Chapter 2.2
The Client


Client: A person using the services of a professional.

Owner: The person or entity identified in the agreement. The term “owner” means the owner or the owner’s authorized agent or representative as designated to the contractor in writing but does not include the Consultant (from CCDC 2, Stipulated Price Contract).


It has been stated that good architecture is not possible without a good client. To ensure good architecture, the architect must be dedicated to establishing and nurturing successful relationships with all clients.

Clients may range from individuals to multinational corporations, from large government agencies to small private-sector firms, from offshore developers to the actual occupants of a building. The importance of a client cannot be overstated. In contrast to a “customer” (someone who purchases goods or products), a client purchases professional services. This chapter discusses the various types of clients and their relationship with the architect.

The Client

The client is the person or organization that retains the architect to provide professional services. Often, but not always, the client is also the owner of the property where the project is to be located. The client may also be a design-builder, construction manager, or developer. What all clients have in common is that they are the entity with whom the architect has a contract for services. The client:

  • usually selects the prime participants, including the design consulting team and the construction team;
  • usually pays for the required design, construction, and subsequent operation of the facility;
  • may be the owner, user or occupant of the building, or a combination of all three;
  • may participate with other parties in an integrated design process from the project outset; or
  • may be a design-builder.

In addition to understanding the distinctions between an owner, a user-stakeholder, and an occupant, the architect must address the requirements of each.

TABLE 1 Types of Client Organizations


Owners usually possess the legal title, lease or licence to the land, site or building and to the completed building project. In some jurisdictions it is permissible for an architect to enter into a contract to provide design services to an owner’s agent. The agent, such as a project management service provider, does not possess the legal title of the capital asset but acts in the owner’s interests to deliver the design-construction program.


In project management terms, “stakeholders” refers to anyone who has an impact on a project’s outcome or may be impacted by the project’s outcome. This clearly includes many potential interested parties that the architect must manage to realize project success. Traditional project stakeholders of any building project include the users or the occupants of a building, but the list of stakeholders goes far beyond the building’s users. Authorities having jurisdiction, the design team, the construction forces, the owner’s forces, etc., are all project stakeholders. Each group may have very different levels of interest and influence in the building project.

User stakeholders are the groups or individuals who use the building. They include the prime tenant(s) of a building as well as its residents and occupants, and the public. Typically, the user stakeholders are concerned with the following building elements:

  • location and site selection;
  • life span;
  • design, including functionality, comfort and safety;
  • operation and maintenance.

Occupants are the individuals who occupy or use the facility on a day-to-day basis. They may be apartment dwellers, workers, secondary tenants, businesses, or the general public who may use the building as patients, restaurant diners, shoppers, tourists, etc. Occupants may have no direct involvement with the design and implementation of a building project.

Many other groups may be involved in the building, including:

  • building managers or facility management companies;
  • local residents, neighbours, and ratepayers associations;
  • financial institutions that fund the design and construction;
  • authorities having jurisdiction;
  • project managers.

The architect must respond to the requirements of all these groups and, at the same time, ensure that the client’s requirements are satisfied.

See Chapter 5.2 – Stakeholder Management for discussion on the architect’s role in managing stakeholder engagement in design projects.

Client Types

Each client has a unique personality, a style of operating, and a different expectation of involvement in the project. Client types include:

  • corporate owners of capital assets;
  • developers;
  • public private partnership entities (various models);
  • construction companies;
  • project management firm engaged by the client in a primary capacity;
  • project management firm engaged as agents by the client and acting as the owner’s representative;
  • government (federal, provincial/territorial, municipal);
  • institutions (public facilities);
  • not-for-profit organizations;
  • small business owners;
  • individuals.


Broadly speaking, clients can be categorized into two major groups: public sector and private sector. These two distinct groups are differentiated by the types of building projects they undertake and their different sources of financial resources.

Public sector:

  • Responsible for building projects intended for the use of the general public and employees, ranging from schools, hospitals, and research facilities to military installations;
  • Financial resources, whether as a capital expenditure or as a leased asset, originate from taxation, other government revenues, or fundraising.

Private sector:

  • Building projects range from homeowners requiring simple home renovations to corporations building facilities to support their commercial or industrial operations. These projects include hotels, office buildings, shopping malls, apartment and condominium buildings, and industrial installations. 
  • Financial resources are obtained from private lending institutions such as banks, mortgage companies, and capital markets, or are self-funded through capital reserves.


Corporate clients are:

  • private-sector businesses that are incorporated; 
  • not-for-profit corporations; or
  • public-sector Crown corporations.

