Reusing a design...what about the original client?


I know the title reeks of lazy architecture...but hear me out:

We all know a client isn't supposed to re-use a design, at least now w/out the agreement of/compensation to, the architect. But what about an architect reusing the design from one commission for future projects?

I'm specifically thinking of a private commission my office has recently done for a 4 family attached row house in New York City, at the same time the office has been looking at trying our hand guessed it...developing 3 or 4 family row houses. Same lot size, same zoning, generally the same architectural context as the first commission.

Other than possibly tweaking a few things in response to site specifics, the private commission is a perfect prototype for the development project (which will hopefully be repeated if the first try is successful).

Do we have any legal or ethical obligation to that first client? Could they make a claim that their fee funded our development of the design and therefore they're entitled to something?

What do you think?

Sep 24, 09 2:43 pm

legally, it should all be spelled out in your contract - if you claimed ownership of the design and the drawings are just an instrument of service (the aia contract starting point), then you can reuse them however you wish legally.

if the contract had any provisions that the client would legally own the drawings, you can't do anything with the literal design since you don't own it.

if your contract avoided the issue altogether.... good luck. the owner could easily make an after the fact claim that they owned the design (most clients don't really understand that the architect owns the design they've paid hard cash for) and you could end up in a lawsuit very easily.

Sep 24, 09 2:50 pm

We own the design...drawings are instruments of service.

Legally I'm just wondering if it's as simple as we just own the work outright, or are there limitations to our ownership.

Just to take it to an extreme...lets say I designed a highly custom home in the country, and my contract has the instruments of service clause. I then buy up 4 adjacent lots on the same road, and built 4 more copies of the owners house right next door to him. There's nothing he could do?

I hope it's that simple.

Sep 24, 09 4:28 pm
wurdan freo

and poof.... you're a custom home builder.

How many people in Mc Mansions are suing the builder because their neighbors house looks exactly like theirs?

You're worried about your intellectual property rights because you've been taught by architects to be worried about them. No one else cares. Except, maybe, Metallica.

Sep 24, 09 4:52 pm

If you are designing a custom home for someone, don't you think that it is implied that it is custom and unique? i would be horribly upset if I was that client and you used it again without significant changes. Can't you change the outside materials, do a new facade design, change the detailing, change the roof line, something to make it look unique?

My parents "designed" a split level 50 years ago with a builder, and had it custom built for them. The builder was just starting out asked if he could use it as a show house for a couple of weeks before my parents moved in. My mom had picked out a lot of new furniture, and they used that to stage the place. Someone who toured the house loved it, and had the builder build the identical house across town, same brick, same front door color, and even bought identical furniture to what my mother had picked out!! This was in a small town of like 30,000 people. My parents never got over it. They never spoke to the builder again.

Sep 24, 09 5:38 pm

bklyntotfc - i'm no lawyer, but, yes, it should be pretty much that simple.

ethically, it's a whole other issue. you might want to give a heads up to the other owner - even if you own the rights, it still won't prevent him from filing suit if he feels aggrieved. trying to head that off is a good thing, since you'll end up paying your lawyer to keep you out of court.

Sep 25, 09 3:57 pm

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