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Working with an Architect

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Appointing an Architect

 There are several options of appointing an architect for your project:

  1. Interview
  2. RIAI Competitions
  3. Architects’ Charges
  4. RIAI Contracts

1. Interview

Each architectural practice will bring its own design skills and approach to a project. Finding the right architectural practice for your project can bring huge benefits to the end result, while a good working relationship between client and architect will contribute to the success of the project

How to Select

For a large building project, it is advisable to contact three practices to identify the architectural practice that will bring the most appropriate skill set and design approach to your project.  You should feel that the architect listens to your requirements and that there is compatibility.

When interviewing a practice you should ask to see the practice portfolio and/or website, visit completed projects and ask for references from previous clients. You should also enquire about staff qualifications, expertise and offices resources. You should ask to meet the key personnel that will be involved in your project. Importantly, the practice should confirm that they are an RIAI Registered Practice. 

Abbeyleix Library

Abbeyleix Library: Best Conservation/Restoration – 2000 Irish Architecture Awards, de Blacam and Meagher Architects

“The overall attention to detail by the architect is evident in every part of the building and landscaping with favourable comments reported to Laois County Council from all parts of the country. The design as a Library and Art Gallery has proven to be an outstanding success. In a town with an urban population of 1,568 and catchment population of 1,000 approximately, the registered membership of the Library is over 1500 in its first 9 months of operation with over 23,000 visits to the Library and Art Gallery in the same period.”
Client: Laois County Council

The RIAI provides on its website a search tool that enables you to find a registered architect in your area. You can search the RIAI Practice Directory by practice name, if you have already identified a practice, by skill or simply by location. RIAI Practice Directory

If you cannot find a suitable RIAI architectural practice through the Directory, please contact us giving details of the project, address, location and the RIAI can make specific nominations.  Contact us.

How much will this cost?

Most practices will not ask for a fee for a preliminary discussion of your project and will be happy to provide details of their practice and portfolio.  Depending on the location of project, expenses for travel may arise. Clarify this before or at the first meeting.

Charges will arise if you intend to ask a practice (or a number of practices) to carry out a feasibility study, building survey or produce an initial sketch design.

Before you appoint your architect, you need to define the kind of service you require, for example if it involves a historic building or conservation area, it may involve specialist skills such as that of an RIAI accredited conservation architect. 
Important Questions to ask.

An architect will also be able to help you to define your requirements into a full Design Brief.

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2. RIAI Competitions

Competitions are an excellent way to select your architect, particularly for projects of importance both in the private and public sector.  An open competition will take no longer than standard commissioning procedures, particularly for state-funded projects, as the process of brief preparation is accredited. Competitions are considered a challenge by the profession and are likely to produce stimulating and exciting results.

As the representative body for architects in Ireland, the RIAI has a responsibility for architectural competitions nationally, for architectural competitions in the EU in accordance with the regulations of the Architects Council of Europe, and internationally in accordance with the regulations of the International Union of Architects. 

VISUAL Centre, Carlow

Best Cultural Building 2010: VISUAL – Centre for Contemporary Art & The George Bernard Shaw Theatre, Architects Terry Pawson Architects, Commissioned through an RIAI Competition

"The architect's vision and delivery on the building created a series of spaces, which allow for a layered and textured curatorial approach. The mission of VISUAL is to be rooted in our community, while maintaining a robust national and international profile. Simplicity is at the core of the inaugural gallery programme. (…) Judging by the deep breadth of excitement that visitors express on entering the main gallery this has been achieved."
- (Client: Carlow County Council)

Forms of Competition
The main forms of competition are

  • Open Design Competition
  • Invited Design Competition
  • Concept / Architect Selection Competition
  • Open Ideas Competition

Open Design Competitions are used to find the best design solution for a project.
An open competition provides creative, practical and cost-effective solutions to building needs. It can generate publicity and demonstrate a client’s commitment to design quality.  Open design competitions are often run as anonymous two-stage competitions with a selected shortlist from Stage One being asked to develop the initial proposal further in Stage Two. There should be a commitment to appoint the winner.

Invited Design Competitions pre-select a set number of firms who will be invited to submit a design proposal for the competition brief. There is a commitment to appoint the winner and an honorarium is payable to each competitor.

