Do I Need to Use a Contract for My Building Design Project?


When starting out on a building design project, one of the most important—and often overlooked—things to consider is formalising a legal contract between the client and the building contractor. A contract is the most guaranteed and sensible way of protecting all parties involved in the project and essentially guarantees building work in return for payment.

This is not an area in which you can cut corners as, without a legally binding contract, you could potentially delay project progression as well as running into other avoidable problems with the other party, including disputes.

Despite the importance of a formal contract, however, they haven’t always been fully utilised in the past. In order to better educate our clients, we have outlined the key reasons why formalising a building contract is essential in any building design project.

How Does A Building Contract Work?

The contract between a client and a contractor is undertaken prior to, and runs throughout, the construction phase of a project. A standard contract states that the contractor will provide the agreed work on behalf of the client for an agreed price and time.

The contract is usually overseen and administered by the architect or designer who has worked on the current project up to this stage. They will act as an impartial third party to ensure that works progress in compliance with the agreed drawings, specifications and any other relevant documentation. It is inherent that the architect takes on this role as they will have a prior understanding of both the project and construction methodology. This will allow them to work with the contractor to resolve any issues which may occur during the building stage of the project, whilst alleviating any unnecessary stress or worry on the clients behalf by providing a buffer between them and the contractor. It also ensures a level of continuity and control over the construction phase which would otherwise be lost without the architect’s professional input.

What Kind of Contract Should I Use?

With a domestic project, when work is simple in character, the most common form of contract is the SBCC Minor Works Building Contract for use in Scotland (2011 Edition). This is a standard form of agreement which will remain unaltered—given the absence of exceptional circumstances—as, in it’s existing form, it provides a fair and equally secure balance between the rights of both parties. This is a balance best left unaltered as it could lead to potential dispute and bad feeling between both parties right from the outset.

The contract is split into ten main sections: Recitals and Articles; Clauses Sections 1 to 8; and Schedules. Contrary to popular belief, the contract does not need to be enforced or altered as works will progress on time, on budget and without variation to scope and cost, however, in some cases, jobs may run over time and appropriate changes may be required.

Whatever contract you use, it will ultimately set out the obligations of both the contractor and the client, specifying the details for the scope of works to be carried out as well as the specific attributes related to the time and cost of the works—including work schedules—all based on the previous tender process and documentation.

Why Do I Need a Building Contract?

As well as providing specific details which both parties must adhere to, the contract encourages prompt communication and timely payments whilst providing a legal safeguard against any unexpected disruptions to the works.

The contract provides a legal basis for works to take place, for deductions and additions to cost, or for recompense from one party to the other, if necessary. Without the contract, there is no legal footing for these attributes and they would prove difficult–if not impossible—to enforce.


Contracts are an inherently useful aid for dispute avoidance and project progression, as well as the peace of mind resulting from a tried and trusted, legally binding document. They also ensure that the architect responsible for overseeing your project will work with you every step of the way to ensure the smooth running of the project in order to deliver great results.

Here at Tinto, we appreciate that understanding the contract, its clauses and details in full can be a daunting prospect for some of our clients, particularly those with no prior experience of the construction industry. That’s why we are more than happy to run through the specifics with you and answer any queries you may have before the building work commences.

We don’t believe in keeping our clients in the dark: we aim to put you at the heart of your project and involve you every step of the way, so that you can be secure in the knowledge that you will get the building you have envisioned for the cost that you expect!