Understanding Architectural Services

Architecture is a multifaceted profession that provides a full range of architectural services...

Architecture is a multifaceted profession that involves the design, planning, and construction of buildings and structures of all shapes and sizes. To enable this, architects provide a range of architectural services to help clients bring their vision to life, from the initial concept development stage through to construction management and ultimately completion.

In this article, we explore the various services offered by architects and the benefits that they can bring to clients, along with how architects can enhance their appointment by providing customized levels of service to meet the specific projects needs.

Through providing these necessary architectural services, architects have the opportunity to execute projects effectively whilst building a strong project procurement foundation.

Typical and basic architectural services

An architectural service is a type of professional service that involves the design and planning of a proposed construction project. This can include the creation of architectural drawings and plans, as well as the management of the construction process itself to ensure that a project is completed on time and within budget.

Architectural services are provided by both sole practitioners and firms, and can be appointed via private individuals, businesses, or government agencies for a variety of building projects.

Your countries representing architectural body (for example AIA or RIBA) defines the standard Basic Services that an architect will typically provide. However, before these services commence, it is advisable to outline and create a well-defined project brief through a process known as pre-design, and/or a feasibility study.

This initial step feeds into the below programming stage, and is crucial in establishing a strong foundation for the rest of the project as it identifies the project goals and priorities, the limitations and potential of the site, and feasibility of the budget and timeline.

Architectural Services


The scope of work for the project is determined during the programming phase. This stage does not involve the actual development of design, but instead, engages with the client through questioning to comprehend their problems, desires, and requirements.

This is usually recorded in written form, potentially accompanied by photos of the property taken whilst visiting the site to gain a better understanding of the available space and placement of proposed structures. The architect’s notes may include a discussion of the site’s features and opportunities for the construction.

Research and decision-making also occur during this phase. While this service primarily involves consulting, it is preferable to have a list of the client’s desires and needs by the end of this stage.

Schematic design

Using the program established in the previous phase, here the architect conceptually creates diagrams and/or plans of the proposed project. Some architects may combine design development with schematic design, as some may only produce a rough sketch while others prefer to start a new project in a sightly more refined digital format.

Depending on their preferred method of procurement, the architect may go beyond producing just plans, particularly in commercial projects where it is common to see these accompanied by elevations, and conceptual building sections.

Design development

Architectural Services

The design development phase begins once a schematic design is agreed upon and the scope and quality of the finished project has been deveolped. This phase involves creating additional cost projections to determine if the design fits within the preliminary budget and/or if any adjustments need to be made.

There is no strict right or wrong method for this, as each firm has their own preferred approach. This phase also involves adding additional dimensions to the design and testing them to ensure that various items will fit.

For commercial projects, this phase can become highly detailed, including equipment selection and testing to ensure that it fits within the building shell and arrangement. Energy calculations may also be performed to ensure that the building meets the code requirements through proper function of components such as glass, insulation, and the structure.

Construction documents

The design development phase continues with the creation of working drawings and specifications. These construction documents are necessary to obtain building permits from local municipalities and to solicit bids from contractors for construction.

The documents typically include a full set of plans, sections, elevations, internal room layouts, component drawings, construction details, and specifications that are accompanied by a set of bespoke glazing, door, sanitary, and finish schedules (to name a few).

The architect is usually responsible for coordinating all the building consultants, whether they are under the architect’s umbrella or not. The amount of fee paid to the architect can affect the number of drawings and other items provided.

In residential projects, some architects do not create specifications, while others believe they are essential. In general, the more information provided, the better, as it minimizes the chances of unknown conditions and pricing changes. For commercial projects, working drawings & specifications are almost always included, and the set may include many sheets.

Architectural Services

Additional architectural services

Additional services are optional services that an architect can offer to a client beyond the basic services outlined in the contract. These services can help an architect better assist their clients and provide additional value, and can also generate additional revenue for the architect.

Some examples of additional services an architect might offer include project management, material selection, and coordination with other parties involved in the project. This list is not exhaustive, and architects can choose to offer a variety of additional services based on their skills, expertise, and the needs of their clients.

