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Project Management

How to Write a Bulletproof Architectural Contract: (PDF Download Included!)

The architectural contract is the foundation of every successful building project; learn about the types of contracts and key terms to understand.

The architectural contract acts as the bedrock foundation upon which successful projects are built. A well-written contract not only safeguards interests, but it also paves the way for clear communication, understanding, and mutual respect. It can be the difference between smooth sailing and a turbulent storm of misunderstandings, unnecessary costs, delays in the design development, and legal disputes. 

But how exactly do you write a 'bulletproof' architectural contract? A bulletproof architectural contract is comprehensive, detailed, and addresses potential challenges that may arise during a project. 

In this blog, we'll take you through key aspects and considerations to help you craft a bulletproof architectural contract, ensuring a smoother project lifecycle and minimizing potential hiccups along the way. 

Begin by Understanding the Types of Architectural Contracts 

Types of architectural contracts

The Standard Architectural Contract 

A standard architect agreement or contract, often based on templates provided by professional bodies like the American Institute of Architects (AIA), serves as a go-to contract form for many architectural projects. It’s a predefined agreement that covers most common project scenarios and is designed to be fair and balanced to all parties involved. 

This standard form contract usually includes details such as the scope of work, schedule, fees and payment terms, dispute resolution methods, termination conditions, and insurance requirements, among other things. 

When Should the Standard Architectural Contract be Used? 

The standard architectural contract is best for many standard or typical architectural projects where the project scope, schedule, and other professional services key elements are relatively straightforward and adhere to common architecture and construction industry practices. 

It's also an excellent starting point for new architects or clients unfamiliar with the process, as it covers the essential elements in an accessible format, although customization might still be required to suit the project's specifics. 

Lump Sum or Stipulated Sum Contract 

A Lump Sum or Stipulated Sum Contract refers to a type of contract where the architect agrees to provide specified services for a pre-determined price. The architect will carefully estimate the cost of the entire project and provide a single 'lump sum' price. 

The advantage of this contract is its simplicity and certainty: the client knows exactly what they'll pay for the project, fostering budgetary confidence. 

When Should the Lump Sum or Stipulated Sum Contract be Used? 

This contract is typically used when the project scope is clearly defined, and the schedule is well-detailed, leaving little room for unexpected revisions or variations. 

For this type of contract to operate effectively, it's important that the contractor furnishes cost estimates that are as precise and exhaustive as possible. 

Cost Plus Contract 

A Cost Plus Contract involves paying the architect for actual costs, purchases, and other expenses directly incurred from the construction work, plus an additional amount for profit. The additional amount may be a fixed sum or a percentage of the total costs. 

The primary advantage of a Cost Plus Contract is flexibility – it allows adjustments to the project scope and design without having to renegotiate the whole contract. 

When Should the Cost Plus Contract be Used? 

A Cost Plus Contract is often chosen when the scope of the project isn't fully defined at the outset, or when the project involves high levels of complexity or uncertainty, making it challenging to estimate costs accurately. 

A Percentage of Construction Cost Contract 

In a Percentage of Construction Cost Contract, the architect's fee is based on a percentage of the total cost of the construction of the project. The percentage is typically agreed upon beforehand and is often used in projects where the total construction cost could vary or isn't known at the outset. 

Its advantages include flexibility and scalability; the architect's fee will adjust in line with the final cost of the project, keeping it proportionate. 

When Should a Construction Cost Contract be Used? 

This type of contract is appropriate for projects where the scope might change significantly, or the level of uncertainty is high, making it hard to define a fixed cost. 

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) Contract 

The Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) contract is a contemporary approach to contractual agreements that aims to bring together all stakeholders - architects, contractors, subcontractors, and owners - under one contract. The goal is to foster a cooperative, collaborative environment that encourages shared goals and success metrics before hitting the project site. By doing so, it promotes collective decision-making, shared risk and reward, and improved project outcomes through efficient and effective use of all participants' skills and insights. 