These clients could be small, family-owned enterprises or large, multinational conglomerates. The method for decision-making, funding approvals, and architect selection may vary significantly from one corporate client to another. Typically, a corporation will appoint a representative to liaise with the architect and manage the project for the corporation. The client’s representative may have limited authority and is usually accountable to a committee, a board of directors, or a president and chief executive officer. At times, it may be prudent to obtain a copy of a resolution of the board of directors that assigns authority to the client representative.

Corporate clients:

  • may be sophisticated clients with significant in-house expertise;
  • may never have been involved in an architectural project;
  • may include developers who are sophisticated in the design and construction process;
  • tend to be business-oriented;
  • may have high expectations for service delivery and prompt attention;
  • may not be accustomed to using industry-standard client-architect agreements, preferring instead to use purchase orders or “in-house” contracts.

Governmental Organizations

Government clients can come from the municipal, regional, provincial/territorial or federal level. Legislative and regulatory procedures, as well as public accountability, will dictate the approach of government clients to building projects. The decision-making process is democratic and usually transparent but often very slow. Multiple reviews of documents and lengthy approvals are typical and architectural fees for these reviews and approvals should be negotiated. Each government agency has its own unique requirements and “bureaucratic personality,” and it may be fragmented into various departments. Government clients, especially of provincial, territorial, and federal governments, are usually more experienced and have access to in-house professional and technical expertise to assist them with their projects.

The federal government and, increasingly, other levels of government and certain public agencies list their project opportunities and requests for proposals (RFPs) on central electronic bulletin boards. Architects interested in public commissions should regularly review electronic bulletin boards such as Merx, located at

Examples of typical government clients are:

  • Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC);
  • Canada Post or Infrastructure Ontario (Crown corporations);
  • the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton;
  • the City of Saint John;
  • the Village of Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive.

Government clients frequently have their own form of standard contract. See Chapter 3.8 – Risk Management and Professional Liability for the pitfalls of non-standard contracts.

Institutional Organizations

Institutional clients typically receive monies from government, public fund-raising efforts, grants, endowments, or other external sources of funds. These clients include hospitals, school boards, museums, and social service organizations.

In some respects, institutional clients are like government clients in that they may have similar methods for selecting architects and have the same requirements for accountability (to government, public funding agencies, donors, benefactors). Some institutional clients do not have professional or technical staff. Sometimes, institutional clients include volunteers on governing boards who may be involved in building committees which liaise with the architect.

Examples of typical institutional clients are:

  • Calgary Board of Education;
  • Hôpital général du Lakeshore/the Lakeshore General Hospital;
  • Winnipeg Art Gallery;
  • John Howard Society;
  • central business district associations;
  • ratepayers groups.

Large institutional clients sometimes have their own form of standard contracts. Refer to Chapter 3.8 – Risk Management and Professional Liability for the pitfalls of non-standard contracts.

Small Business Owners or Individuals

These clients, which include small business owners and individuals, are frequently the owner, user, and occupant of the building. Small business owners who may require premises for their business operations, or leasehold improvements to existing facilities, are typical private-sector clients. Individuals, couples, and families who want to renovate an existing home or construct a new custom home are also typical of this client type.

Informal procedures and inexperienced clients may require the architect to exercise increased rigour about documentation, communications, expectations and presentation. The architect may find that these small business owners or individual clients will need to be educated and guided through the design and construction process. Others may be small developers or builders who may be more knowledgeable and demanding. 

Project Management Service Provider Firms

Every project must be managed, and the role of the project manager is pivotal to success. In-house staff or out-sourced organizations can provide project management services. The project delivery method known as “project management” is employed when an owner decides to outsource project development and delivery functions. The contracted project management firm enters into contractual relationships with designers and constructors. The method has existed for some years; however, as organizations strive to focus on their strategic objectives and outsource capital asset creation and management, its popularity has increased and a new type of client group, the project management firm, has emerged. 

The outsourcing of project delivery and the divestment of project risk by the owner may result in both business opportunities and challenges for architects. Owners may not have the internal resources to manage their capital asset programs, and retaining the services of a project management firm may be a prudent business decision, as the owner focusses on core competencies, leaving the project management firm to do what it does best. However, challenges for the architect emerge when the project objectives of the owner are misaligned with the business objectives of the project management firm. As in design-build projects, the architect is not working for the owner but for an intermediary in the value chain of project delivery. Compromises in design, quality and scope may result in stressful contractual relationships.  

See Chapter 4.1 – Types of Design-Construction Project Delivery for additional information.

