How Do Architects Calculate Their Fees?

Ask the Architect

by Frank Cunha III

There are a few ways, but here are a few true and tried techniques that may work for you:

1.  Hours & Hourly Rates
Calculate the fee based on actual hours of service.  It is important that even if you are a single practitioner or small office that you calculate the fee based on different rates based on the work being done, even if by the same people.  For example, you should bill a higher rate to do “principal work” like reviewing and signing and sealing drawings and specs vs “field work” like documenting existing conditions or “designer work” like drafting details.  Have set prices for each level of service (so as not to under-bill or over-bill for different tasks).

2. Cost of the Construction Project
Take a percentage of the overall “brick and mortar” cost for a project.  The percentage may change as the size and scope of the project changes.  This is tricky as some clients may or not be ready for the soft costs associated with design fees.

3. By sheets
Take the number of construction drawings and put a “per sheet” price on it.  This works for simpler projects often referred to as “bread and butter” design work which can include repeat fit out work, small residential or commercial projects, or repeat work where you can anticipate the amount of effort required to successfully complete a project.  (Hint: You may want to have different prices established for sheet sizes and typical notes and standard details -vs- non-typical design work).

4. Combination of 1, 2. 3.
I like this method best.  Using the techniques developed above work backwards and forwards to check and cross check your fee.  If that doesn’t work, here’s one more technique that might be useful:

Image: (C) Ed Arno, New Yorker Cartoonist

Take a “Scientific wild @$$ guess” based on your experience with projects of similar size and scope.  Often Architects will go back and look at previous projects to determine how many hours is required to complete a project.

Further Reading: Calculating the Architect’s Fee: Is There a Better Way? By Mike Koger, AIA, July 3, 2018

Good Luck!

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Frank Cunha III
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