Being a paper presented at the Colloquium organized by the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, at the Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, 1st to 3rd of April, 2008 by Arc. Ibrahim Abdullahi Haruna, FNIA, mni.



Architectural practice: the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) point of view as a topic, could mean what NIA considers as an ideal practice in Architecture. It could also mean the type of architectural practices NIA recognizes in its statutes. This paper will attempt to understand it from the two perspectives.

The type of architectural practices NIA categorically recognizes, will include practice as consultants in private firms; as a public servant; as design –and –build and also as an academician. Each of these are made reference of in either the NIA Code of Conduct, or Bye-Laws. There are however other forms of architectural practices that though not categorically mentioned in NIA statutes, but are going on without attracting any suction. These include sales and manufacture of building materials; project management; value engineering; facilities management; technical staff of works department in private companies; journalism; politics and free-lancing. This paper will however concentrate on consultancy, public service and academics.

This paper also simplistically understands the word “practice” to mean “to work in a profession” ¹ like architecture, law or medicine. In which case practice in the context of architecture, means to work in the field of that profession. The practice of architecture therefore covers any sector that is involved in the shaping or re-shaping of the built environment. Perhaps this explains our unity here today where private practitioners, public servants and academics come together in a unity of purpose, because we are all practicing architecture. The practice of architecture therefore is not restricted to the private consulting firms. Whatever sector an architect finds him/herself, so long as his schedule entails architectural judgment in content and /or context, such an architect for the purpose of this paper, is in the practice of architecture.

This paper is deliberately aligned with the NIA mission statement “to mobilize informed membership for quality services”² , by focusing on the modest experience of the author in the Public service, Consultancy and a little incursion in academia, as the pedestal for such mobilization. It is hoped that views expressed will provoke the wide range of experiences of this gathering in making the session most rewarding.

The paper will limit itself to the roles and challenges in the practice of architecture; abnormalities of the practice; and some suggestions towards a better practice.



While the older ones amongst us are busy thinking of how to improve their practices, the younger members are more interested in knowing how to find themselves on the practice terrain; how easy or difficult is it to form and run a firm; how can a practice achieve sustainability; what are the constraints to envisage; how prepared are we to lead a firm to success; what challenges the architect faces as a practice leader. It is therefore appropriate to browse through the development process in the life of a practicing architect.

Somehow, the life pattern of most professionals in the service industry is structured in the same way, be it a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant or the architect. From the age of six to around twenty four, is spent learning mostly in school. From then up to around the age thirty five is spent developing experience and confidence. Thereafter up to retirement as a specialist, struggles to maintain relevance through coping with new developments.

The practice of architecture, like in other professions commences with tutelage. At this level, the professional is subjected to rigor, to the extent that one feels really exploited. It is the era of uncertainties and anxiety for the young practitioner. One recalls in those days whenever a meeting is scheduled, anxiety sets in, wondering what kind of issues, questions and challenges will be raised at the meeting, and whether one will measure up to expectation or not; what should one say and what should one not say? Thanks to an advice from a psychologist who once said in psychology, “little anxiety is crucial to success, can spark you to perform your best..” ³ This level takes a minimum of three years if one finds himself properly engaged and exposed. It is usually the best period within which one should prepare for and pass his professional practice examination.   The first two or three years after graduation are the most critical years for any professional, being the transition period that bridges the academic theory with reality of practice.

From the tutelage level, one gradually climbs to what some practices call associate level, where the practitioner now speaks with greater confidence; can take many more decisions without reference to the top; and can be able to supervise those on tutelage working under him.   At this level, the practitioner feels more free in associating with colleagues and the general public and can start drawing attention in club house discussions. This is the beginning of involvement in the marketing aspect of architectural practice.   It is at this level that many think they have “arrived” and therefore quit to form their own firm.

Ironically, some practices do not like those who have potentials for growth, either for the fear of leaving, or unwillingness to promote them to partnership status. They prefer to have those work-horses that do not manifest any initiative for growth.  

Those who persevere, rise to the peak where executive policies are formulated. Like the silhouettes of the pyramid, the beginning is usually wide and tapers gradually to the narrower peak.   The few that climb to the top are those who prove themselves indispensable. Though sub-consciously, many organizations, private or public, practice what in the “Harvard” language is referred to as “up or out.” You either measure up and make yourself indispensable and rise to the level of a partner, or you voluntarily opt out or pushed out.  

