WCPGW: Architects as agents for change – part 2

A member has written in to What could possibly go wrong? saying that they are losing work because clients don’t see architects as the right choice for contract admin.

Peter Finn says ‘If we were as good at getting things built as we are at designing them this could be less of an issue’.


Dear What could possibly go wrong?

After a recent meeting with a potential client they told me that they’d like me to do the design work and town planning application but after that they think they’ll go with a project manager. This is not the first time that this has happened but it is the first time a client has said it up front, previously others have engaged me for the lot and then bailed after planning approval, very annoying. They also said that the drafter would cost less but the project manager would be a little more than my fees but overall it is less. Don’t like this trend, can anything be done?


Dear ArchiTeam member,

You are not the only one in small practice to report this approach. The market place quite rightly sees architects as the leading expert in design, even though the ‘shock of the new’ can take a bit of getting used to at times, but the track record is not as good in other areas.

As a consequence the market has spawned project managers stepping into an opportunity created by both architects and the regulatory system.

Through the ARBV the title ‘architect’ is restricted but not the type of services provided by an architect, there is no restriction on any ‘project manager’ saying they can do the same work. This archaic regulatory system is left over from a bygone time when entry to the ‘architect’s club’ was the main game. These days there are ‘project managers’ aplenty but the term is a difficult one for clients to get a handle on, except that overall it costs less and they … manage the project, whatever that is. How will the future play out if this continues? Will architects be eventually left with just design only?

To reclaim the position of the top order in the hierarchy it must be through recognised excellence not only in design but also in getting our work built.

If we want things to change we must first change ourselves. If we were as good at getting things built as we are at designing them this could be less of an issue. Perhaps a bit simplistic because in the design phase it is on the most part controlled by us, the building bit is where the battle is – the builder needs to control the site, trades and progress and we need to control the process. We both want a great outcome but are driven by different motives.

The builder is always looking for a commercial result, profit. Some builders look to enhance their bottom line by attacking the contract docs and contingency allowance looking for variations, EoT claims, cutting corners, substitutions etc. There are many stories about project cost blowouts which are usually simply assigned to ‘the architect’ regardless of what actually happened.

The architect is always looking for the realisation of the design outcome not increasing the builder’s profit.

These differing motives don’t make for happy bedfellows but this is exactly why it is so important for the client that the architect administers the contract and defends the project. We just need to be better at it. This will only come about by a better education on how to do it. Also, rarely can a design type architect also mix it on site when ankle deep in wet cement with the alligators snapping at you.

I participate in the ArchiTeam peer support program, no one ever rings me about design issues but I sure get a lot of calls during construction.

The architect’s education is focused around design, the one constant throughout the seemingly endless years at Uni. In the real world it is the reverse; this is reflected in the fee structure PD, SD, DD are around 30% which means 70% of the time and work is getting it built. This is also recognised in the examination topics for registration.

One of the world’s great buildings is here on our shores in Sydney. A design icon and a notorious disaster in getting it built, cost and time blowouts, political infighting, the architect sacked never to see it completed. This is a well known story in the market place which has recently been publicly revisited, again.

Within all this is the need to demonstrate in real terms the actual dollar value of using an architect. This is a serious business and if you’re serious about it, it is imperative that you support the crowdfunded research being undertaken by Melbourne Uni and ArchiTeam. Yes, you actually need to put your hand in your pocket on this one.

Contract admin can be a harsh business and not everyone is suited to it. If it is not for you either through inexperience or not your area of interest, team up with someone who can do it – very well.

Peter Finn, architect.
ArchiTeam director.


Disclaimer – ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ is not an advice column, it is only general comment from ArchiTeam who are not aware of your circumstances with any issue that you may have. You cannot rely on these general comments, each member must make their own decisions about any action they should take and seek independent advice of their own if they are unsure.