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Authority of the Architect and its Limits

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Picture of construction worker preparing for a concrete pour

This is the sixth in a series of articles that will examine issues that can arise in the relationship between the architect in a construction project and the property owner, the contractor, subcontractors and others who may be involved. 

The power and authority of architects are determined by general rules of agency law. During construction, the architect may perform functions at the job site as an owner’s representative or agent and may act on owner’s behalf with certain authority. The architect’s authority falls into the three basic areas of agency law: actual, implied, or apparent.

Actual authority is created when the owner expressly gives authority to the architect to represent the owner at the job site according to the terms of the written contract. For example, the architect may authorize minor changes in the work that are consistent with the intent of the contract documents and do not involve an adjustment in the contract costs or construction time.

Implied authority allows the architect to make decisions incidental to his actual authority. Apparent authority is created when the owner leads others to believe that the architect has more authority than he really has. In this case the owner is bound by the architect's actions, even if the architect had no actual authority, whether express or implied.

In most cases, unless the employment contract states otherwise, architects are held to be agents with limited authority. The owner is liable for acts of an architect when they are within the scope of the architect's agency, although the contracting parties may further restrict the powers if they so desire.

Architects have a duty to exercise their personal skill and judgment in the performance of their work, and they may not delegate this duty without express authority to do so. They may, however, delegate responsibility to subordinates while performing their duties as agents.

A supervising architect does not have implied authority to perform work that has been assigned to a contractor or to employ or discharge workers. The supervising architect does, however, have authority to make decisions concerning proper workmanship, fitness of materials, and the manner of work.

Rejecting contractor’s work if work does not conform to the contract documents is a common authority granted to architects by contract. During construction, an architect often makes several site visits to become familiar with the progress of the work and generally determine that contractor’s work is progressing in accordance to contract documents.

Topics relating to delegation by the architect of certain duties will follow in later articles.

Appreciation to

Perkins & Will Research Journal, 2012, Vol 04.01, architectural Services During Construction, Duties and Liabilities, Helena O’Connor.

Architect - Authority And Powers - Architects, Delegate, Duty, and Supervising - JRank Articles


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