on the architect’s invoices for the consultants the architect hires and coordinates, and the owner will be billed directly for the consultants they hire.

Understanding the range and billing methods of supplemental architectural services is crucial for clients to make informed decisions and for architects to provide transparent and fair pricing. These services offer the opportunity to tailor the project to the client’s unique vision, ensuring a final product that truly reflects their needs and aspirations.

Charging for Supplemental Services

Vera Iconica’s Architectural Services

At Vera Iconica Architecture, we pride ourselves on our specialized focus in creating spaces that transcend traditional architectural norms. Our approach is not just about meeting aesthetic and functional requirements; it’s about crafting environments prioritizing the well-being and comfort of those inhabiting them. With our unique blend of expertise in residential architecture, hospitality architecture, interior design, and wellness architecture, we offer a holistic approach to architectural services. Join us as we explore these areas, showcasing how we at Vera Iconica distinguish ourselves in these diverse domains.