Each year a small number of architects fall well below the standards of conduct and competence required of them in relation to design-and-build contracts, most commonly in failing to adequately manage the conflict of interest between their own goals and that of their client.
Design-and-build can be a simple and attractive way for clients to proceed with their work in a ‘one stop shop’ arrangement. Whilst design-and-build projects can present a suitable way to manage a project by streamlining communication between individuals and processes throughout the project, there remains an inescapable conflict of interest if an individual or practice is acting as both architect and contractor. However it is a conflict that can be managed.
What is the conflict of interest?
On a traditional form of contract an architect has the responsibility to inspect the work of a contractor, so that the client has some assurance that the work has been carried out in line with the terms of the contract. Standard 6.3 of the Architects Code of Conduct and Practice stresses the importance of carrying out this role, using impartial and independent judgement.
Where an individual or practice is acting as both architect and contractor, it is of course impossible for there to be an independent assessment of the building work. There is an inherent conflict of interest.
Managing the conflict
Standard 1.3 of the Architects Code of Conduct and Practice says that, where a conflict of interest arises, an architect is expected to secure written confirmation that all parties involved give their informed consent to continuing to act. It is important that such consent is informed: clients may well not understand the importance of an independent assessment of construction works, and what risks are involved in proceeding without it. Because of that, it is important that the risks, as well as the benefits, of design-and-build contracts are explained before that consent is sought.
Design-and-build contracts are popular and efficient forms of building procurement, widely used across the construction sector but they are not without risks, given that they omit an important element of quality control. Architects, particularly those operating in the domestic market, should be very clear to clients what those risks are, and ensure that they protect themselves from future criticism by requiring informed written consent before proceeding with the engagement.