The advantage of an IPD contract is that it can lead to innovative solutions, cost savings, and increased satisfaction due to the collective 'one-team' approach. 

When Should Integrated Project Delivery be Used? 

An IPD contract is particularly well-suited for complex or large-scale projects where collaboration, efficiency, and innovation are critical for success. It's an ideal choice when the project involves numerous stakeholders, all with significant contributions to the project's outcome. It’s also beneficial when the owner wishes to actively participate in the project's design and construction process. 

Design and Build Contract 

A Design and Build Contract is a project delivery system where the design and construction services are contracted by a single entity known as the design-builder or design-build contractor. 

The design-build approach also allows for a high degree of project delivery speed, as design and construction of the project can happen simultaneously, reducing the overall timeline. It is advantageous in situations where fast project delivery is crucial, and there's a high degree of trust in the design-build contractor to deliver quality results. 

When Should the Design and Build Contract be Used? 

This contract type is often preferred when a client wishes to deal with a single point of responsibility in a contracted arrangement, streamlining the process and fostering clearer communication. 

Design Bid Build Contract 

The Design Bid Build Contract represents the traditional method for project delivery, where the project is broken down into two distinct stages: design and construction. 

The design phase involves an architect or designer who works closely with the client to finalize the design. Upon design completion, the project is then put out to bid for contractors to execute the build. 

One key advantage is that it allows for a competitive bidding process for the construction phase, potentially leading to cost savings. The separation of design and construction can provide the client with greater control over the project's design. 

When Should the Design Bid Build Contract be Used? 

This contract is often preferred in situations where the client wishes to keep the design and construction phases distinct, or when the project's scope, scale, renovations, reproductions, and outcome need to be strictly controlled. 

Add These Terms to Your Architectural Contract 

The cornerstone of any successful project is a clear and well-defined architect-client relationship, which is best achieved through a comprehensive architectural contract. This document assigns the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of both parties, eliminating ambiguities and ensuring that each party is on the same page. 

Beyond clarity, a contract serves to protect the interests of both the architect and client. It outlines the scope of work, payment terms, intellectual property rights, dispute resolution mechanisms, and other key elements, thus safeguarding both parties from potential miscommunications or disputes. 

A robust architect contract can also provide legal remedies if one party fails to meet their obligations. The contract can ensure the quality and legality of architectural services. 

Each of the following terms should be clearly defined in the contract documents to ensure both parties understand their rights and responsibilities and scope of services. 

Download these terms as a PDF to save, print, and share.



Scope of Work 

The ‘Scope of Work’ is an important term in any architectural contract, serving as a blueprint for the architect's responsibilities and the services they’ll render throughout the project. 

It outlines what the client can expect from the architect and plays a pivotal role in setting clear, mutual expectations. A well-defined scope can mitigate misunderstandings, prevent scope creep, and serve as a reference point in case of disputes. 

The 'Scope of Work' needs to be as comprehensive and precise as possible, detailing the various project phases, from preliminary design and concept development, to design execution, construction documentation, site supervision, and even post-construction services like project handover or follow-ups. 

Its application and specifics can vary based on the nature of the project and the size of the architectural firm. For instance, a smaller firm may not have the capacity to offer extensive post-construction services, while a larger firm might. Similarly, a simple residential project might require less detail in the scope compared to a complex, multi-use commercial development that uses more designs. 

It's important for architects to customize the 'Scope of Work' in the contract documents to align with their capabilities, the project's requirements, and the client's expectations. Changes in the project's scale or complexity should be reflected in an updated 'Scope of Work', ensuring it remains an accurate and relevant guide throughout the project's life cycle. 


The 'Schedule' in an architectural contract is essentially the project's timeline, mapping out when specific milestones should be met and marking the path to the final completion date. It is an indispensable tool for project management, ensuring that all parties involved have a clear understanding of the project's pace and timing. 

