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What clients want: AJ survey results

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Fifty top developers and local authorities including Urban Splash and the OPLC responded to our first client survey, revealing that 86 per cent of clients say architects’ design skill is the key factor in awarding work

Design quality is crucial but practice size is irrelevant when choosing architects, according to findings from the AJ’s inaugural client survey. 

More than 50 local authorities, the Olympic Park Delivery Company, government offices and developers, including the likes of Urban Splash and Londonewcastle, took part in the research which probed clients about what they wanted from the profession and how architects could improve their services.

Nearly 90  per cent of those polled  said  the architect’s design skill was one of the most  important factors when selecting a design team, followed by the fees, the personality of those involved and the ability to think beyond the brief.

A staggering 69 per cent said that the size of practice was irrelevant when appointing an architect. The number of awards and practice location was also unimportant to the clients polled.

Have architectural services improved or worsened in recent years?

Have architectural services improved or worsened in recent years?

Worryingly 72 per cent of those surveyed said that architects’ service had either got worse or remained the same in recent years. One respondent said: ‘Architects need to stop thinking they know better than the client.’


Less than a quarter of clients said that existing relationships with architects was important when looking for an architect for a project, although one developer admitted he was ‘pretty loyal to a core group of practices’.   

How do you find new architects?

How do you find new architects?

The most popular route for finding new architects wass through recommendation, with nearly two thirds of clients saying they relied on tips from others as one of the main ways of hunting for a design team.

This was backed up by feedback from the anonymous, open-ended responses with one client confessing they often relied on suggestions from ‘industry-related contacts’.

More than half of clients (51 per cent) said they had run limited design contests while one developer said the company procured new talent by ‘following up approaches from architects’. Nearly a fifth confirmed that press articles helped them in their selection process.

In terms of timing, around  three quarters of respondents said they would bring in an architect ‘as soon as possible’ on a project with just 4 per cent saying they waited until stage C to approach a team.


The client’s perception of architectural service over the last few years was not particularly rosy – only 28 per cent said it had improved to any degree. Developers were also unimpressed how architects had managed their own practices during the recession with an overwhelming 68 per cent saying the profession had either been poor or average in meeting the challenges of the recession.

However there were some interesting views on what clients thought represented value for money from architects. A common theme was cost compared to design quality. One developer said: ‘Good value  is when you have an architect who reads the brief, designs to it, is prepared to listen and change design and is able to keep to budget. Good design need not cost a fortune.’

What are the most important factors when looking for an architect?

What are the most important factors when looking for an architect?

Another added: ‘Quality is more important than cost. We’d never employ someone because they were cheap. You get what you pay for.’

For others value comes from the architect’s approach and ‘enthusiasm’. One client noted: ‘We appreciate an architect that is not afraid to tell you the problems immediately’ while another lauded practices which ‘over-deliver for the good of a project and they invest their own time in research and design on behalf of the client’.

Only a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents said they would use a different architect for a project’s design and delivery.

‘Having the same architect to design and build is more costly’, said one developer ’But at the same time it is better value because it allows the consistency in realisation and there is a single point of responsibility from a client’s perspective.’


In the eyes of the clients surveyed, the biggest failure of architects is their budget awareness. The majority (39 per cent] said the design profession’s understanding of financial matters had to be improved.

Have architectural services improved or worsened in recent years?

Have architectural services improved or worsened in recent years?

Developers and authorities also wanted architects to improve their communication skills (18 per cent). A common response to the questions posed was that architects needed to ‘think like a client’.

One client said architects needed to ‘understand who and what we are and how to help us’.

Encouragingly the level of fees, in themselves, was not an issue only four per cent of those polled felt costs were a problem. Just six per cent said practices should speed up their workloads although one client thought practices needed to be ‘quicker or better at prioritising the flow of design drawings’ and another concluded that architects could ‘improve on following up snagging’.

What could architects do better?

What could architects do better?

While the size or practice was immaterial the ability to deliver remained important. One said: ‘Practices must have a good back-up team. We may have liked the practice chiefs, but have occasionally felt let down by their backup teams.’

And one developer couldn’t help a final swipe at the profession concluding: ‘Architects should stop thinking that they are the most important thing about a project.’



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