When it comes to the architect RFP, there’s a lot on the line. Whether you’re part of the team investing in a new building, remodel or renovation, or the architecture firm bidding to win the business, an RFP helps you connect with the right partner.
This article explores everything you need to know to issue or respond to an architect RFP. To begin, we’ll offer an overview of architect RFP basics. Next, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide to issuing an effective architecture RFP. Then, we’ll share how to put your best foot forward as a firm responding to an RFP. Finally, to conclude, we’ll see it all in action with architecture RFP proposal samples, examples and templates.
Architect RFP basics
What is an architect RFP?
An architect request for proposal (RFP) is a procurement document issued by an organization looking for the right firm to provide architectural services. The RFP is essentially a questionnaire that outlines an architectural project and includes a list of requirements and questions. Also referred to as an architectural and engineering RFP (A-E or A/E RFP) the purpose of the document is to gather vendor information in a standardized way to enable clear comparisons.
The RFP is written and issued by the organization wishing to purchase architectural services. For them, the question-and-answer format enables a data-based approach to vendor selection. Once issued, the RFP is answered by the firms interested in winning the bid and performing the service.
The RFQ in architecture service purchasing
The RFP isn’t the only procurement document commonly used in architectural projects. Because of the vast number of architectural firms as well as the technical requirements of build projects, often the process begins with a request for qualifications (RFQ). When used as a first step, the RFQ helps buyers narrow down their vendor selection to a short list based on the firm’s qualifications and experience. Typically, an RFQ does not include questions about fees or cost. Whereas in an RFP, pricing is almost always an included consideration.
Benefits of the RFP process
When an organization needs to engage an architectural firm to build, renovate or remodel a structure, there are a lot of things to think about. Luckily, a request for proposal offers a methodical and organized approach to finding the right partner.
RFQs and RFPs standardize the information collected from interested firms, making it easier to compare providers. Consequently, the RFP process enables the buyer to make a confident decision while ensuring a level playing field for interested vendors.
Verify qualifications and experience
When it comes to designing and engineering a building, experience is crucial. Using an RFP or RFQ enables a buyer to explore each firm’s portfolio of past projects. Additionally, they can request references to hear from a firm’s former clients first hand.
Ensure organizational compatibility
One unique and important consideration when undertaking an architectural project is compatibility. After all, most projects take many months, if not years to complete. So, partnering with an organization that shares a similar work style, values and culture can make a big difference.
Manage risk and compliance
Many organizations must carefully manage the risk associated with large-scale investments. An RFP documents the decision-making process and can help resolve issues that may arise once a contract has been awarded. In addition, the detailed approach helps proactively manage compliance.
Types of architecture RFPs
As you might imagine, there are many types of RFPs for architectural services. While each follows the same general format and serves the same purpose, they all ask unique questions.
The most common are:
- Architectural review consulting services RFP
- RFP for design services
- Landscape architecture RFP
- Architectural and engineering RFP
- On-call design projects RFP
- General architectural services RFP
- RFP for design and construction support
- Renovation design and engineering services RFP
Issuing an RFP for architecture and engineering services
When it comes to issuing an RFP for architecture and engineering services, the process follows the same general steps as any other RFP. Essentially, the process can be broken down into three main steps: RFP creation, administration and evaluation.
Below you’ll find a simple overview of the steps required to issue an RFP, but you can explore more detailed steps by downloading: The RFP process guide ebook.
1. RFP creation
An effective architect RFP is clear, concise and thoughtful. Consequently, the RFP creation process is a combination of internal collaboration, research and planning.
- Interview stakeholders and define requirements
Identify your project stakeholders. Then, work together to define the project requirements and goals. In addition, be sure to determine which considerations are the highest priority. For example, is price or experience more important? This information will help inform your evaluation process later.
- Define your RFP project timeline
Create an RFP timeline to keep your project on track. Not only will the chronological set of milestones guide your internal process, but it is also key to ensuring your vendors meet expectations. Key dates to include in your timeline are the RFP issuing date, vendor follow up question deadline, proposal submission date and final selection announcement.
- Write your RFP
Using the information you gathered from your stakeholders, create your architecture RFP. It should include:
- Company background information
- Specifications and requirements
- RFP and project timeline
- Evaluation criteria
- Minimum qualifications and submission requirements
- Terms and conditions
- Select which vendors to include
As mentioned above, you may find the number of potential service providers overwhelming. If so, it’s wise to issue an RFQ to narrow your options down to a short list of pre-qualified firms.
2. RFP administration
Once you’ve written the RFP, you’re ready to send it out. While this part of the RFP process includes waiting for the potential providers to respond, there’s more to it than that.
- Issuing or publishing the RFP
If you’re a private organization, simply send your RFP directly to your short list of vendors by email or digitally through RFP management software. However, if you’re a part of a government entity, generally you must publish the RFP publicly to solicit bids.
- Provide answers to follow-up questions
No matter how thorough the information you provide in your RFP is, there will always be follow-up questions from vendors. So, gather any questions and provide any required clarifications. Remember, to ensure fairness and transparency, the entire list of questions and answers should be sent to all vendors.
- Follow up with firms
Ideally, you’ll have plenty of vendor responses ahead of the RFP deadline. However, when your final deadline is about a week away, consider sending out a follow-up reminder to any firms you haven’t heard from.
3. RFP evaluation
When you’ve received proposals from the architecture firms hoping to win your business, it’s time to review and evaluate them.
