Selecting an architect

The selection of an architect for a project is a very important process. Without this appointment (and that of other consultants) a client is putting together a professional team that ultimately will be judged by the financial, functional, design quality and cost/time success of the final building projects.


The architect will work throughout the design and construction process as an advisor, co-ordinator, synthesiser and creative leader. For a period of months or years, which can continue past building completion to fit out and additions; the architect effectively becomes a partner in the client organisation. Obviously selecting the right architect is not and cannot be a casual or off-hand process.

These guidelines for the selection of the architect are intended to provide a procedure that reviews the wide range of criteria by which competing architectural firms should be evaluated in a fair and efficient manner. The procedure aims to avoid the situation where considerable sums of money have been spent by architectural firms in complying with the selection criteria of potential clients. As a general rule, the R.A.I.A.

As a general rule, the R.A.I.A. recommends the appointment of architects based on experience the credentials. If a design competition is considered to be necessary part of the selection process, it should be conducted in the manner recommended by the R.A.I.A. Competition Guide-lines.

The R.A.I.A. recommends the following selection procedure

1. Preperation of Short List of Architectural Firms

    Prepare a short list of say 3 or 4 appropriate architectural firms with relevant experience in the particular project type. This list can be made from personal experience andlor with the assistance of the local Chapter of the R.A.I.A.

    For probity or other reasons, it may be necessary to advertise for registrations of interest by calling for a brief statement of capability and experience from interested firms. For organisations that regularly commission architects, it is appropriate that the short list is made from a registry of architectural consultants which is regularly reviewed and updated.

    2. Invitation to Submit Credentials

      A clear description of the project, including pertinent data such as scope of work, budget, time limitation, proposed building procurement method and indication of the services required, should be issued to the short listed architects. The architects should be invited to submit their credentials, including capability, relevant experience, design, technical and management approach, proposed personnel and referees. They should not be requested to prepare any project analysis or design ideas because these activities require a close working relationship with the client in order to produce useful outcomes.

      3. Evaluation

        An assessment of the abilities of each of the architects to service the project should be based on the following criteria:

        • expertise in the type of project envisaged;
        • ability to develop brief/functional requirements;
        • technical and management skills;
        • previous experience and track record;
        • methodology and project control methods; time, cost and quality performance on previous projects; design approach and ability; qualifications, experience and availability of key personnel.

        In making the assessment, each of these criteria should be weighted according to the nature of the project. For example, on some projects, ability to control budgets may be more important than a track record in the particular project type.

        Based on the evaluation, 2 or 3 firms should be interviewed.

        4. Interview

          The interview process should be directed to confirm:

          the relevant experience of the architectural firm, the available resources to meet the project needs, the process the firm proposes to adopt for the project; and the ability of the proposed personnel to work compatibly with the client organisation as a team throughout the project. Visits to current and recent projects and discussions with their owners may be appropriate to form a sound understanding of the capabilities of the architects under consideration.

          5. Negotiation and Confirmation of Appointment

            After the interviewed firms have been ranked in order of preference, negotiations should be commenced with the top ranked firm regarding the scope of services required for the project, the conditions of engagement, and thence the appropriate architectural fee. (The R.A.I.A. publishes Conditions of Engagement and a Fee Guide document). If a fair and equitable agreement cannot be reached, discussions should be terminated and negotiations then commenced with the second ranked architectural firm. Continue until agreement has been reached and the appointment formalised. and negotiations then commenced with the second ranked architectural firm. Continue until agreement has been reached and the appointment formalised.

            In negotiating architectural fees it should be understood that fees represent a relatively small part of the total project life cycle costs and should not be over emphasised relative to other criteria such as building performance which will have a long term effect on the economic viability of your project.

            6. Unsuccessful Consultants

              All unsuccessful firms should be advised as soon as practicable after a selection has been finalised.


              These notes are issued by a member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects without responsibility on the part of McNeil Architects, The Royal Australian Institute of Architects or any of its Councillors, officers, members or staff.


              Published by McNeil Ellis Architects from information provided by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects