is it conflict of interest to use contractors architect?

9 Replies

@Matthew Meizis

It happens from time to time. From an owner's perspective, it's not favorable since you want the architect to be on your side when there are issues down the line. This is especially true under the AIA system that gives the architect a lot of power. 

Disclaimer: While I’m an attorney licensed to practice in PA, I’m not your attorney. What I wrote above does not create an attorney/client relationship between us. I wrote the above for informational purposes. Do not rely on it for legal advice. Always consult with your attorney before you rely on the above information.

@Matthew Meizis , As an architect, I would only recommend contractors to clients. Ultimately it's up to them to make a selection or bring other contractors to the table. I would insist that client/property owner to contract directly with contractor not through me. I would not want to be held responsible or worst, liable, for the actions or performance of the contractor. As @Chris K. said, we are there to ensure the property owner's project gets completed the way they've intended. Therefore we look out for their best interest as well as the help, safety and welfare of the public/anyone whom will utilize the space(s).  

Unless I have a working relationship with a Contractor, I would not take well being managed by an outside contractor. This would be a conflict of interest for sure but it depends on how the scope/design is contracted. This Contractor-Architect relationship would be commonplace if the client was expecting a Design-Build type of project delivery. Then certain parameters need to be look at as an owner. There are pros and cons for this approach and yes the Contractor and Architect would be on the same team and work in tandem.  

There is some good advice above. To simply put it, Yes, its a conflict of interest 100%. If I were you I would have a separate contract with both the contractor and the architect. Not having one going through the other. Its the industry standard for a reason. 

I will say there are excepts to the above but its very rare and for very specific circumstances and construction types. I don't see anyone being on this site fitting that description.

I see more and more with clients (commercial and govt) using the Design-build option  with my projects.  This is one way to secure the price and funding for the project by the owner.  This speeds up the process some.  This gives the contractor more control of the project cost (disadvantage to the owner and architect).  If this is a small project, I don't see any advantage to using this process.  I see far to often the contractors price is higher and design is cut or it will cost more.  Design, Bid & Build process keeps everyone honest and creates your checks and balances.   

Not sure I agree with this creating a conflict of interest.  The architect is under contract with Contractor no the Owner.  Architect collaborates with the Owner for the project requirements.  The contractor typically stands back and lets the 2 work while overseeing.   You tend to get a better coordinated project,  understand cost to greater level sooner, better constructability, reduces the change orders from the contractor during construction to name a few.   No one party is really benefiting to a greater degree to cause a conflict of interest.  Each party is providing a service that the Owner would pay for at some point.   

There are many solid points in this thread. The firm I work for is often hired directly by the contractor to provide design services to the client. We have some great relationships using this method. Using an architect and contractor that work well together can be a huge benefit to you, if you take steps to manage the relationships.

The way we provide it is that we give a proposal to the contractor that is addressed to the owner for design services. In this way the contractor maintains the relationship (point during negotiations) with the client. We know that we can get their opinions on costs as well as how they plan to build things (some we do not need to provide a detail for) throughout the project and we are contracted directly with the client - from a referral from the contractor (this works the other way around as well). 

The reality is that as an owner you have certain responsibilities that you need to maintain. But I have seen far more conflict working with contractors we have never worked with before on a design-bid-build process than I ever have on a negotiated-referral basis.

My recommendation is to interview the architect and see if that is someone you are interested in working with and opt to sign their agreement separately if you are uncomfortable with them being included in the contractors agreement. If you are not comfortable with them you can still find your own architect and have them work with the same contractor.

@Jim Adrian & @Mike Garrett

I don't know if I would call it a "conflict of interest." Yet I do think the owner does surrender a lot of power if they are not the ones that hire the architect. If everything goes well with the project, it really shouldn't matter. If there is a conflict, however, the architect's opinion/professional judgment matters a lot under the AIA system. Sure, the party that does not agree with the architect's opinion can challenge it and thus it does keep the architect's somewhat honest. But there are obviously many situations where two reasonable architects can disagree. In such situations, the owner would want the architect to be on its side. 

I do agree that the owner will benefit tremendously from working with a GC and architect that worked together on previous projects.  

Disclaimer: While I’m an attorney licensed to practice in PA, I’m not your attorney. What I wrote above does not create an attorney/client relationship between us. I wrote the above for informational purposes. Do not rely on it for legal advice. Always consult with your attorney before you rely on the above information.

The contractor and Architect have a good relationship but I am struggling with how to negotiate when the contractor controls the scope.  It is also hard to get competitive bids if I as owner do not own the plans.  

Disclaimer: I am an architect, but I am not YOUR architect. I am not giving professional advice only general information. Contact a local architect/engineer for a detailed consultation specific to your project/locale.  

@Jim Adrian , I cannot agree with you. The contractor's architect will yield to the contractor and not the owner in disputes. This is not a design-build as I understand from poster, it is design-bid-build, therefore the owner gives away a great deal of leverage if the architect is hired or on the Contractor's staff. I agree with @Chris K. . An architect which has a good relationship with a contractor is different than one that is contractually or under the same company with the contractor.  

@Matthew Meizis You will not get competitive bids if the contractor and architect are one. The contractor will not want to proceed unless they are securing the project at the onset. Therefore their price will be the only one you'll see. Also, as industry standard, the owner does not own the plans but has license to utilize them for the project. Nevertheless I understand your meaning. And yes, with plans developed by the contractor's architect, they aren't likely to allow you to use their plans to shop around for another contractor with a lower cost.  The scope should be highly detailed and developed prior to construction beginning.  

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