Record drawings

Record or as-built drawings are a type of architectural drawing that depict the existing conditions of a home or building that is being renovated. These drawings are necessary for an architect to design new improvements to the existing structure, but they may not be available if the owner has lost track of them or never obtained copies.

In this case, the architect may offer to provide record drawings as an additional service.

This usually involves a measured survey, but is important to note that these drawings are not guaranteed to be entirely accurate. The cost of creating these drawings is usually based on an hourly rate, as it is difficult to estimate the amount of time and effort required for this service in advance.

The fee may vary depending on the complexity and size of the project, and the architect will need to decide how much information is necessary for them to design the new improvements. It is also important to note that the architect will not be expected to perform destructive investigations to see concealed elements of the existing structure.

Architectural Services

Alternative project delivery selection

There are several project delivery methods that can be used to complete a construction project, but the most common and well-known methods are design-bid-build and design-build. These methods involve a separation of design and construction services, with the design phase being completed before the construction phase begins.

However, in some cases, an alternative project delivery method may be more suitable for a particular project, such as if the owner needs to follow an aggressive schedule or minimize change orders. Architects are familiar with a range of project delivery methods and can assist the owner in selecting the most appropriate one for the project.

This assistance may be provided as an additional service for which an additional fee would be charged. It is important for the owner to be involved in the selection of the delivery method, as it is their responsibility to choose the method that best meets the needs of the project.

Bidding and negotiation

As a professional with experience in construction and an understanding of the cost of building a structure, an architect is often the only member of the client’s team who has the necessary knowledge and expertise to negotiate the construction process.

The client, who may have little or no experience with construction negotiations, may not know how much the project should cost or how to effectively advocate for their interests. In this situation, the architect can serve as an invaluable resource, providing guidance and support to the client to ensure that the project is completed successfully and within budget.

Architects can therefore help choose a contractor by evaluating competitive bids and assisting in the bid evaluation process. In this role, they act as an advisor to the client, providing guidance and expertise to ensure that the chosen contractor is the best fit for the project.

As an advisor to the client, an architect can be a valuable resource in finding general contractors to bid on a project and in negotiating changes to the project design, features, or quality level to achieve price reductions. Many clients will not be aware of how these changes can impact the overall cost of the project, so the architect’s counsel can be crucial in ensuring that the project remains viable.

It is also common for clients to want to see if the project can be built for less cost, and the architect, with their detailed understanding of the project, can help coordinate price reductions without sacrificing important aspects of the project. This additional service from the architect can be particularly helpful in avoiding problems that could arise if changes are made without the architect’s guidance.

Architectural Services

Construction and contract administration

During the construction phase, the architect works closely with the client to provide ongoing consultation and advice. This may include making on-site visits to ensure that the construction is proceeding in accordance with the design intent and the construction documents. The architect also has the responsibility to evaluate the materials and workmanship to ensure that they meet acceptable standards.

Without this oversight, contractors and suppliers may make changes to the project without the owner’s knowledge, potentially cheapening the project, reducing its durability, increasing its monthly utility charges, and potentially causing structural, leakage, or rot issues.

There is some debate over whether construction administration is a basic or additional service offered by architects. In many cases, architects include this as part of their basic services, but it is important for owners to confirm whether this is the case with their chosen architect.

Many owners may not have the necessary experience or expertise to be their own advocate during construction, making construction administration a valuable service to consider.

Additionally, if an architect is compensated to do so, they can process the contractor’s pay requests and check on the progress of the construction, comparing it to the amount invoiced. This helps to prevent over payment, which can induce a builder to walk off the job after receiving too much money too quickly, leaving the owner with a project that will cost more to complete than remains in the budget.

Many owners may not have the necessary experience or expertise to handle these complex additional services, and hiring an architect to provide this support can be a valuable investment. There are many other activities that can arise during construction, and the architect’s guidance and expertise can help prevent problems and ensure the smooth and successful completion of the project.