At this Executive level, whether private practice or public sector, one has reached the level of comments, criticism and/or approval. One does not need to strictly be in the office eight to five every day, or five working days a week.   One can play more golf, market the firm and spend more time paying back the society he reaped from. Kenzo Tange of blessed memory was known for visiting the Design Studio at very odd hours of the night when all workers are off. He scribbles his comments on every architect’s drawing board.   After all, Pollard ⁴ asserts that ” Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work.” The picture given above is not only relevant to practice in the private firm. It also applies to public sectors with result orientation. Where ever one finds himself, the pattern of growth is the same. There is hardly any short cut to rising to the pinnacle of architectural practice. The bane of most young architects is the search for short cut. Someone once over-heard one young colleague complaining that older firms like ARCHCON and HABITAT should give way for the younger ones coming up now to take over.   Lest we forget the foreign firms that dominated the market in the good old days did not just surrender the practice terrain to these older firms in the fashion of an athletics rally. The Nigerian firms fought their way through competence, consistency and subsistency, as opined by psychologist Pollard⁵ that ” Consultancy is consistency and subsistency of the consultant.”



NIA code of conduct and the bye-laws regulate the practice of architecture from the point of view of client-architect; architect-architect; architect-employee and architect-public relationships. An attempt is hereby made to discuss in brief NIA’s expectation of the architect in private practice, in the public service, in the academics and even in politics. This may provide a platform for self assessment for us all, and probable adjustment in the areas that may require improvement in our common goal of providing a most conducive environment for human use.

Architects in private practice should aim to be competent in design or be able to develop competence as quickly as necessary over a wide range of building type.   He should also be able to follow the building design and documentations, through all stages of its development and implementation. The architect should also be able to know how to achieve equitable balance at various stages between building quality and functional performance against the pressure of cost and time control.

For non-expert clients, the architect in private firm should be able to recommend and engage specialist consultants necessarily required, and organize the task of procurement. The architect should be able to inspect and monitor the construction process from inception to completion. The architect should be able to carry out all these with every sense of responsibility, integrity and high sense of professionalism and fairness to his client, specialist consultants, his professional colleagues and the society at large as enshrined in the NIA Code of Conducts and Bye-Laws.

In the architect in public sector, where the ministry permits by way of making projects available, is expected to be everything the architect in private practice is. Public sector practitioners should in addition be able to regulate public interest in the assessment of services provided by private firms especially in the areas of aesthetics, functionality, value engineering, cost and time advantages.

Further, the architect in public service should be able to, respect and protect the Code of Conduct, ethics and Bye-laws of the profession as provided by the Nigerian Institute of Architects, and interpret its provisions to his employer.

In view of the fact that academia encourages specialization, the architect in academics should be vast in one or more of all the areas listed for architect in private practice, so as to be able to communicate such knowledge to students in the areas he so specializes. He should induce the dignity of the profession in particular and professionalism in general to the students through mannerism and teachings of the ideals of the Code of Conduct and ethics as provided by the NIA. He should research into the impact of his teaching on the graduate in the practice as a feed back for improvement.

Emanating from a professional background the architect in politics should engage his professional dexterity in shaping politics towards a better physical and enabling environment.





Architectural practice has witnessed series of absurdity in Nigeria over the last 20 years. The architect however, is not practicing in vacuum. There are many actors in the industry, like the clients, contractors, specialist consultants etc whose input affects the success of the practice of the architect. This is no time to place blame, but rather to mention the distortions for other theses to identify the cause and the remedy. It is important to point out these to ourselves just to remind us as leaders of the industry of our responsibility to at least mention. Edmund Burke⁶ was quoted as saying “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. If the least architects can do is to mention, let us do something.

Perhaps one of the earliest shock a practitioner in architecture faces is that of compliance with the requirements of the Code of Conduct provision under professional obligations that a member “shall act impartially, firmly but fairly between client and contractor.” The client always feels that ‘he who pays the piper, dictates the tune”. In private practice, the architect is seen as ‘compromising’ his position or even integrity any moment he judges in favor of the contractor; in the public sector, the desk officer is expected to shun the rights of his colleagues in practice and the contractor simply because they are all assumed ‘contractors’. The notion in commodity trading that ‘the client is always right’ is blindly applied. This is surely not unconnected with the lack of understanding of role of the architect.