Depending on the size and scope of the project, the schedule can be basic or highly detailed. For a smaller project or a firm with less capacity, a high-level schedule with key milestones might suffice. However, for larger, more complex projects or larger firms managing multiple projects simultaneously, a more detailed schedule that includes intermediate milestones, review times, buffer periods for potential delays, and clear deadlines for decision-making may be beneficial. 

Customization of the schedule according to the project's specific requirements and the firm's capacity is crucial. For example, an architect working on a residential project with a straightforward design might set a shorter timeline than one working on a complex, large-scale commercial project. Additionally, the schedule must account for elements beyond the architect's control, like permitting or client decision-making time. Therefore, flexibility and regular updates are key to maintaining an effective schedule throughout the project's lifespan. 

Fees and Payment Terms 

‘Fees and Payment Terms’ is a critical component of an architectural contract that lays out how the architect will be compensated for their services in the final payment. It encompasses the fee structure, payment schedule, and terms for any additional services. A well-articulated 'Fees and Payment Terms' clause provides clarity and transparency, aids in budgeting and financial planning for both parties, discusses the possibility of additional cost, and helps prevent disputes down the line. 

The choice of fee structure—whether it's a fixed fee, an hourly rate, a percentage of the construction costs, or a hybrid approach—can vary based on the nature of the project and the firm's preferred business model. 

A smaller firm or a project with a tightly defined scope might prefer a fixed fee, providing predictability for both the client and architect. In contrast, an hourly rate or percentage of construction costs may be more appropriate for larger projects or firms, where the work's scope might be more fluid or the project's duration more extended. 

Customizing the payment terms based on the project's specifics and the firm's financial needs is also crucial. It could include progress payments, milestone-based payments, or regular intervals like monthly or quarterly. The terms for additional services should clearly define what constitutes an extra service and how it will be billed. 

Dispute Resolution 

The 'Dispute Resolution' clause sets the framework for resolving potential disagreements or conflicts that might arise during the project. By specifying preferred methods of resolution, such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation, it aims to provide a structured, fair process to handle disputes. 

This clause is vital because it proactively addresses the potential for conflict, offering a roadmap for resolution that can save both parties significant time, stress, and financial resources. 

The choice of dispute resolution method often depends on the scale of the project and the nature of the potential disputes. For smaller firms or projects with less complex scopes, a simple negotiation process may suffice. Here, the parties involved can directly discuss and attempt to resolve issues. However, for larger firms or more complex projects, more formal methods like mediation or arbitration can be beneficial. These methods involve a neutral third party who assists in reaching a resolution. 

Regardless of the method chosen, customization of the dispute resolution clause is essential. The process needs to align with the firm's capabilities, the project's specifics, and the preferences of both parties. The clause should clearly define the process, from initial notification of the issue through to the final steps of resolution. 

Intellectual Property Rights 

This refers to the ownership and rights related to the designs, drawings, plans, and other intellectual outputs produced during the course of the project. This is a crucial element in the contract, as it protects the architect's creative rights and defines the extent to which the client can use the designs. 

The specifics of these rights can vary based on the nature of the project and the size of the firm. In some cases, architects may retain full ownership of their designs, granting the client a license to use them for the specific project. This is common in larger firms or more unique, creative projects where the designs are a significant part of the architect's portfolio and brand. 

For smaller firms or more utilitarian projects, the contract may transfer full ownership rights to the client upon payment. This can simplify the process and provide the client with more freedom in the project's future use, but it does mean the architect loses control over their designs. 

Whichever approach is taken, the terms of intellectual property rights should be clearly spelled out in the contract. They should define who owns the designs, how they can be used, whether they can be modified, and what happens if the contract is terminated. Clarity in these terms can prevent future disputes and ensure fair treatment of both parties' interests. 

