Negligent building design and architect error.
Undertaking extensive building work on your property is not one that is for the fainthearted. How do you go about designing it? Will the works comply with building regulations? Or planning requirements? Will it come in under budget? These are just some of the questions that are commonly asked and understandably, you will want some expert advice. Hence the involvement of an architect.
An architect is there to guide you through the process. They should listen to what you want, the purpose of the building, the design you want and, importantly, your budget. They should then prepare the design ensuring that the proposed building is fit for purpose, uses appropriate materials and complies with all legal (building and planning) requirements. In short, they should act with reasonable skill and care and carry out their works in a good and workmanlike manner.
But unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that and problems frequently arise. The most obvious is a fundamental design flaw: a staircase moved but doesn’t comply with building regulations incurring extra costs to fix; inadequate foundations causing the building to lean (Tower of Pisa anyone?); a failure to realise the existence of a basement making the project uneconomic; or an inappropriate design: Who can forget the London Millennium Bridge, closed only two days after opening, as it swayed or wobbled as a result of a previously known but under-researched phenomenon of mass vibration?
Or it could be a failure to use appropriate materials. An architect has an obligation to keep up to date with new methods and materials and whilst they may not be negligent for using the most modern materials, they can be in breach of contract and negligent if they use the wrong materials. Remember the Aon Building in Chicago? Inappropriate marble cladding was used which cracked and bowed and had to be replaced at a cost of more than US$80m.
And then of course there is the problem of going massively over-budget, either through failing to give appropriate instructions to the building contractor or failing to consider the client’s budget and designing something outside the reach of their pocket as in the case of Riva Properties Ltd & Ors v Foster + Partners Ltd
So what happens in in a negligent building design case? Is the architect liable?
Yes – and they will be liable in both contract law and in negligence. Under the Supply of Goods & Services Act 1982 or, for more recent contracts, the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the architect must act with reasonable skill and care – which is the same standard used in negligence. If it can be shown that the architect did not “exercise the ordinary skill of an ordinary competent man exercising that particular art”, then he can be found both in breach of contract and negligent.
There are limitations on this as with all things. There can always be a difference of opinion between experts and simply because one architect disagrees with another, does not mean to say that either or both have been negligent. You would need to establish that there is a “body of opinion” which shows that your architect is wrong in order to be successful.
If you have experienced negligent building design and have had to pay extra to correct an architect’s mistakes, please call our free legal helpline on 0333 888 0404 for guidance and details of No Win, No Fee funding. Alternatively, email us at [email protected]. We are always happy to discuss matters to see if we can assist.