- Score each proposal
The first step in determining which architecture proposal is the best is to score each one individually. Luckily, if you have RFP software, scoring is done automatically. Automated RFP scoring saves time and is especially helpful if you use weighted scoring to prioritize your decision factors.
- Evaluate the results
Once you’ve scored the proposals, you need to compare each vendor and validate the results. Occasionally, you may find that two scorers interpreted a question or answer differently. In that case, discuss the discrepancy and come to a consensus.
- Make your final selection
If all goes well, you’ll now have a clear winner. However, before you send out your RFP award letter and proposal rejection letters, it’s wise to complete negotiations and contracting.
Responding to an architecture RFP
If you’re a part of an architecture firm, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the RFP process. Hopefully, you have an RFP strategy that enables you to find RFPs, win them and grow your business. However, if you aren’t winning as many opportunities as you’d like, review the RFP best practices and tips below.
Proposal process best practices
Don’t bid on everything
Not every architectural RFP is going to be a good fit for your organization, which means that bidding on every RFP that comes your way may be a waste of time and resources. So, before you dive in and start writing a proposal, review and discuss whether to bid or not to bid with your team.
Download a go/no-go checklist to guide your discussions to bid or not to bid.
Gather and reuse your best proposal content
Regardless of the specifics of any individual project, most architect RFPs ask similar questions. Consequently, you can save time and hone your messaging by collecting, customizing and reusing previous proposal content. The easiest way to gather and organize your answers is with a proposal knowledge library.
Check out this guide to learn more about how to build your own time-saving knowledge library.
Communicate your understanding
While reusing RFP content saves time, it’s also important to customize your proposal to the client’s needs. Read and reread the RFP to familiarize yourself with what is most important to them. Often, their desired outcome is more nuanced than simply checking off each of their listed requirements. Consequently, you can help your firm stand out by digging deeper and conveying your understanding of their big-picture goals.
Highlight your team
One of the most underutilized selling points for architectural firms is the talent and experience of individuals within the team. As you write your proposal, introduce key team members. Including this information helps the prospect picture themselves working with your firm and instills confidence that they will be supported throughout the process.
Make the most of each part of your proposal
Traditionally, the executive summary and cover letter of a proposal are fairly standard. Unfortunately, for many firms, that means they’ve become somewhat boring and ineffective. These two documents offer a unique opportunity to connect with the potential client and make your proposal more memorable. After all, they’re often the first and sometimes the only thing some stakeholders will read when they receive your proposal.
Download these templates to give your introductory documents a fresh voice:
Master your messaging
Creating compelling architect RFP responses is an art. You must be able to communicate your firm’s experience and depth of knowledge while remaining approachable and consultative. Before you send your proposal, review it carefully to ensure that someone with little or no industry experience can understand it.
Where to find architect RFPs
In the architecture industry, referrals and references are still one of the main ways to win business. However, if you’re looking to expand your reach and break into public projects, you’ll need to know how to find RFPs. Luckily, there are many RFP databases available. While many of them charge a small subscription fee, it can be well worth it to discover new available opportunities.
Architect RFP databases
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is a great place to post and find architecture and engineering RFPs. While the association doesn’t host RFPs at the national level, many state-level chapters host lists of open RFP opportunities. For example, the Arizona, New Hampshire, Los Angeles, and Florida AIA chapters offer a centralized list of RFPs.
While this database gathers RFPs for all parts of the construction process, one of the largest segments is the professional services category that includes architect RFPs. The site offers a 30-day trial so you can explore the available projects before buying.
This RFP database focuses on opportunities organized by location. While access to the database requires a small fee, you can pick and choose which states you’re interested in. Additionally, the price is scaled based on the state’s project volume.
Sample architect RFP and proposal examples
Architect RFP examples
This RFP for architectural services is unique. In addition to the three projects the city plans to undertake, the main objective of the RFP is to find a firm to retain. Consequently, the RFP is unusually detailed and thorough to ensure a productive ongoing relationship.
The renovation of a conference center in Everett, WA is the subject of this architecture RFP example. While it doesn’t ask a long list of questions, it does provide very specific information about what should be included in a resulting proposal.
Expectations are clear in this detailed RFP from WestEd. From the introduction to the final instructions, this RFP is detailed and clear. If you’re looking for a great RFP to adapt, this one is a good start.
Our last architect RFP example presents a unique challenge to prospective firms. As a one-of-a-kind project, the RFP outlines the goal of creating an enclosure for the Giant Magellan Telescope. It specifies the desired qualifications and experience and offers visual elements to help interested firms develop their proposals.
Architect proposal examples
Helpfully formatted and rich with photos of past projects, this architecture proposal example is easy to navigate and understand. The proposal contains everything the buyer needs to know from planning and project management to the scope of work and suggestions for improvement.
This proposal for the Wilmette Public Library repair services explores the project understanding, scope and deliverables. In addition, the proposal offers a pricing table for the project.
If your style is short and sweet, this A/E proposal example is a great start. Despite being only four pages, this proposal from RSC architects for a municipal building renovation project manages to cover all the important elements. For example, the proposal offers an overview of the firm’s project understanding, proposed scope, fees and payments.
While most RFPs for architectural services are a one-time project, the results of the RFP linger long after the firm has finished their work. Not only are these projects big investments of time and money, but they also have a lasting impact as people interact with the resulting structure long into the future. Ultimately, a careful and thoughtful RFP process ensures a mutually beneficial engagement that delivers value long into the future.