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How to Write an Effective Architectural RFP

January 12th, 2022 | 5 min. read

How to Write an Effective Architectural RFP

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Sending a Request for Proposal (RFP) is one way to procure architectural services. An RFP describes your project and its requirements, helping you find an architect who will bring your vision to life.

With over 40 years of experience, we have seen our fair share of RFPs. Admittedly, we don’t always recommend this method of hiring an architect. Researching and selecting firms to interview may be more efficient for some clients and deliver the same results. If you have worked with an architect previously, we also recommend staying on course if you are satisfied with their work.  

But if you are considering the RFP route, we want to help you get the most out of the process. With the right information, an RFP can be an effective tool for vetting firms and finding a trusted partner who will align with your goals. 

In this article, you will learn what you can expect from the process and what you should include in your RFP. After reading, you will understand how long the process will take and the information you should have in place before contacting potential architects.   

What Can You Expect from the Architectural RFP Process? 

The RFP process can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks. You begin by either sending your RFP directly to firms or contacting your local American Institute of Architects (AIA) chapter. For example, you can send an RFP to AIA Iowa, and they will pass it along to the architects in their directory. 

Going through the AIA may increase the number of submissions you receive. For some, too many submissions can slow the process and delay a project’s start date. We recommend sending RFPs directly to a few potential firms you believe will serve your project well.  

Architects will respond with answers to your questions, examples of their work, and if requested, a proposed fee. After reviewing submissions, you can short-list firms and invite them to interview. 

What Should You Include in an Architectural RFP? 

With the right information, an RFP can be an effective and organized way of evaluating architecture firms. The more you describe your organization and project goals, the easier it will be to find the right fit. It will also be easier for an architect to understand the scope and help them determine an appropriate fee.  

Every RFP should include: 

  • A description of your project and scope 
  • Questions about the architect’s qualifications 
  • A description of your organization and your mission 

Below, we’ll dive into each category, explaining the information you should provide and the type of questions you should ask.   

A Description of Your Project and Scope 

A project description is one of the most important aspects of an RFP. With this information, architects can provide a proposed fee.   

Generally, a basic outline of your building type, its size, and budget will suffice. After all, you may need a programming study to get a better understanding of your needs. 

Without a detailed project description, however, a proposed fee is just that—a proposal. The architect may not provide an exact amount until they understand the full scope of the work. 

If the fee is a major factor in your choice of architect, you will need to provide a more detailed project description. The RFP should include: 

  • The spaces you need and their sizes 
  • Site information 
  • A proposed schedule 
  • Studies you may need 
  • Number of concepts you desire 
  • Other expectations you have of your architect 

More detailed project descriptions will yield more accurate proposals, helping you better determine what you’ll pay.   

Check out our guide to comparing architecture fees to learn more. 

Group engaged in a programming exercise

Some may need programming studies to determine their needs.

Questions About the Architect’s Qualifications 

Project descriptions are only one aspect of an RFP. Beyond comparing costs, an RFP is an opportunity to get to know different architects, their philosophies, and their plans to bring your project to life. 

Therefore, it’s important to include specific questions related to the architect’s qualifications.

First, ask for recent and relevant examples of the architect’s work. We recommend asking for no more than five examples. You need enough examples to evaluate each firm’s expertise, but you don’t want an overwhelming number.   

By evaluating their recent work, you can determine if the architect has enough experience with your building type or your type of organization to take on the project.   

Second, ask potential architects to describe their philosophy and process. Depending on the project, you may be working with the same architect for months or even years. It’s important to understand the architect’s approach and how they will engage your team. 

Third, ask for references. An architecture firm’s reputation for project management is as important as its reputation for design. Look for someone who will manage costs, maintain your schedule, and act as a trusted partner throughout design and construction. 

We recommend three references from previous clients and three from contractors. 

RFP response

Asking for recent and relevant examples of an architect’s work can help establish alignment.

A Description of Your Organization 

Lastly, you should include a description of your organization and your project goals. RFPs can be a two-way vetting process—especially if you are casting a wide net and contacting several firms. An explanation of why you are undertaking this project helps potential architects determine if they are the right fit. 

Before writing your RFP, ask yourself: 

  • What is your mission? What are your values?   
  • What do you hope this project accomplishes? 
  • How do you see this project fitting into your larger goals? 
  • What type of organization would you like to become? 

A strong understanding of your goals will help you find a trusted partner who will advocate for your interests. You can also ask architects specific questions related to your values and mission to better narrow your search. 

What Are Your Next Steps? 

The architect-client relationship can be long-lasting, so it’s important to find the right fit.    

If you take the RFP route, remember to include a detailed description of your project, a description of your organization and goals, and questions that vet the architect’s experience and expertise. Including this information will help you compare firms and establish alignment between your goals and a potential architect’s approach.   

Now that you better understand the RFP process, it’s time to prepare for interviewing architects. Get the most out of your interview by reading our list of questions you should ask potential architects

To learn how we work, contact us, and set up a meeting with a project manager to discuss your goals.