Event Recap: Client Architect Agreement Update

Michael Lewarne , 10 June 2019

On 5 June, the NSW/ACT Committee ran an event to discuss Version 2 of the ACA Short Form Client Architect Agreement, with author and Legal Counsel Christopher Larcos. ACA – NSW/ACT Vice President Michael Lewarne recaps the main points of the presentation.

One thing I learn – I’ve been in practice now for half a century or more, and the most important ingredient for an architect to do a good building is to have a good client. I think a client counts for as much as fifty per cent.” — IM Pei

A good building is the minimum we should aspire to as architects and there’d be few that would disagree with IM Pei’s reflection on the need for a good client. It’s therefore imperative that a project begins on the right footing with the client. Often the first real test of this is our formal agreement and a good Client Architect Agreement can set us up for a successful relationship and project.

In our conversation following his presentation, ACA Agreement author Christopher Larcos observed that you should never be friends with your client, but that does not mean you’re not friendly. The issue here is that it can be difficult to have the hard conversations that are often necessary in the client architect relationship, and it’s inevitably more difficult to have them with a friend.

Hard conversations are an ever-present, necessary, but painful part of architecture practice. It’s therefore helpful to be prepared for these conversations from the outset. This is where the ACA’s Short Form Client Architect Agreement shines. The ACA Agreement leaves little room for ambiguity around important issues such as the cost of works, variations, payment, copyright and so on. The recently amended ACA Agreement improves upon, clarifies and makes explicit any implied requirements under the previous agreement as well as reflecting changes to NSW State Legislation. In doing so, it establishes clear expectations and understanding around the client architect relationship at the outset.

Chris’s presentation was clear, thoughtfully put together and was accompanied with robust discussion around the vagaries of practice, fees and the implications of various aspects of the new Agreement. It was reassuring to hear that many of the concerns raised are readily dealt with in the ACA Agreement. The majority of the recent amendments address issues relating to architects charging percentage fees, which Chris is stridently opposed to and is a conversation that must be had another time. The additional clauses clarify potentially contentious issues arising in regard to percentage fees, copyright and moral rights, smoothing the way for initial conversations or those more difficult conversations that can occur well into the project.

As both a lawyer and an architect, Christopher Larcos is able to bring his significant breadth of professional insight and knowledge to an agreement that is compact, clear and readily understood, and equitably satisfies the needs of both client and architect. It’s an invaluable resource in developing a good client relationship and making good buildings.

Version 2 of the ACA Short Form Client Architect Agreement will be available to members shortly.

Michael Lewarne is Director at Redshift Architecture & Art and the Vice-President of the NSW/ACT Committee of the ACA.