Structuring the relationship

Project designed by Aline Architecture; Photo: Dan Cutrona

It is customary for an architect to be paid in several stages rather than with full payment at the end of the job. A down payment or retainer may be required prior to start-up. In most cases, an architect’s fee includes compensation for structural-, mechanical- (heating, ventilation, plumbing, and air-conditioning), and electrical-engineering consultants the architect may need to hire for your project.

Architects’ fees are determined in one of three ways:

  1. As a percentage of the total construction costs, which varies in proportion to the project’s size and complexity
  2. On an hourly-fee basis plus expenses
  3. As a “lump-sum” fee agreed on in a written contract that includes the fee method, condition, and pricing parameters

The contract

You and your architect should begin your relationship with a written agreement or contract that details your expectations; your architect’s services, fees, and schedule; and all other parameters you and your architect consider important. A thorough, clear written agreement will help prevent misunderstandings or disappointments.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) publishes a variety of contract documents that define the full array of relationships and terms involved in design and construction projects. You can purchase paper documents from the Boston Society of Architects/AIA at or as PDF documents from the AIA at

10 questions to ask your architect

  1. What do you see as important issues or considerations with regard to my project?
  2. Who in the firm will I be working with?
  3. How do you establish fees?
  4. How will I be able to relate fee payments to milestones in your scope of work?
  5. What are the steps in the design process?
  6. What will you show me along the way to explain the project: Models, drawings, or sketches?
  7. If the scope of the project changes, will there be additional fees?
  8. If the builders’ bids exceed my budget, will you revise the design and will this carry a cost?
  9. How disruptive will construction be?
  10. How long do you expect it will take to complete my project?