Client Relationships

Professional Responsibilities and Client Expectations

It is important for the architect to understand the client and their motives for constructing the building, and to establish regular, consistent and clear lines of communication. The architect must clearly define and outline the design and construction process in order to avoid unrealistic expectations. The architect should not submit to ill-informed client requests nor neglect to inform the client of project problems and their consequences. As well, the architect must develop and analyze all options, and obtain the client’s support for, and approval of, the solution to a problem.

Because the client has retained a professional, it is assumed, and upheld by legal precedent, that the client is not knowledgeable and is dependent on the guidance of a professional, in this instance, the architect. When dealing with the client, the architect must always exercise professional judgement.

Clients differ in their level of involvement in architectural projects as well as in the role they expect of architects. Sometimes the architect is given considerable latitude and autonomy; on the other hand, the architect may have a very narrowly defined role and may be able to make only a few recommendations.

Managing client relationships and personalities is like other human relationships and the management of people and human resources.

See Chapter 5.2 – Stakeholder Management.

Client-Architect Agreements

When providing professional services to a client, the architect should always have a written agreement which outlines:

  • the services provided;
  • the fee for the services;
  • the time frame in which the services are to be delivered, including the expected construction project completion date;
  • the various terms and conditions which govern the agreement (including client responsibilities).

At the outset, the architect should provide the client with a detailed explanation about what is and is not included in the agreement. Most disputes occur at the end of the project due to the differing expectations of the parties to the agreement.

The Canadian Standard Form of Contract for Architectural Services Document Six 2018 outlines certain client responsibilities. The client may choose to retain the architect as prime consultant, with the architect retaining the engineers and other necessary consultants as subconsultants (see Figure 1). On the other hand, the client may retain the architect separately and retain the engineers directly through separate agreements (see Figure 2). In this instance, the architect must ensure that the architect’s services and fees for coordination and management of the consultants are clearly understood and agreed to.


Frequently, the architect may need to inform the client of the need for timely and accurate information and approvals during the project. The client is responsible for providing the architect with:

  • a program or design brief (see Chapter 6.1 – Pre-design);
  • a construction budget.

The client, as the owner of the facility, including the building and site, realizes the benefits of asset ownership and, conversely, the client must assume the responsibility for the risk associated with asset ownership. It is therefore the client’s responsibility to provide the architect with the information required for professional services, including:

  • legal, topographical, and site services survey;
  • existing building condition report(s);
  • designated substances report (lead, asbestos, PBCs, etc.);
  • geotechnical survey;
  • environmental assessment and report.

This list is by no means comprehensive and the architect will support the owner in identifying the information needed and aid the client in retaining the services of the appropriate specialists to conduct investigations and assessments and to prepare reports.

The architect is strongly discouraged from retaining the services of investigation consultants, as this may result in a disproportionate liability for the architect as well as the architect assuming liability for services that do not relate to the delivery of an architect’s professional services. The architect is advised to discuss retaining the services of investigation consultants, such as geotechnical engineers and land surveyors, with their liability insurance provider.

Client Representative

To ensure clear and non-conflicting instructions from the client, only one voice should give direction to the architect. Any other situation would be unwieldy and inefficient; for example, a building committee for a project where the architect’s day-to-day contact is with all members of the committee.

The standard forms of contract indicate that one of the client’s responsibilities is to appoint a representative or to “authorize in writing a person to act on the Client’s behalf and define that person’s scope of authority with respect to the Project when necessary” (Canadian Standard Form of Contract for Architectural Services – Document Six 2018 Edition). Sophisticated clients, or those who are very involved in the design-construction processes, frequently have a professional engineer or architect as a representative. Others, such as private-sector or individual clients, may act as their own representatives. Volunteer committees may appoint one individual to liaise with the architect. It is important to establish the client’s representative early in the project.

FIGURE 1 Architect as prime consultant

There are a variety of other methods of project delivery, such as design-build, construction management and public-private partnerships. In each, the relationship between the architect and client varies significantly. See Chapter 4.1 – Types of Construction Project Delivery.

FIGURE 2 Multiple and separate client-consultant agreements

When the client enters into multiple separate agreements, the architect must ensure complete clarity of responsibilities for coordination of the consulting design team and their work. 

The owner may outsource responsibility for planning and executing a project to a project management firm. The project management firm may act in one of two roles, either “agent” or “primary.” In the agent capacity, the project management firm functions in a consultative role to the owner, providing advice, project oversight, monitoring and control, and owner-representation. The project delivery method may be either design-bid-build or construction management. The owner maintains a contractual relationship with the architect as a prime consultant, or enters multiple contracts, one with each consulting design firm. The project management firm is an intermediary in the owner’s contractual relationships with design consultants and constructors and may exert a strong influencing force on the owner’s decision-making.

