12 Apr 2008

How to sack an architect

Interesting question today at the Homebuilding & Renovating show on which I was stumbling over the answer, when up turned Julian Owen, leading figure in ASBA. The questioner had used an architect for planning drawings but wasn’t overly impressed by the service and didn’t want to employ him for the follow-on stage, the detailed drawings, and was looking to appoint someone else. However the architect was acting miffed and said he couldn’t have the drawings because they were copyrighted and he had to employ him for the follow-up stage as well. An impasse had ensued.

Julian reckoned that the architect in question was pulling a fast one. Unless the client had specifically signed a contract with the architect saying that he would employ him to undertake a complete design service, then there was no way he could insist that he should be hired for the rest of the work. As for copyright issues, he thought that was a red herring because there now existed a licence for the client to build the plans as drawn on the site in question (though not, interestingly, on a different site). He suggested that the client had a right to have and to use the plans as drawn, provided he had fulfilled his side of the bargain – i.e. he had paid. This had been proved in case law with paper plans, though not, as far as he knew with electronic CAD drawings, but it’s unlikely that they would be treated any differently.

Thinking about it, the architect’s position was basically untenable because if the relationship had broken down, there is no way the client would want to use his services again and digging his heels in like this would gain the architect nothing more than a reputation for being truculent. He suggested that a way of ending the impasse might be to offer the said architect a small fee, like £50, to pass on the CAD drawings to someone else.


  1. Agreed, on all points except the offer of £50. Probably not a fair offer for detailed CAD drawings.

    His fee proposal should have clearly stated the work for each stage. If not, then the total should be able to be broken down into recognisable chunks when held up against the RIBA plan of work.

    1. But if the CAD drawings are already drawn (assuming paid for) then the 50 is just for transfer.

  2. AnonymousJuly 15, 2008

    Spot on - and another reason not to use a RIBA architect on a home build.

    The RIBA standard contract that most are likely to be working under makes it very difficult to get rid of a 'wrong-un'.

    Personal experience is that you're offered a reasonable price(ie competitive with non-RIBA members) for the planning app but then find you're locked in to using them for the rest of the process because they claim the copyright for work you've already paid them to do - You can only use it if you buy their full suite of services (which are rather less competitively priced and which you probably won't want).

    Even getting a replacement to create a new set of drawings from scratch risks a breach of copyright case.

    If you must use a RIBA person then do yourself a favour and put in writing that you won't under any circumsatnces engage them for more than one discrete phase of work at a time (and you expect to be able to use that work at the end of the phase) - Waiting until they offer you a contract after the initial piece of work isn't necesarily enough.

  3. . . .following on from anonymous and as a RIBA registered architect I would take issue that being a RIBA architect suddenly makes me unreasonable and contractual!

    Specifically in regard to Residential work, I work very much according to the needs of my clients and have always offered them discreet phases for using my services - offering to help where I am required, rather than making them feel that they can't live without me! A 3m x 2m single storey extension does not really need full services, unless the client is completely a fish out of water.

    I would suggest that any client who does not feel comfortable when getting into an arrangement with an architect, contractor or other, should assess whether they are doing the right thing or not.

    I break my services down in the following manner - Concept to Planning, Building Regs., Tender Docs., Project Management - however no matter how you break it down, I make my living when I get past Planning and generating the required CAD drawings have an investment value to me. If a client wishes to terminate and use another person to continue with their project for whatever reason (I have not to date had a terminal breakdown in relationship, so cannot account for this situation) I would be willing to pass on paper drawings for £50 but for CAD drawings it would be a more substantial sum - £250+ - mainly because I generate my early plans to a high level so that the latter stages are easier for me.

    So you can offer a full service, in a modular fashion, all I ask my clients, is that as long as they instruct to proceed with each stage that it is recognised as a commitment to pay for the full stage fee - as long as I do my job of course!

  4. My issue seems to be the other way round. An architect trying to duck out of an agreement to produce buildable plans at an agreed price.

    Informed by 'The Housebuilders Bible' (Sixth Edition) and assisted by the blog 'What is it with architects and contracts?' I felt brave enough to agree a price and commision a local architect to assist through planning and building regs up to the final production of 'buildable plans'.

    It is a modest house extension.

    Although at our first meeting I heard much about 'seven years of training', he now advises me that I (not he!) require the services of a structural engineer to design the roof. An additional fee of some £400 will be required.

    It seems that he could design the construction of a hipped roof using trusses,(the manufacturer doing the calculations required). His experience tells him, however, that builders prefer to cut timber on site when adding an extension to an existing roof.

    Is this really how things work?

    If this issue is not covered in the new seventh edition of H.B.Bible, might it be considered for the eighth edition.

  5. It's an interesting point. And yes, this is the way things go. Having said that, a small hipped truss arrangement is likely to be just as expensive as a cut roof plus engineers calcs, but even so, why should an architect not include an allowance for subcontract fees in their quotation? I don't know the answer.

  6. Thanks for your prompt and helpful response.

    Much encouraged, and better informed, I will be having further conversations.

  7. It's interesting that none of these comments mention design quality. In my experience you get what you pay for and if you have no interest in this, why not just use a surveyor to draw up your extension?

    Another thing that should be pointed out is that architects make most profit on planning and by the time the project reaches site they they are, at best, just covering their costs. They are usually very pleased to pass the project on at this stage.

  8. To follow up Mark's question about why architect's do not include other consultants fees in their own quotation, they are specifically directed in their professional indemnity insurance policies not to employ other consultants within their appointment. It is in their client's interest not to void their policy.

  9. It is true that it must be 'in the clients interest' not to void the professional indemnity insurance.

    Surely it is also 'in the clients interest' to advise them of this fact, when agreeing a specific fee for an agreed specific outcome.

    Is it not 'misrepresentation' to fail to do so?

  10. Addition to the above comment.

    Instead of the using the term 'misrepresentation', I should have said 'knowingly misleading'.

    Conduct and Competence Standard 1.1