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Together we can work towards earning the fees we deserve

Christine Murray

With the latest figures showing that architectural fees have stalled, the AJ is looking for your data to help assemble a new recommended scale, says Christine Murray

Until architectural fees reach sensible levels, and the practice of undercutting is recognised as a violation of architectural ethics, many UK architects will continue to struggle to earn a salary commensurate with their education and experience. 

This sorry state of affairs, which sees small practices barely eke out a living, and the occasional bankruptcy among the big firms, seems to get worse every year. Such habitual self-harm by the profession is aggravated by the shared and chronic undervaluing of its services. This week, we also reveal that architectural fees have stalled, or even dropped in real terms this year, as is shown in the Fees Bureau’s 2017 fee index.

The irony, as the major survey by 9B Careers shows, is that developers that employ qualified architects in-house pay them better than architects pay themselves. 

The scrapping of the RIBA-recommended fee scales is seen to have been the undoing of architects’ solidarity on fees

The pay gap of £20,000 or more for architects who work for property developers or ‘client-side’, compared with those in practice, is proof that developer-employers actually value architectural skills and are willing to pay for them. The fact that government-employed architects are paid worse at senior levels than those in practice also goes some way to explaining the much-bemoaned death of the council architect. It’s a wonder anyone works in government at all.

So why the undercutting? Is this about cut-throat competition among practices, egged on by savvy (read ‘ruthless’) clients? The symptom of a general lack of business expertise? Or quite simply a lack of confidence on the part of architects and a collective lack of self-worth? Whatever the underlying causes, the status quo is unsustainable. In the words of John Assael: ‘Architects need to get much tougher, or give up.’ 

The scrapping of the RIBA-recommended fee scales is seen by many to have been the undoing of architects’ solidarity on fees, so in the coming weeks the AJ will be launching a wide-reaching fee survey in an attempt to build a recommended scale to be shared with the profession. 

Its accuracy and usefulness will depend entirely on your input, so please look out for the survey and provide whatever data you can. Change depends upon your commitment: to be tough negotiators; to compete on talent, not money; to stop the undercutting and to stick to the guidance in order to raise the level of fees. 

Let’s see if we can make a difference, together.



Readers' comments (4)

  • At long last, thank you!
    A great idea and one that should be welcomed by the profession and by clients alike. Giving publicly available, transparent, scales that connect services with fees across different project types, scales and sectors is useful for anyone bidding or commissioning architects.
    We are happy to be involved and look forward contributing. The more the (statistically) merrier.

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  • An important issue for the future of the profession, I hope that this is something the RIBA will positively engage and assist with.

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  • Who needs RIBA when we have the AJ?

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  • This is an excellent idea. One of the other ways which the AJ could be most supportive is illustrating the work of regional practices who are well established but which may not regarded as cutting edge but just do a great job.

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