Termination Clause 

The 'Termination Clause' outlines the conditions under which either the architect or the client can bring the professional relationship to an end. It is a crucial safety valve for both parties, providing a clear and agreed-upon exit strategy should the project encounter insurmountable challenges, or should the relationship between the parties break down. A well-defined termination clause protects both parties, facilitating an orderly and amicable separation, and reducing the risk of legal disputes. 

The specific conditions and processes for termination can vary significantly based on the project's nature and the firm's size. For instance, in smaller projects or firms, termination might be allowed for any reason, provided adequate notice is given. In larger projects or firms, termination clauses may be more detailed, specifying allowable reasons for termination such as non-payment, breach of contract, or insurmountable changes to the project scope. 

It's essential to customize the termination clause to suit the specifics of the project and the dynamics of the relationship between the architect and client. The clause should define what constitutes a valid reason for termination, the notice period required, any penalties or costs associated with termination, and the procedure for handing over work. 

Insurance and Liability 

‘Insurance Liability’ refers to the kinds and amounts of insurance that the architect must have, and how issues related to liability will be handled. It serves as a safety net, protecting both the architect and the client from potential financial losses due to unforeseen events or mistakes. 

Depending on the size of the firm and the scope of the project, the types and levels of insurance required can vary. For instance, a smaller firm working on a residential project might only need basic professional liability (also known as 'errors and omissions') insurance, while a larger firm taking on a high-profile commercial project might also need additional coverage types, like general liability, workers' compensation, or property insurance. 

Liability clauses in architectural contracts also need to be adapted to the project's specifics. They should clearly define the extent of the architect's responsibility for different types of potential issues, like design errors, delays, or budget overruns. For example, an architect might be held liable for design errors but not for delays caused by the contractor or unforeseen site conditions. 

Change Orders 

‘Change Orders’ refers to the agreed-upon process for implementing changes to the project after the contract has been signed. Given the complex and often fluid nature of architectural projects, change is almost inevitable, whether due to shifting client needs, unforeseen site conditions, changes in applicable laws or regulations, or other factors. 

The specifics of the change order process can vary significantly based on the project's scope and the firm's size and the architect’s services. For smaller firms or simpler projects, change orders might be relatively informal, consisting of agreed-upon adjustments to the project's scope, schedule, and/or budget. For larger firms or more complex projects, the change order process is likely to be more formal and structured, often requiring detailed documentation, approval processes, and adjustments to fees and schedules. 

A well-crafted 'Change Orders' clause in the contract should outline how potential changes will be identified, who can initiate a change, how changes will be documented and approved, and how they will impact the project's cost and timeline. It should also specify any limitations or conditions on changes, such as deadlines for requesting changes or restrictions on the types of changes that can be made. 


‘Confidentiality’ is a crucial term that restricts both the architect and the client from disclosing confidential or proprietary information shared during the course of the project. It helps to build trust between the parties and can be vital in protecting competitive advantage, privacy, and other key interests. 

The specifics of the confidentiality clause can vary depending on the project's nature and the firm's size. For instance, in a large firm working on a high-profile project, the confidentiality clause might be particularly stringent, with severe penalties for breaches and provisions to protect trade secrets or unique design concepts. On the other hand, for a small firm working on a more straightforward residential project, the confidentiality clause might be more focused on protecting the client's personal information and project details. 

Regardless of the specifics, a well-crafted confidentiality clause should clearly define what information is considered confidential, how that information can and cannot be used, how long the confidentiality obligation lasts, and what happens in the event of a breach. 


‘Warranty’ often refers to the promise that the architect's services will meet certain standards of quality and performance. It provides assurance to the client that the architect will deliver services in line with agreed-upon professional standards, including adherence to specific design criteria, applicable laws and regulations, and reasonable skill and care in performing the work. 

The nature and scope of the warranty can vary depending on the specific project and the size of the firm. For instance, a large firm working on a complex, high-risk project might provide a more extensive warranty, perhaps including assurances about specific design features, the feasibility of the design for construction, or certain performance characteristics of the completed building. On the other hand, a smaller firm or a simpler project might have a more basic warranty clause, perhaps focused mainly on compliance with applicable laws and regulations and general professional standards. 