Concept / Architect Selection Competition
This procedure was evolved for clients who wish to have an indication of how particular practices may approach the design problem in questions, and to select the firm which they feel is most appropriate in their case. The amount of work to be submitted by competitors should be limited, because the client does not have an opportunity to develop a brief with the architect. A premium is awarded to each entrant.

Open Ideas Competitions will not give a commitment to proceed beyond the competition stage. Architects are asked to give design ideas in response to a conceptual brief, with the objective to generate innovative thinking.

What the RIAI will provide
The RIAI provides a full range of services to assist clients who wish to commission an architectural competition. It will monitor competition regulations, advise on the appointment of assessors, handle notifications to competitions, registration, competitors questions about the brief, assessment, publicity, exhibitions and the announcement of results. As can be seen from the listing RIAI has managed a wide range of competitions for private sector clients, Government Departments and Agencies and Local Authorities. Contact the RIAI

How much will a competition cost?
Competitions represent a considerable investment in terms of time and overhead costs on behalf of the promoter and on behalf of the architects. The return will likely be an outstanding result that exceeds the expectations of the client, bringing innovative ideas and design proposals to the table. Fees are paid to the assessors and the RIAI will charge an administrative fee for running the competition on your behalf.

Uniquely among the professions, architects, through the medium of architectural competitions, provide and fund a vast quantity of work at virtually no cost to the community.  In return for this investment, architects ask that architectural competitions will be held in accordance with recognised Competition Criteria:

  • The competition should comply with national and international standards; the documentation should provide the best possible level of information and briefing to the competitors
  • There should be experienced architectural assessors of standing
  • The entries should be anonymous
  • The competition should result in a commission to the winner

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3. Architects’ Charges

An architect’s charge depends on the requirements and complexity of each project and the scope of services provided. For this reason, there is no set or standard charge. Charges can also be calculated in different ways, for example as a:

  • Quoted percentage of the total construction cost (ex VAT). This is the most common way to charge
  • Agreed lump sum based on the anticipated work involved (clients and architects may agree to fix a charge)
  • Time charge (hourly or daily) based on the estimated time of a project. (Usually only applies to a limited service, such as a measured survey)

Abbeyleix Library

Abbeyleix Library: Best Conservation/Restoration – 2000 Irish Architecture Awards, de Blacam and Meagher Architects

The architect’s charge is usually drawn down at various project stages, typically coinciding with project milestones such as Initial Design (25%), Developed Design to planning (25%), Detail Design for tenders (25%) and Construction (25%).  At the outset you and your architect should agree these staged payments.

What level of charges?
The RIAI carried out an independent charge survey to ascertain the charges obtained by architectural practices in the open market place for private and public sector building projects. The illustrated graphs provide a reference to the consumer for the purpose of negotiation and agreement between client and architect. Typically for an project up to €500,000 the percentage fee is between 9 and 11 per cent (plus the applicable VAT Rate) of the contract sum (ex VAT).

The survey was carried out late in 2008 and it covers projects designed and constructed during the period 2003-2007. The survey must not be taken as representing, mandatory, minimum or recommended charges.

Download 3 Examples from the RIAI Independent Fee Survey 2007

Expenses and Costs
Your architect will also charge for expenses incurred on your project such as fees for printing and copying of drawings and other documents; site investigations; travel to and from site; and making models (if applicable). Costs could also arise from planning application charges and commencement notices (newspaper and site notice). Some of these expenses and costs may attract VAT. Your architect will advise.

Aside from the architect’s fee, your project may require the input of specialist consultants such as a structural engineer or a quantity surveyor, on larger projects, who will monitor costs. Your architect will obtain quotations for their fees and include them in the overall budget.

Architects are required to agree the services to be provided and the charges at the outset of the project.

4. RIAI Contracts

Once you have identified your architect and agreed to engage them for your project, a contract is drawn up. The RIAI publishes a range of agreements for use by client and architect, which are suited to projects of varying complexity and explain the scope of the services available to the client. Your architect will advise on the most appropriate contract to use. Agreements for other types of projects are also available and examples of the front page of these contracts can be downloaded:
Client / Architect Agreement - Provision of Architectural Services (PDF, 1mb) 

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