An architectural contract is a vital document that forms the foundation of any successful project. While it may be something you hope to never revisit once created, its importance cannot be overstated. Ensuring a well-drafted contract sits in the project folder is essential for a smooth and legally sound execution of the architectural project. Let’s explore the steps involved in creating such a contract:

1. Letter of Proposal

Begin by sending your client a Letter of Proposal once you understand the project’s scope. This letter outlines your understanding of the project, the proposed approach to completing the scope of work, and a basic compensation structure. It sets the stage for further contract discussions without containing any specific designs or legal terms.

2. Choose the Contract Type

After the client accepts the proposal, it’s time to move on to a more formal contract. There are several options to consider, each providing varying levels of legal protection. These include:

  1. Handshake: Not legally binding and provides no legal protection.
  2. Letter of Intent: A written handshake, offering minimal legal protection.
  3. Letter of Agreement: A more developed Letter of Intent, signed by both parties.
  4. Architect-Prepared Contract: The most recommended option, offering tailored terms and legal protection.
  5. AIA Contract Documents: Formal and comprehensive, providing equal protection for all parties.

3. Role of the Contract

A well-crafted architectural contract serves as a clear communication tool between the owner and the architect. It outlines the expectations and roles of all parties involved, helping to prevent issues and disputes from arising during the project.

4. When Is the Contract Signed?

The ideal points to sign the contract include:

– Upon receipt of the Statement of Architecture Work

– When a subcontractor is hired

– At the beginning and end of the Implementation Governance Phase

5. Essential Elements of the Contract

A comprehensive architectural contract should include the following elements:

– Full names, addresses, and signatures of both parties

– A detailed scope of work, including materials, quality, and specifications

– Project cost and payment terms

– Schedule of work, including start and completion dates

– Clearly defined authority for decision-making during construction

6. Types of Contracts

There are different contract types to consider based on project specifics:

– Stipulated Sum Contract: Fixed price contract for projects with well-defined scopes and schedules.

– Cost Plus Contract: Owner pays for actual costs, plus a fee for overhead and profit.

– Design-Bid-Build Contract: Separate contracts for design and construction phases.

– Integrated Project Delivery Contract: Shared risk contract among the owner, architect, and contractor.

7. Risks and Standard of Care

Understanding risks and the standard of care is crucial to minimizing the likelihood of legal disputes. Potential issues could arise from payment certifications, deficient design documents, or errors in contract observation.


Creating a well-structured and legally sound architectural contract is a fundamental step in any project. By understanding the different contract types, potential risks, and the necessary elements to include, architects can ensure a successful and protected project execution.

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