Architect’s Duties when Taking Over aN Incomplete Building Project


2 houses were demolished and a block of 11 flats built. The new building was condemned as unauthorised development because it was not built in accordance with the approved design. The landowner alleges this was caused by the architect’s negligent development of the design. The architect denies any obligation to the landowner.

Conditional planning consent was obtained by the 1st architect who thereafter ceased involvement. A 2nd architect was appointed, under the 2007 edition of the RIBA Standard form of Agreement for the Appointment of an Architect, for “the development of the design from the planning stage as indicated A3/A4 copied drawings from scaled originals”.

After most of the planning conditions had been discharged and as the building was nearing completion, a Planning Enforcement Officer stated that; “because all of the elevations are different from the approved drawing in terms of the window/door positions, external materials, roof design etc. the development was unauthorised.” An application for retrospective planning permission was refused. The Council issued an Enforcement Notice requiring demolition, site clearance and levelling. Subsequently a revised Enforcement Notice was issued permitting the built work to be retained subject to specific modifications.

It is clear from a comparison of the 1st and 2nd architects’ drawings that the 2nd architect’s treatment of the elevations diverged from the approved design. The elevations were built in accordance with the 2nd architect’s drawings.

The Issues put to the Architect Expert Witness

  1. The scope of the Defendant’s duties.
  2. Whether those duties were discharged to the standard to be expected of a reasonably competent architect.
  3. If not, whether any breach of duty caused the Local Authority’s ultimate rejection of the development.

Architects' Duties

Architects Code (A.R.B.)

The Architects Registration Board (ARB) sets the minimum mandatory standards for practicing UK architects. These standards include, inter alia

Architects should perform their work with due skill, care and diligence.” [1]

organise and manage their professional work responsibly and with regard to the interests of their clients.[2]

Architect's Job Book (R.I.B.A.)

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) publish more detailed but non-mandatory guidance. As the 2nd architect based its service agreement on the RIBA standard form for architectural services, it is appropriate to make reference to the related guidance published by the RIBA. Based on the then current RIBA plan of work, the 2nd architect took over the project at the end of design development / start of technical design.

The Architect’s Job Book current at the time advises an architect coming to the project at that stage should; “Ascertain that relevant Pre-Agreement and earlier Stage checks have been carried out….” [3]

The technical design stage ordinarily involves elaborating an approved design without amending the design except in so far as may be necessary to discharge any planning conditions. To do this it is necessary to; “Discuss with the planning officer the implications arising from any planning permission conditions. … Revision of documents to comply with planning or other statutory authority requirements does not form part of the Services under Conditions of Appointment CA-S-07 unless identified under ‘Other Services’.” [4]

To avoid having to resubmit for planning consent an architect should; “Check whether minor amendments to the Detailed Proposals at this Stage go beyond the scope of the planning permission granted.” [5]

To Whom Did the 2nd Architect Owe A Duty

The landowner had formed a joint venture company with others. There was no clear contract between the landowner and the 2nd architect. A claim in contract failed.

A claim in tort was made. It was argued that such a claim would require a relationship between the landowner and architect which would be incompatible with the way in which the parties had structured their contractual relationships.

Expert Opinion

The 2nd architect’s duties were not properly defined by way of written agreement. The 2nd architect performed some services to lower standards than required by the RIBA and by the ARB. The rejection of the built work by the planning authority resulted from its being built in accordance with the 2nd architect’s elevation drawings.

Whether or not the 2nd architect owed a tortious duty to the landowner is outside the scope of an architect expert’s testimony.

[1] Architects Code, Standards of Conduct and Practice, November 2002, issued by the Architects Registration Board in accordance with Section 13 of the Architects Act 1997, Standard 4, 4.2

[2] Architects Code, Standards of Conduct and Practice, November 2002, issued by the Architects Registration Board in accordance with Section 13 of the Architects Act 1997, Standard 11

[3] Architects Job Book, page 138

[4] Architects Job Book, page 143

[5] Architects Job Book, Page 144