The NZRAB is required to hold architects to account where they have behaved unethically or incompetently. When members of the public express a concern to the NZRAB about an architect, the matter is looked into and where a negotiated solution is not possible or appropriate, disciplinary procedures may follow, as a result of which penalties may be imposed.

This information is intended to assist architects to NOT be the subject of complaints.

From the complaints received, the following often applies:

  • Generally, complaints relate to residential projects with home-owner clients.
  • When residential projects founder it's usually because of poor budget control.
  • Sloppy communications with clients is often central to the problem.
  • Loss of control of the project is worst in relation to money matters, setting budgets, and obtaining cost estimates at the various design stages of the work.
  • Not getting independent estimating advice is a common failing.
  • Often conditions of engagement and fee-setting are not formalised and changes in scope aren’t documented.

Too often architects and their clients begin projects without having agreed on a clear-cut commissioning document that sets out the client’s expectations of budget and programme, and both the client’s and the architect’s obligations to each other. This is despite written terms of engagement being mandatory under the Architects’ Code of Ethics. Communications in general between architects and their clients are too often haphazard, informal and not documented. When you are commissioned to carry out contract observation, make sure that the client understands what this is and hasn’t confused it with project supervision, or some other role.

As an architect, you need to be dispassionate when first approached by a client, no matter how much you want the work. Architects by nature are optimists, but this must be grounded in reality. Clients should be told what they need to be told, and not just what they want to hear, about the likely costs in terms of both your fees and the construction costs. Clients need to understand that the total project budget will be more than just the construction costs. Sometimes, architects have a duty to say: “With the money that you have, what you want is impossible.”

As the architect, you must be realistic too. Professionally, architects are obliged to first meet their client’s objectives - design ideals must match these, rather than the other way around. For your own protection, insist on good cost control processes throughout a project. In particular, you should strongly recommend an independent estimate of costs at least at the sketch design stage. This is a powerful reality check. Then keep checking at each subsequent stage! If a client refuses to do this, typically to save money, for your protection make clear in writing that this is against your advice and that it creates extra risk. Be aware of the cost implications of changing the scope of the project and keep reinforcing this to the client in writing. Scope creep, whether client or architect initiated, will always affect the budget.

Problems about money are often the result of poor communication. Take communications with your clients very seriously. Keep talking and, for your protection, confirm significant things formally and in writing. Issues and problems should be sorted out with clients quickly and openly. If the client is changing or extending the brief and this has cost implications, tell the client, and do it formally in writing. For many clients, their project is laden with emotion. Sometimes clients have to be told very forcibly that they are taking risks through scope creep.

It is very important to recognise when you are getting into difficulty and need assistance or advice. Other colleagues in the profession will be sympathetic and willing to help – everyone has problems sooner or later. The NZIA can provide guidance and independent input. Often problems seem bigger than they really are, but they won’t get better by doing nothing.

Cautionary Notes
Where the NZRAB becomes aware of ethical or other issues of concern, Cautionary Notes are issued to assist architects, as below.

Cautionary Note 1: Unethical Behaviour

Cautionary Note 2: Ethical Marketing

Cautionary Note 3: Confidentiality Agreements

Cautionary Note 4: Terms of Appointment

Cautionary Note 5: Service Ethic

Cautionary Note 6: Providing Professional Services

Cautionary Note 7: Ethics and Honesty

(Note: Cautionary Note No 8 has been withdrawn)

Cautionary Note 9: Avoiding Inducements

Disciplinary Decisions
A list of the NZRAB Board's disciplinary decisions can be accessed here.