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Setting aside for a moment the art and science aspects of Architecture, with the entrepreneurial role and responsibility to its Clients, all Architect's encounter both risks and rewards which are measurable. From my eighty (80) or so design and construction dispute case assignments, as Expert Witness, Mediator and /or Arbitrator, it has been my experience that the chance of an Architect being drawn into such matters is highly probable once there is a Plaintiff Complaint.

How will the Architect's performance be measured?

Did the Architect Meet a Reasonable Standard of Care!

Architectural services performed for any design undertaking may be based on competency and reasoned judgment, focused on the unique characteristics and requirements of a specific project. The common "Standard of Care" fulfillment addresses a reasonable degree of care, skill and diligence for design professionals and is usually couched in terms of "community", "time-frame" and "circumstances". However, in my opinion, a broader Standard of Care requisite to consider involves three (3) factors together: (i) knowledge of the applicable Project Type and guiding professional responsibilities -- (ii) Contractual and (iii) Regulatory.

Obviously, each of these three are not weighted equally. In this test the considerations flow from the general to the specific. First, the Jurisdictional Regulatory definitions of a Standard of Care become the framework and base-line. Second, are the specific tenants within the Owner-Architect Agreement which may raise the bar of performance, written and or implied. Third, is the Architect's experience and knowledge level of the specific project type under consideration (health care, housing, commercial, etc.) Various States have moderating Statue Language (or, none at all) which defines the Standard of Care, for example:

  1. The South Carolina Law establishes a Standard of Reasonable Care for the performance of Architects and design professionals in the Construction Industry.

    COMPETENCE; "1.-In practicing architecture, an architect, firm, corporation, professional association or partnership shall act with reasonable care and competence and shall apply the technical knowledge and skill which is ordinarily applied by architects, firms, corporations, professional associations or partnerships in good standing in South Carolina."

  2. The Florida Statutes {Title XXXII-§481.221(8)} state it this way; "Final construction documents or instruments of service which include plans, drawings, specifications, or other architectural documents prepared by a registered architect as a part of her or his architectural practice shall be of sufficiently high standard to clearly and accurately indicate or illustrate all essential parts to which they refer".

As important as the Statutes are, the actual tenants of an Owner-Architect Agreement are critical, especially if these cites raise the Statutory bar and require a nuanced "higher" standard like this:

  1. "The Architect shall be responsible for ensuring that the standard of care practiced by the Architect and all Subconsultants engaged by the Architect, to provide Design Services for the Project, shall be that standard of care practiced by other leading architects providing design services on projects of similar size and complexity."

  2. "Services and Standard of Care. DSA agrees to perform the Services in accordance with the customary standard skill and care of DSA's profession for projects of similar scope and complexity, and in accordance with applicable government regulations. The Services will be performed in a manner consistent with Owner's interests and as expeditiously as is consistent with professional skill and care in the orderly progress of such Services."

Nb.: Unquestionably, any Architect's applicable reasonable Standard of Care has been breached when the nature/degree of design defects, deficiencies, errors, and omissions negatively impact the design intent, constructability, fails to fulfill code requirements, and creates life safety and building performance issues.


David E. Chase, AIA, NCARB, LEED, GA is an Architect with over 50 years of experience, personally responsible for more than $1 billion of constructed projects, as designer, interior designer, specifier, project manager, Architect-of-record, or Principal-in-charge. Currently practicing Architecture in Florida, Mr. Chase is licensed in 21 states. He has extensive experience in educational, stadium, criminal justice, housing (senior, assisted living, public, multi-family and single detached), health care, commercial, hospitality and retail projects.

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