Regardless of the specifics, it's important that the warranty clause in an architectural contract be clear, realistic, and aligned with the architect's capabilities and the project's needs. It should specify what is being warranted, for how long, and what remedies are available in case of a breach of the warranty. 


The indemnity term refers to a party's obligation to compensate the other for certain specified damages or losses that they might incur. This provision is typically used to manage risk and ensure that each party takes responsibility for its own actions or negligence, thereby providing a level of protection and reassurance for both parties involved in the project. 

The specifics of the indemnification clause can vary significantly depending on the project's scope, deliverables, design documents, project requirements, and the firm's size. For instance, a large firm working on a major commercial project might agree to a broad indemnification clause, encompassing a wide array of potential damages and liabilities, considering the higher stakes involved. Conversely, a smaller firm working on a modest residential project might negotiate a more narrowly defined indemnification clause, focusing on clearly identified, specific risks. 

Regardless of the particulars, the indemnification clause should be clearly worded to specify what kinds of damages or losses are covered, under what circumstances the indemnification applies, and the process for claiming indemnification. 

Force Majeure 

‘Force Majeure’ pertains to events beyond the control of the parties involved that may prevent the fulfillment of the contractual obligations. These can include natural disasters, wars, pandemics, or other 'acts of God' that could not reasonably have been anticipated or avoided. 

The specific definition and effects of a force majeure event can vary depending on the nature of the project and the size of the firm. For example, a large firm working on international projects might need to account for a broader range of potential events, including political upheavals or changes in foreign laws. A small firm working on local residential projects might focus more on events like local natural disasters. 

In either case, a well-structured 'Force Majeure' clause should clearly define what constitutes a force majeure event, how it affects the parties' obligations, and the process for notifying the other party and mitigating the effects of the event. This may include provisions for extensions of time, compensation, suspension or termination of the contract, among others. 

Use the Key Terms to Create a Strong Outline for Your Contract 

In conclusion, crafting a bulletproof architectural contract entails a careful and considered inclusion of key terms, each serving a unique and critical role in mitigating risks, setting expectations, and guiding the professional relationship between the architect and client.  

When creating your contract, keep in mind how the above terms should form a strong outline so that you have every piece of a powerful contract in place.  

  • 'Scope of Work' provides a blueprint for the project 

  •  'Schedule' maps out timelines 

  • 'Fees and Payment Terms' sets the financial groundwork 

  • 'Dispute Resolution' offers a framework for resolving conflicts 

  • 'Intellectual Property Rights' protect creative assets 

  • 'Termination Clause' provides an exit strategy 

  • 'Insurance and Liability' covers unforeseen losses 

  • 'Change Orders' manage project modifications 

  • 'Confidentiality' protects shared information 

  • 'Warranty' assures quality 

  • 'Indemnification' assigns liability 

  • 'Force Majeure' accounts for uncontrollable events

However, simply incorporating these terms is not enough. Each must be customized to align with the project's specific requirements, the firm's capabilities, and the client's expectations. With this tailored approach, the architectural contract becomes a robust tool, ready to navigate the complexity and dynamism of architectural projects, and fortify the architect-client relationship against potential pitfalls. 

Build a Better Proposal to Get Your Clients to Say Yes to Your Contract 

Now that you know how to craft a bulletproof architectural contract, it’s  time to move on to creating a proposal. The proposal is a critical part of the client onboarding process. While there are multiple types of proposals, there is never just one that works for every project. 

In BQE Software’s webinar, “Building a Better Proposal: How to Get Clients to Say Yes”, you learn what is included in the proposal, the difference between a proposal and an architectural contract, and the terms you need to turn that proposal into a contract. 

Watch the webinar "Building a Better Proposal: How to Get Clients to Say Yes."



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