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The Structure & Scope of Architectural Services

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Architectural involvement in any building project ordinarily consists of a large collection of services which may otherwise be offered separately. The vast number of services generally included can make it difficult for clients to understand exactly what is being offered by an architect as part of their quote. Our entry on how much architects charge ( makes the point that understanding the differences in scope of services is probably the most important factor in being able to fairly compare architectural quotes.

A common misconception, and one that is especially prevalent among residential clients, is that an architect’s involvement with a project normally only extends to the completion of drawings approved by the municipal authority for construction. This may indeed be typical among draughtspeople, but for higher categories of registration like that of Professional Architects, this is not usually the case. If you want to understand the differences between these registration categories more clearly, be sure to check out our entry on the topic (

The South African Council for the Architectural Professional (SACAP), with whom all architectural professionals are legally required to be registered, defines a “standard” architectural service as including 6 work stages that extend far beyond the municipal approval of building plans. These work stages are:

1. Project Initiation (2% of fees)

2. Concept Design (15% of fees)

3. Design Development (20% of fees)

4.1 Local Authority Submission (10% of fees)

4.2 Construction Documentation & Tender (20% of fees)

5. Construction (30% of fees)

6. Close-Out (3% of fees)

As per the stages above, SACAP recommends that 47% of the architectural fees be allocated to the work up to and including stage 4.1, which ends with obtaining municipal approval of the building plans. This is sometimes referred to as Partial Services and most design-focussed architects would rightly charge more than this percentage when only providing that part of the services due to the value of intellectual property provided. Nevertheless, it is clear from this table that a very substantial part of the work in a standard architectural service is rendered during the construction process. It is this part of the work which ensures the building is built in line with the design vision and that a high level of quality is maintained throughout the construction.

Foregoing architectural involvement in the construction process is thus an effective way of saving money on architectural fees, but doing so means that quality control and the management of changes must be done by the client or someone else with the construction knowledge and understanding of the design necessary to preserve its integrity. Unforeseen circumstances and consequent changes are an unavoidable part of the construction process, so the decision to appoint an architectural professional only for partial services must be carefully weighed against the client's level of experience, the skill of the other professionals involved and the size of the project. Limited design and construction experience on the part of the client and other professionals involved, or greater size and value of the project drastically increases the risk factor associated with a partial services appointment.

It is worth mentioning that a full architectural service normally includes the role of principal agent which involves the architect being signed into the construction contract to administer the process on behalf of the client. This is separate from general architectural involvement and quality control during construction and can be done by the client or another professional such as a quantity surveyor or project manager. Importantly though, it is a large amount of admin and responsibility, so architects can offer a discount for being appointed to all 6 work stages if they don't take on the role of principal agent. In terms of the South African Council for the Architectural Profession's (SACAP) recommended fee scales, the suggested discount for not taking on the role of principal agent is 10% of the fees for work stages 5 and 6.

The factors highlighted above are only the most common ways in which service structures can be changed to bring down the architectural fees and are all based on the standard provisions defined by SACAP. It may be possible to negotiate far more specific exclusions in an architectural professional’s services and some service providers may even exclude what SACAP defines as normally being part of a given work stage in an effort to bring down their fees. The latter approach could be highly detrimental to a project if the implications aren’t well understood. A more detailed breakdown of which activities SACAP defines as being part of each work stage can be found in SACAP’s officially published Professional Fee guideline which can be downloaded from their website via the following link:

Architecture firms can and often do create their own custom service packages which may bundle other services not mentioned in SACAP's standard definitions. Examples include services like 3D renders, animations, virtual reality experiences, etc. These can add immense value to the design process and can be absolutely necessary on larger or more unique projects, but the pricing of these custom service packages then differ from SACAP's recommended price adjustments. Xeno-Urban Architects, for example, has basic, standard and premium packages which vary in terms of work stages and administrative rolls as well as a number of non-standard services that make a massive difference to the quality of the design process and the communication thereof. Importantly though, the exact differences between each service package is clearly outlined in our quotations which allows clients to compare these packages fairly.

Ultimately, architectural service packages can be customised to suit the needs of a particular client or project. The standard architectural service as defined by SACAP is only a guideline which serves as a useful reference for what an acceptable quality architectural service normally entails and, in combination with the professional fee guidelines, provides a useful comparison for pricing such a service. Any architectural quote must thus be evaluated in the context of services subtracted from or added to the standard services to determine both how reasonable the pricing is and how appropriate the service offering is. Drastic price differences from the recommended fees must be accompanied by an equally drastic and well understood difference in included services, otherwise it is fair to assume that the quality of service provided will be extremely low. When lower prices are accompanied by well-defined exclusions or limits to services, clients must carefully consider if the appropriateness to their project of the service package on offer and the risk associated with reduced architectural involvement.



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