FIGURE 3 Project organization when the project management firm acts in the role of “agent.”

In the role of “primary,” the owner has transferred responsibility for project delivery and project risk to the project management firm. The consulting design team and construction forces are in contractual relationships with the project management firm, not the facility owner. In this project organizational structure, the project management firm acting in the primary capacity is similar to the architect working for a design-builder.

FIGURE 4 Project organization when the project management firm acts in the role of “primary.”

Selecting an Architect

There are a variety of methods that clients may use to retain the services of an architect. A client may sole source an architecture firm based on an existing relationship, an appreciation for their design sensibility, the attractiveness of the architect’s value proposition, such as “an exemplary client support system,” or other factors. The architect may be selected using a competitive process such as a design competition, request for proposals (RFP), or competition for a placement on a standing offer list (RFSO).

Generic Procurement Process

Procuring architectural services through a competitive process involves a set of steps that are widely adopted by public and private sector clients:

  • Planning:
    • Plan what services will be required and how they will be procured;
    • Develop the documentation required to describe the services needed;
    • Develop selection criteria and evaluation system.
  • Firm selection:
    • Identify potential firms capable of delivering the services through a call for expressions of interest or by building a list based on referrals from knowledge sources;
    • Distribute procurement documents to potential sources and provide additional information upon request from firms;
    • Collect proposals the firms develop based on the client’s stated requirements for both service delivery and proposal evaluation; 
    • Evaluate proposals and select the preferred firm;
    • Award the design commission, possibly following negotiation. 

Retaining the services of an architect will follow this generic process, with variations based on the complexity of the design project and the client’s requirements for information about the firm and its capabilities. At the simplest level, the project complexity may be low and the scope of work small. The client may request only basic firm information and a fixed price fee proposal in a one-stage process. For more complex projects the proposal may require a significant amount of information, including:

  • Technical submission:
    • firm history;
    • project experience with references;
    • capabilities and experience of the individuals who will be assigned to the project;
    • approach to the execution of the design commission; this may include a project management plan.
  • Fee proposal.

The process may include an additional step of a face-to-face interview in which the firm can present their work and the client can ask specific questions, often based on the firm’s proposal.

The client may ask that the firm present design schemes at the interview. Providing design work in advance of the award of the commission (services for free, in other words) is considered an unprofessional practice, and in some jurisdictions may result in a finding of professional misconduct.

The evaluation of the firm’s proposal may involve several steps. It is typical for the client to employ a point system in the evaluation of proposals. The client may review the firm’s technical proposal first and then, if the firm receives a minimum technical score, the fee proposal is reviewed. If the firm does not achieve the minimum technical score, no further review is conducted and the “fee envelope” is not opened. 

See Appendix B – Guidelines and Checklists: Issuing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for additional information.

Design Competitions

A design competition expands on the requirements to be submitted with the proposal, including a developed design solution(s). A client choosing to use the design competition method must provide compensation to all the competing firms. Architectural design competitions must be sanctioned by the provincial or territorial association of architects to ensure that appropriate compensation is provided to all competitors and that regulations are not violated.

For additional information on design competitions, refer to the RAIC website:

Quality-Based Selection or Qualification-Based Selection (QBS)

An additional variation on the selection process is the review of technical proposals with the possible addition of a face-to-face interview. The preferred proponents are ranked on their technical merits only. The client then engages in financial negotiations with the highest-ranking firm. This process requires that the client has a budget for design services with an upset limit on fee negotiation. If the client and the firm agree on a fee that is within the client’s pre-established fee range, the firm is awarded the design commission. If the client and the firm cannot come to an agreement, the client may discontinue negotiations without penalty and begin negotiations with the next highest-ranking firm.

There is a belief among some public sector client organizations that they are bound by regulations to include a fee proposal in their initial proposal evaluation for procuring professional services. Some go further to say that they have no choice but to accept the lowest fee, regardless of capability or project complexity. The benefit of the quality-based selection and qualification-based selection (QBS) approach is that evaluation and negotiation is based on best value delivered to the client, rather than lowest fee. The QBS method is widely practised in the United States and its use is increasing in Canada.

For more information on QBS, refer to: and

See Chapter 3.4 – Brand, Public Relations and Marketing for additional information on developing a brand for your firm and on marketing that brand in the marketplace.