In Nigeria, anyone can register a construction business. One glaring and disturbing misconception of the Nigerian contracto-class is the unfortunate belief that in every contract, there is a profit. This belief unfortunately cuts across all levels of our indigenous contractors. Contractors accept or quote ridiculous price not minding the specifications and quantities, thinking that there is either a profit, or a way of manipulating the contract to profitability. It is like any one you offer a contract, will just be looking for the dotted lines to sign without even scanning through the contract documents. Many get away with un-contractual revisions, or simply abandon the job with impunity as if there is no penalty for breach.   Once the project is abandoned, the employer has no option but to explore the provisions of clause 25 of the contract conditions to terminate the contract. Clause 25, sub-clause 4.5 provides the penalty for breach as thus:

“The contractor shall allow or pay to the employer in the manner hereinafter appearing the amount of any loss and/or damage caused to the employer by the determination.”  

How many of us here ever witness or heard of this provision enforced in Nigeria, especially in government contracts? The contractor just walks away un-challenged. Even with the introduction of BMPIU the situation did not change.  

Contractors therefore hustle to pick the contract at any price, collect advance payments, and try to get away with substandard works or pursue undue cost changes. If all fails, abandon the job. The next tender they may still get. The erroneous notion that after prequalifying, ‘lowest bidder gets the job’ imbibed by the BMPIU made the situation worst. Bidding contractors make impressive theoretical submissions for prequalification: good list of technical staff; but how are you sure they did not just rent a copy of their CVs? Impressive list of plants and equipments; how are you sure they really own them, submitted proof of ownership notwithstanding? Good paper evidence of financial record and backing, despite which he cannot move without being given advance payment.…..and so many other theoretically inclined documentations that will pre-qualify the bidder.   Ones the bidder makes the prequalification list, his only task is to make sure he bids lowest. So many ridiculously low bidders got away with the BMPIU approval, and if the records of such projects will be closely monitored, they may end up being completed much higher than imagined, or abandoned.  

Other provisions of contract conditions that suffer neglect are the Liquidated and Ascertained Damages; Fluctuation Clause and Period of Honoring Certificate. One rarely hears of a contractor being charged for delayed completion.

Fluctuation Clause, is a clause properly tied to procedures: first the clause must be part of the conditions; secondly, there must be a schedule of basic prices; thirdly, the material being claimed must have been listed in the schedule of basic prices; fourthly, the contractor must have notified the architect of the changes in price prior to purchasing; fifthly, the contractor must submit the invoice of the purchased item.. and many more.   Very rarely contractors notify of changes of prices, they go ahead and purchase and submit the invoices. Moreover, invoices are very easy to produce in the name of any imaginary company. This makes the screening of fluctuation documentation very difficult and a times messy.  

Contractors are rarely paid within the stipulated period of honoring certificates, and under most provisions their remedy is to terminate the contract, this is a decision they hardly want to take. Only on very rare occasions the contract conditions provide for interest on delayed payments, which even if provided, are hardly enforced.

Institutionalizing Mobilization Advance has become the order of the day in construction industry with the lame justification that it is meant to cushion the effect of fluctuation, even though it is paid for even non-fluctuating contracts. This presupposes that in Nigeria, prices of building materials are always rising, not even responding to the basic economic rule of supply and demand. Three weeks ago , price of cement rose to 1800 naira per 50kg bag, but newspaper report this week reported a drop to 1650 naira in response to supply and demand.

Why must a contractor whose financial standing is one of the reasons for his being pre-qualified be paid mobilization advance under the guise of “cushioning fluctuation”? How can the provisions of Clause 25 be enforced? How do the contractors wriggle out of the low prices quoted and who are the culprits? How can a data bank be raised to monitor black-listed contractors?  

In the light of the Nigerian situation, shall these and many other clauses of the standard contract conditions be revisited?



Professional service firms in general have peculiar challenges, which Prof. DeLong⁷ in answering a question on the difference between leadership in professional firms and that of regular firms summarized as, “Professional Service Firms are flatter organization, can be highly leveraged, and attract very smart professionals with a very high need for achievement. Few want to make a career of working in the firm. These variables are different from regular organization”.

From which ever angle one wants to look at the challenges facing architectural practice, one cannot divorce the dynamic nature of architecture itself as a profession, and the practice of it as a business.  Architecture in the early days was a master- builder approach. Much as serious considerations were given to materials and environmental determinants, the challenges they posed were not as critical as today.  Architecture was narrowly concerned about fulfillment of functional and aesthetics values.  Architecture today focuses more on the three fundamentals thus: value, function and image.   Value (tangible), which distinguishes architecture from pure arts, has suddenly become an undisputed major consideration in architecture today.   The prominence of value has necessitated the need for the architect to at least be aware of finances, market forces, development options etc.  