Project management

Similar in parts to the above, this is a service that an architect can offer to a client when the client does not feel capable of handling certain aspects of the project on their own. This could include tasks such as selecting materials or coordinating with other parties involved in the project. If an architect is asked to provide project management services as an additional service, it is typically charged at an hourly rate.

This is because it is difficult to predict exactly how much time and effort will be required for this service, and an hourly rate allows both the owner and the architect to be flexible in response to changing needs and circumstances.

Architectural Services

Electrical drawings

Electrical schematics are detailed drawings that show the electrical layout and wiring for a construction project. While an architect may have special knowledge about the organization of the project, including the placement of appliances, cabinets, and room arrangements, they are not typically required to provide electrical schematics as part of their services.

If an owner wants this service, they will need to pay the architect to provide it as an additional service.

Cabinetry drawings

Cabinetry elevations are detailed drawings that show the layout and design of the cabinets in a construction project. These drawings are not typically required by jurisdictional authorities for any domestic or commercial project.

It can take the architect over 100 hours to draw and detail cabinetry elevations for a medium to large house, depending on the level of detail, and this service may be more time-consuming for larger or more complex projects.

While it is not required, it is highly recommended that owners compensate their architect to provide cabinetry elevation drawings, as they can help to ensure a higher quality design and are closely related to electrical schematics.

Sustainable design

As environmental concerns continue to grow in importance, many clients are requesting sustainable design services from their architects.

These services may include analyzing the impact of materials on health, designing for well-being, conducting energy analysis, analyzing ventilation and fluid dynamics, performing carbon accounting, assessing the sustainability of a project using standards such as LEED, BREAM, or WELL, and facilitating workshops on sustainability.

Not all architects offer these services, so those who do should charge additional fees for this additional service.

Urban design

In urban settings, the way that buildings and structures interact and contribute to the overall environment is just as important as the design of individual buildings. Urban design involves the design of groups of buildings, public spaces, transportation systems, services, and amenities, and requires a holistic approach that incorporates elements of architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning.

Architects may need to bring in external consultants with expertise in these areas in order to handle the broader scope of urban design projects. The architectural contract may need to be expanded in order to accommodate the full range of services required for a comprehensive urban design project.

3D rendering

Thanks to modern design software, architects can create 3D models of their designs, which can help clients get a better sense of how the finished building will look. These models can also be used as promotional material to gain support for a project.

Some architects may create short films that show a camera moving through a 3D rendering of the project. While basic services may include design drawings, 3D images are generally not included as a basic service due to the additional cost and time required to produce them.

Many clients are primarily interested in the final, high-quality image, and may not be concerned with the process used to create it. As a result, many architects choose to outsource rendering services to other firms as a source of revenue.

Feasibility study

Feasibility studies determine whether a project is worth an owner’s investment. Architects typically consider the proposed location and other factors to determine if the project will achieve the desired outcome for the owner.

Feasibility studies also assess the legal feasibility of the project, determining whether building codes or other regulations allow the owner to build what they envision. If not, the feasibility study can help the owner understand their options.

Site selection

The location of a building is just as important as its design. Site selection involves considering a range of factors that depend on the intended use of the building.

For example, when selecting a site for a retail space, an architect might consider factors such as the level of competition in the area and the cost of living. It would not be advisable to locate a business in an area with many similar businesses or where the local population may not be able to afford the products or services.

Site selection for single-family homes may be somewhat different, as the land is often already owned by the homeowner. An architect can help the homeowner determine the best spot on the property for the home.

Full-time site representation

Construction administration services typically involve part-time site representation, with the architect present at the construction site for specific activities such as inspections, testing, or oversight of sensitive construction activities. However, in some cases, an owner may require more extensive, full-time representation at the construction site.

This could be necessary for legal reasons, or if the project is particularly complex and small failures could have significant consequences for the owner or pose safety risks. If full-time site representation is requested, it is typically offered as an additional service at an additional cost.

Architectural Services

Interior design

This additional service may include the design of the interior layout and finishes, selection of furniture and decor, and coordination of contractors and installation. It is important for the client to discuss their vision and budget with the architect to ensure that the final design aligns with their expectations.

