Partial services and the Architect GP

Sarah Hobday-North , 8 June 2022

Architectural outlier Sarah Hobday-North shares her preference for partial services work – the benefits, the challenges and the fundamental differences.

Let’s start with a quiz. Do you offer partial services in your practice? If we define partial services as anything less than an all-inclusive architectural service from Concept Design to Contract Administration, where do you sit on this informal scale?

  1. Partial services? No way, too risky.
  2. No, we’re concerned about quality and our practice wants to retain creative control.
  3. Yeah, if a client really doesn’t want Contract Admin we can leave it out.
  4. Yes, we’ve done work that finishes at Design Development.
  5. Absolutely, it’s a core part of our practice.
  6. Are you kidding?? That IS my practice!

I’m a number six, which makes me an architectural outlier. What I want to present here is my advocacy for partial services, its benefits, its challenges, and how it quite fundamentally differs from full services.

Partial Services is still a topic that warrants its own PD sessions. Why?

On 28 April, ArchiTeam ran a well-attended event with 75 architects tuning in to hear what a lawyer (Emily Booth), an insurance broker (Greg Hansen) and two architects (Steffen Welch and your humble author) had to say on the topic.

Let’s cut to it – the concerns with offering partial services are almost always about managing professional risk and quality of outcomes. The cultural assumption within our profession is that partial services will expose you to more risk and results in lower quality build outcomes. When the AIA’s Acumen practice notes advises that, “In calculating a fee for partial services, consideration should be given to the additional work and higher risk involved,” this assumption seems entrenched. Why even would you?

Yet here we are, returning to it over again. Trying to make it work. And thank goodness. There are so many reasons for the profession to embrace partial services.

  • To engage with a new client base (dare I say, customer base?)
  • Finally increase “the size of the pie” by genuinely opening new markets
  • To spread practice risk by fostering multiple project pipelines
  • To increase diversity of project types, improving practice morale, training and staff opportunities
  • To introduce more transactional project types, aiding cashflow
  • To improve accessibility to architectural services for a greater number of the population
  • To allow more architects (often women) from more walks of life to continue to practice through changing life circumstances
  • To do more “good” with our knowledge and skills by redesigning the services we can offer

Taken together, I argue that an increased provision of partial services can have the net effect of increasing the awareness of the value of architecture, by allowing more people to have a direct experience of it. It can also broaden the definition of an ideal client.

But there’s a catch. Actually, three of them.

1) Partial Services is NOT Full Services LITE

Offering partial services requires a different approach, expectations and attitude of the project. It may even require some personal reflection.

A critical point of reflection for me was, “am I still an architect if I don’t do Contract Admin or provide full working drawings?” So strongly was my training engrained in me, along with architecture’s cultural assumptions and myths, that I wondered if I had permission to do this.

Yes, you are allowed to do this. We can still meet our legal and professional obligations within different project boundaries. The key is defining them.

2) Partial Services requires additional communication.

All presenters, lawyers, insurance gurus and practitioners alike, agreed that partial services required more and different forms of communication between architects and clients/customers.

Architects can not be lazy in defining their scope of services, relying on the contract dot points to protect them, knowing that they just have to “do everything anyway”. In partial services we must make a deep and effective effort to communicate what we will do, what the deliverables are, what will be left to do when our role concludes, and how we might continue to be of service if the client chooses. This is a very grown-up relationship.

3) Partial Services done well requires architects to change what they offer.

I’ll talk about this by example.

I offer two services that customers can book directly from my website. The “Architect-GP Consultation” allows people to talk with a registered architect about their home and their hopes for it in the same way that they may talk with a doctor about their health. It implies the question – why are architects not as approachable as doctors?

I also offer a two-hour “Advantage Consultation”. I describe this differently, keeping it more design focussed. In these workshops I am active with my customers – sketching, measuring, discussing to allow them to see the work that an architect does. They show their commitment to this process by paying a deposit up front and completing a briefing questionnaire. We hit the ground running and they love it. They feel heard. The way is clearer.

Sometimes these consultations turn into a larger piece of work. But this is at my discretion, and I still don’t do full services. I also offer my customers resources, homework and referrals to aid them on their own journey.

Many people want to take a more active role in their own project – but they need support to do it. I offer that support.

The perception of traditional architectural models of “all-or-nothing” is an unnecessary restriction to our potential clients, customers and market. I invite you to consider how you might benefit your business and your levels of satisfaction by engaging with people in different ways.

This is not about charity. This is a missed (not yet lost) opportunity.

One day Sarah Hobday-North woke up and realised she was a mid-career architect. The daughter of RAIA fellows, she turned down taking over the family firm. After quitting architecture in 2015 and becoming a high school design teacher, she quit that too and has been evolving her own practice ever since. Value Architects Group is the result. Sarah ONLY offers partial services to home owners and community groups. On twitter she is Architectrix and The_Architect_GP.