Successful projects result when clients and architects form cooperative professional business, and often-personal relationships.

What is a Successful Building Project?

A successful building project is one that responds to owner and user needs and aspirations, is built on time and within budget, and contributes to the quality of our communities and our lives within them. Successful projects result when clients and architects form cooperative professional business, and often-personal relationships. These relationships are formed early in the design process, and they are nourished by clear communications, mutually understood expectations, and willingness of both client and architect to understand and accept their individual responsibilities for realizing a successful project.

What is an Architect?

The architect is one professional person licensed to practice architecture under the laws of the state, who is equipped by education, training, and experience to guide clients through the design and construction of building or renovation projects. The architect will consider the functional needs, budget, restrictions of the site, building codes, engineering principles, and construction technology to design a building that is beautiful, strong, and functional. Architects may be involved in the design of anything used by people from cities, office towers, hospitals, schools, houses, and interiors, to furniture or even housewares. Since the beginning of civilization, architects have been practicing their art in much the same way, although today's architects make extensive use of modern technology to assist in all aspects of the work.

Professional Education

On the national level, to achieve licensure and the privilege to use the title "architect", most architects today will have completed the equivalent of a four-year pre-professional degree in architectural studies coupled with a professional Master of Architecture degree, or a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree, whichever program is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) for a particular college or university.

A candidate's professional education is then followed by a three-year professional practice internship of diversified practical training, serving as an employee under the direct supervisory control of a practicing licensed architect.

Professional Examination

At present, the requirements for the licensing of architects throughout most of the United States are coordinated by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Working with State Boards of Registration, they have developed the standardized Architect Registration Examination (A.R.E.), which is given in all 50 states and five U.S. jurisdictions and Canada.

Each applicant must pass examinations in the areas of pre-design; site design; structural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and life safety; materials and methods of construction; construction documents and services; and building planning/technology.

State of Alabama Licensing

At the state level, the State of Alabama Board for Registration of Architects administers and enforces the Alabama Architect Registration Law. All licensed architects are issued a registration number, which must be used to seal documents for issuance to local building authorities along with permit applications or other official documents.

The use of the title "architect" by an unlicensed person, or the use of an architect's seal to stamp drawings not made under his or her direct supervision and control are both illegal practices. To find out whether an architect is licensed to practice in the state, call the State of Alabama Board for Registration of Architects in Montgomery, AL., at (334) 242-4179.  View the Alabama Board for Registration of Architects' brochure, Do I Need an Architect?.

Why Hire an Architect?

Whether a project is a small renovation or a large building, it is a very good idea to hire an architect as soon as possible after the decision to proceed is made. The architect will bring an independent and fresh look at the needs of the project and suggest creative ways of meeting those needs. The architect will be able to save you time and money, and avoid many problems during the building process. In the United States, as in most countries, drawings for buildings and changes to existing buildings must, by law, be prepared by a licensed architect.

How Do You Select An Architect?

Typically, architects are generalists and produce a great variety of projects. There are no two projects that are exactly alike, and each new building brings with it a unique mixture of needs, people, location, and financing. Architectural firms come in many sizes and types. The average firm is made up of five to 10 people, but many are smaller with one or two people, and some are very large with many professionals on staff. Some firms specialize in one or more project types others do not. Some have structural, mechanical and/or electrical engineers on their staffs, while others prefer to consider each project individually and select the engineers and other consultants considered to be most appropriate for each. Each architectural firm brings a different combination of skills, experience, interests, and values to its projects.

Interviews should be arranged with several architects to learn of their capabilities, what the buildings they have done are like, and the confidence and trust they inspire. Successful projects result when clients and architects form cooperative relationships with each other. The most thoughtful architects are as careful in selecting their clients, as clients should be in selecting their architects.

What Is Normally Included in an Architect's Services?

The services provided by the architect and his/her interdisciplinary team are subject to negotiations between the owner and architect, and depend on the size and complexity of the project and the owner's specific needs. The contract should set forth clearly what services the architect's team is to provide.
The following list includes services, which may be provided by the architect's team in a typical project:

  • Building code analysis
  • Building program review
  • Conceptual design
  • Design development
  • Civil engineering
  • Structural engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Working drawings
  • Specifications
  • Statements of probable construction cost
  • Administration of bidding
  • Periodic construction observation
  • Shop drawing review
  • Project close out

In addition, an architect may also provide one or more of the following services if you need them:

  • Detailed functional programs
  • Site selection assistance
  • Feasibility studies
  • Existing building inspection and evaluation
  • Measured drawings
  • Environmental impact studies
  • Landscape architecture
  • Interior design
  • Kitchen equipment selection
  • Hospital equipment design
  • Facilities management
  • Perspective rendering
  • Finished presentation models
  • Product design
  • Computer drawing database
  • Construction management
  • Full-time construction representation
  • Post-construction use evaluation
  • Detailed cost estimating
  • On-going consultation
  • Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance survey

Compensating Your Architect

Experienced clients recognize that adequate compensation for the architect is in their best interest as it assures the deliverance of the type and level of service needed to fulfill their expectations. How to arrive at the appropriate compensation for a particular project involves a process that raises many issues. Some of the most frequently asked questions in this regard are discussed here.

How much should I expect to pay an architect?

The architect's compensation is always a matter for discussion and agreement between the client and the architect. Compensation will reflect generally the types and levels of professional service to be provided. Compensation will vary depending on the scope and nature of the services needed and the complexity of the project. What methods of compensation are available?
These are the most common:

  • A stipulated sum based on the architect's compensation proposal
  • A stipulated sum per unit, based on what is to be built (i.e. the number of square feet, apartments, rooms, etc.)
  • A percentage of the construction cost
  • Hourly rates and agreed upon expenses

Additional Information

Further information may be found in You and Your Architect, Beginners Guide to Architectural Services and other booklets on working with architects published by The American Institute of Architects (AIA). Copies are available from the AIA in Washington, D.C. at, or an architect in your town.