At the AIA National Convention in May, a young architect attended a lecture on AIA’s new Supplemental Architectural Services program, which assists architects looking to diversify their practices. When Richard L. Hayes, AIA, the AIA’s director of knowledge resources, explained how parking plans and code compliance could be considered supplemental services, the architect said, “You mean I can charge for this?” Hayes affirmed, and she replied, “I just paid next year’s dues.”
In a down economy, supplementing traditional design with other services can be an exciting and lucrative option. AIA’s Supplemental Services program provides essays and slide presentations on aia.org that offer technical assistance to architects interested in consulting in a variety of fields. When full commissions aren’t available, Hayes says, offering supplemental services allows a firm to go after a key part of a project or provide a niche capability as a subcontractor to another firm. It can also be a way to allow younger professionals to manage special projects.
“In architecture school you’re trained to do the whole project,” Hayes says. “This program requires architects to step back and think about doing just pieces of it. Some architects might already have the skills to provide a new service, while others might want to get additional training.”
So far, AIA has identified 135 supplemental services that its members could pursue. Of these, 48 have been listed on the AIA website with detailed essays taken from The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (available as downloadable PDFs), along with concise PowerPoint presentations and citations for the appropriate AIA contract documents for each service. The list includes such diverse services as architectural acoustics, construction defect analysis, historic preservation, model construction, research services, sustainability consulting, and writing.
Hall Architects of Charlotte, N.C., for one, offers services including analyzing building pathology, providing expert witness testimony in building disputes, and developing construction specifications. In a recent construction dispute, firm members analyzed the design and construction of the building using exterior wall mock-ups to demonstrate possible water intrusion. Offering these services has been so successful, according to principal Dennis J. Hall, FAIA, FSCI, that the firm has created a separate legal entity for this work, called HALL | Building Information Group (using the same architectural staff).
“As the architectural work has slowed down with the current economic climate, the consulting work has picked up, enabling us to maintain a high-quality staff,” Hall says.
Diversifying is not without its potential downsides, however. Hayes says that clients might already expect some of these supplemental services to be rolled into the basic design service and may not understand the potential benefits of using a specialist. Yet, he says, architects have the opportunity to expand revenue possibilities by offering a supplemental service that is more detailed, exacting, and expansive than what might be included in the basic design.
Hall adds that being a consultant instead of the design architect requires a mental shift on all sides. “As a second-tier consultant,” Hall says, “you are not on top of the food chain in getting paid and may not have direct contact with the paying entity. And there may be the perception by some firms that you are ‘competition’ and not part of a team working for the success of the project.” Still, he adds, being an outside “expert” can sometimes garner more respect on certain topics than one might receive as the architect of record.
Nicholas R. Koch, associate vice president of HGA Architects and Engineers in Minneapolis, says that his firm prioritizes the pursuit of more supplemental services. “We really appreciated the in-depth thinking that the AIA has done on this topic, the way that supplemental services are linked to AIA contract documents, and the well-structured comments on services and the skill sets required,” Koch says.
Hayes and his colleagues are now working on adding new essays for other supplemental services as well as identifying new services that could be included. “Whether someone is already established or thinking of hanging out their shingle for the first time, they could come to an existing building owner and say, ‘Here’s something I can do for you,’” Hayes says. “This is a good way to keep people working.”
To learn more about the AIA’s efforts on supplemental architectural services, visit aia.org/practicing/akr/AIAB089194.