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Why architectural fees increase with building finishes

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The industry norm is for architectural service fees to be calculated based on the expected construction costs of a building. This is the method recommended by the South African Council for the Architectural profession and we have published articles on the topic before. (

There is, however, one aspect of such a fee structure which clients sometimes struggle to understand. A significant part of the cost of construction depends on the quality and type of finishes the owner of a building wants. A cheap tile from a local tiling warehouse, for example, will cost a fraction of what you would expect to pay for imported Italian marble tiles. So why should the architectural fees increase when this doesn’t change the design of the building?

Well the answer to that question depends entirely on how good or bad your architectural professional is. If the appointed architectural professional is providing bad quality architectural services, then yes- the design of the building won’t change. But did you know that large format tiles (the expensive, imported kind which are currently quite popular) need to be specified and laid out on plan and elevation completely differently from regular tiles? Have you ever been in a house with real wooden floors and odd little level changes everywhere? That’s because real wooden floors are thicker than other kinds of floors, which means the floor should be designed with different screed levels to avoid this. The transition and detailing between these different materials should also receive a lot of thoughtful attention from the designer to achieve an elegant result. There are similarly complex considerations for every kind of finish from paint to light fittings and if these considerations don’t form part of the design, the result is expensive wastage, redoing of work and, most tragically, a mediocre or even bad final product.

Quality architectural services don’t stop with basic drawings which show where the walls and important features are located. Most architects will be willing to provide that service if it is all that is required, but combining such a service with a desire for upmarket finishes in a building is sure to result in many costly and unsightly mistakes. Those architectural professionals who price with a method that makes the level of finish irrelevant to the price don’t pay the bills by rendering high quality and thoughtful services for which they are not being paid, so these details then go unresolved. Even with a basic or partial services architectural appointment, items like the amount of glazing desired can drastically change the specifications and amount of overhangs which the architectural professional must design to meet legal energy efficiency requirements.

The truth is that investing in high quality finishes for your building is a huge gamble unless the architectural professional is being paid to include these in the design of the building. Hiring a professional who takes the level of finishes required on a building into account when pricing architectural services is the best way to make sure the necessary design considerations are made.



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