Despite the wide range of specialization areas in architecture, the demand on the architect is everyday stretching. Schools of Architecture the world over are in the dilemma of which new courses to add, and which ones to drop in view of the load burden on students.

Job prospecting and marketing have its own fair share the dynamism of the profession. As DeLong puts it, “in the past, the work of professional service firms was a gentleman’s game – and now it’s blood sport. You cannot wait for clients to knock on your door. Now you must go and sell the business. And most firms are competing for the same kind of clients: large, complex and global”. Many a times the architect has to study the problems around his prospective client, and sell the idea to him in exchange for commission.

Architects require the acuteness of the business manager plus the super skill to work within the confines of NIA strict provisions of the code of conduct on marketing. There is also the complication professional practitioners find themselves, that of the dual role of being both producers and managers at the same time. What is probably needed according to my professors, is a new approach to leading Professional Service firms”⁸ Much like architectural practice is changing, so is the client. The competition is getting tougher, and “client are informed enough to be dangerous, and they ask for more for less.” Client’s expectations are reaching soaring height to the extent that they are expecting the architect to be a magician. The challenges facing the practice of architecture today has been growing in size and complexity, extending the level of excitement that requires stomach anti-acid to control. For example, a client may award his contract purely on political or other considerations to a company that has no business with construction yet expecting the architect to wound magic and get the job done within the specified quality, time and cost. This is probably because the role of architect in normal post contract services is misconstrued to be that of supervision even in some of the NIA’s official documents. It should be realized that the architect only inspects and monitors, because supervision of the nitty-gritty of construction process is actually the responsibility of the contractor’s staff on site.



Nigerian clients are fast developing at probably a faster rate the nation seems to develop. Globalization has opened their eyes to pursue their rights and demand for the best service from architects. The architectural practice that can survive the pace of development in Nigeria must reposition itself in the most competitive state. Such practice must aim at high-performance through reaching out for new opportunities. The staff must possess the ability to hoodwink theory into practical reality, and exploit advances in technology to the fullest. Such should not only be self centered, but also advantage to the client as a competitive advantage.

Architectural practices must also invest in the renewal of its intellectual capital, which can never be bought but developed. Many firms spend a lot on routine management training which are hardly tailored for the kind of challenges encountered in the management of professional services. The kind of business such training programs are designed for are not having the challenges posed by high level intellectual manpower consultancy firms cope with as its major capital. Perhaps the best investment in the renewal of intellectual capital for architectural practitioners is through architectural seminars and workshops like this, and also similar programs tailored specifically for professional service firms, that face similar challenges.

Article 1 of the NIA Code of Conduct dealing with Professional Obligations & Remunerations under Clause 1.2 demands that a member is advised before undertaking or continuing with any work to arrange that his resources are adequate and properly directed to carry it out.” Resources here implies intellectual, financial and material. Architects should be professional enough to size up their involvement to the limit of their resources otherwise quality, cost or timing is bound to be compromised. Perhaps, many of the grossly incomplete contract documentations flying the construction industry today could be manifestation of the infringement of this clause by architects, primarily due to preponderance of one-man practices. Team work is the only way for pooling experience, sharing knowledge and articulating quality production that meets client’s objective. The global trend towards merger and acquisition is strategically geared towards waxing stronger for better services and competitive advantage.

The Code encourages members to support paid competition and forbids supplanting one another in the quest for job prospecting, so as to promote excellence and cordiality. There is enough job for every architect in Nigeria. As professionals, architects should imbibe the culture of ‘coopetition’, an HBS coined word for cooperation amidst competition as a sure strategy for good practice.


¹ Encarta Dictionaries.

² NIA Publications.

³ Lauer, Charles S.

Pollard, JG: John G. Pollard Quotes –

Edmund Burke: New York Magazine (4/30/95)

DeLong, TJ: HBS Working Knowledge.

DeLong, TJ; Gabarro, JJ.:   New Challenges in Leading Professional Services – HBS Working Knowledge.


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  3. 3.Hackett, Robinson & Statham : Procurement, Tendering & Contract Administration – Blackwell Publishing.
  4. 4.Harrigan, JE & Neal, PR. : The Executive Architect – John Wiley & Sons.
  5. 5.NIA CODE OF CONDUCT: 1985 Edition.
  6. 6.The NIA Constitution & Bye-Laws: May,2001.
  7. 7.Tunstall, G: Managing Building Design Process – Butterworth Heinemann.
  8. 8.Orr, AD: Advance Project Management – Kogan Page.



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