As with other additional services, the fee for in-house interior design will vary based on the complexity and scope of the project.

Other potential architectural services

Additional services that architecture firms may also provide include:

Historic preservation research, evaluation and design: This refers to the process of researching and evaluating the historical significance of a building or site, and designing renovations or new construction in a way that preserves the historic integrity of the location.

Existing building measurement; preparation of existing building drawings: This service involves measuring and documenting the dimensions, features, and layout of an existing building, and creating drawings of the building’s current state.

Master planning research and analysis: This refers to the process of planning the development of a large area or site over a long period of time. It typically involves researching the site and analyzing various factors, such as land use, traffic patterns, and environmental impacts, to create a comprehensive plan for the development of the area.

Cost estimating related to design options: This service involves estimating the cost of different design options for a project, in order to help the owner make informed decisions about which options to pursue.

Project information surveys: This service involves gathering and organizing information about a project, such as site conditions, building codes, and zoning regulations, in order to help the architect better understand the project and its constraints.

Design team and process/integration management: This service involves managing and coordinating the work of the various professionals and consultants involved in a project, in order to ensure that the design process is efficient and effective.

Water and wastewater use analysis and design: This service involves analyzing the water and wastewater needs of a project, and designing systems to meet those needs in an efficient and sustainable manner.

Space utilization, functionality, economic and pre-design analysis: This service involves analyzing the functional requirements and economic feasibility of a project, in order to determine the most effective use of space and resources.

Indoor air quality and interior analysis: This service involves analyzing the indoor air quality and interior environment of a building, in order to identify potential health or comfort issues and design solutions to address them.

Accessibility (ADA, Vermont Access Rules) reviews and design: This service involves reviewing and designing buildings to ensure that they meet accessibility standards, such as the Americans with Disabilities

To conclude…

In summary, an architect provides a full range and spectrum of services that help bring a construction project to fruition. These services can include design, construction documents, construction administration, along with additional services such as project management, alternative project delivery selection, and sustainable design to name just a few.

Not all architects offer the same services, so it is important for clients to carefully review their contracts to ensure that they are receiving the services they need and expect. Additional services may incur additional fees.

FAQ’s about architectural services

What are the 5 basic architectural services?

The five basic architectural services are:

  1. Programming: This is the process of identifying the needs and requirements of the client.
  2. Schematic Design: This is the creation of a conceptual design that meets the needs identified in the programming phase.
  3. Design Development: This is the refinement of the schematic design into a more detailed design.
  4. Construction Documents: This is the creation of detailed drawings and specifications that will be used to construct the building.
  5. Construction Administration: This is the oversight of the construction process to ensure that the building is being constructed according to the construction documents.

What type of service is architecture?

Architecture is a professional service that involves the design and planning of buildings and other structures. Architects are trained professionals who have the knowledge and skills necessary to design and plan the construction of buildings and other structures that are functional, safe, and aesthetically pleasing.

They work with clients to understand their needs and goals, and then develop designs and plans that meet these needs. In addition to designing and planning, architects also provide a variety of other services, including site selection, feasibility studies, construction administration, and project management.

What are the architectural design services?

Architectural design services refer to the process of creating plans, drawings, and other documents that describe the design of a building or structure. These services may include the initial design concept, detailed design drawings, and construction documents, as well as any necessary revisions or modifications throughout the design process.

Other services that may be included in architectural design services are site analysis and planning, code analysis, material selection, and technical specifications. The scope of architectural design services can vary depending on the specific project and the needs of the client.

What are 5 things architects do?

There are many things that architects do, but some common tasks include:

  1. Meeting with clients to understand their needs and preferences for a project
  2. Developing design concepts and creating detailed drawings and plans for buildings and structures
  3. Coordinating with engineers and other specialists to ensure that designs are feasible and meet all necessary regulations and standards
  4. Visiting construction sites to ensure that projects are being built according to the plans
  5. Providing advice on materials, finishes, and other design-related decisions to clients and contractors during the construction process.
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