Partial Services




Engagement terms & scope of work

Changes to design brief  – consequences

Objectives:  Client, Architect, Consultant, Contractor 


Site and site controls;  covenants, cross-leases

Client & contractor history, priorities, expectations


Yours:                                    design, observation, administration, estimates

Consultants:                        skills & resources, timing, communication

Contractors:                        attitude, capacity, timing, communication

Materials:                            limitations, junctions, costs, warranties, moisture

Project Manager:              passing the buck?


Budgets and estimates

Variations, monetary allowances, unknowns

Payments versus progress and performance

Contractor insolvency

Fees disputes & lack of goodwill or empathy

Partial Services           

Documentation versus site requirements

Inability to pick up issues or control outcomes

Loss of relationship with project and client

Defence of claims without first-hand knowledge


  • Responds only to risks arising out of the normal course of business
  • Does not respond to contracted risks beyond those normally accepted
  • Long tail (tale!):  Liability may not be quantified until years later
  • “Claims Made” basis:  Policy must be current when events which give rise to a claim first become known to the insured.
  • Policy holder has a duty to notify as soon as circumstances are known
  • Policy holder has a duty to assist in the resolution of the claim


  • A co-operative run by and for architects, with group purchasing power and ability to influence PI policy terms.
  • In operation 50 years, now covers 70% or more of architecture firms + some designers
  • Claims Committee is available to assist members with actual or potential claims, and to provide architectural experience to their resolution by the insurers.
  • Publishes Communique – advice and guidance in Risk Management
  • Website resources at



  1. Architect appointed to major upgrade/refurbishment project spanning several years, multiple revisions of design brief by a changing client management team:  design required to evolve with aspects of the work uncovered during construction.  Project manager appointed after site operations started:  later multiple problems because context and responsibilities changed and not reliably documented by the parties.  When it comes to a claim, what is in writing is what counts!
  • Architect sends terms of engagement and fees proposal to client;  client instructs the work to proceed (either directly, or by actions in continuing to review and comment on the design) but never actually signs and returns the service contract, or continues to debate its terms.  Architect proceeds in good faith.  Project terminated because:  (a) the designs are never going to meet expectations or (b) getting the required resource consent is too hard or (c) costs are running ahead of budget or (d) divorce is pending or (e) commercial reasons do not support the investment or (f) anything else!  Client then says fees are not payable because the contract either was never signed or because the architect had failed to perform;  architect discovers that copyright may be unenforceable because the contract was not signed;  architect discovers that the interest provisions on unpaid fees may also be voided.
  • A “novel” design feature fails.  Architect digs out several emails to prove that the client was fully aware of the risks and chose to proceed with the design feature.  Client digs out just as many (and perhaps some of the same) emails to prove that they were “talked into” the design feature by the architect.  It is unclear who actually made the decision and on what grounds, but the client’s view prevails on the basis that they relied on the architect’s advice, and the architect had the professional duty to make prudent design decisions.
  • In housing work, the maximum stress level is reached when the construction is almost complete, the client can only see the defects and uncompleted work;  they are stressed out by the endless decisions and costs;  the builder is already overdue and being pressured to start the next project:  the dream is now reality and it may not be perfect.
  • Be aware that if you “recommend” a builder, the client may think they can hold you responsible for their performance.
  • If you elevate your concept of priorities over those of your client, there is a risk it may backfire.  Examples:  The design featured the architect’s selection of views, but when the clients went on site during construction they discovered that their requirement for expansive views had been ignored.  Another where the architect “expanded” the client’s design brief (and budget) to include work not asked for.  Many cases where the architect’s idea of aesthetics has not matched the client’s availability of money


Exceeding building height:

  1. Can be especially contentious in domestic circumstances where neighbours may be concerned about the effects of new work on their sun/views/values.
  • House alteration designed to maximum height envelope:  existing construction required the overall height to be slightly raised above expectations.  Neighbour complained, and the framing had to be removed and the new top floor redesigned.
  • Misunderstanding about the position of the boundary, and therefore the height control planes:  was the actual boundary at the bottom or the top of a change in level or retaining wall near the boundary?  A similar case where there was a misunderstanding about the boundaries in relation to an adjacent accessway:  which side of the accessway generated the height planes?
  • Commercial premises designed to the maximum envelope but the height controls were then exceeded by services installations designed by others.

Site Services

  • Development of residential rear site required drainage to be run through the neighbour’s property.  Client on good terms with the neighbour and instructed the design to proceed.  Neighbour later refused to give consent, and the client claimed on the architect (and refused fee payment) on the basis that the project had to be abandoned. 
  • Building project required piles in vicinity of known subgrade services.  Services plotted and test bores sunk.  Despite best endeavours the piles or test bores unexpectedly encountered the services either not where they were understood to be, and/or whose existence was unknown.  Examples include:  shutting down an area of city electrical supply;  filling a substantial sewer with pumped concrete;  puncturing a water main;  breaking up a major stormwater pipe;  structural redesign to bridge over services or reposition bearing structure. 

Site levels/boundaries/covenants

  • No clear datum for floor levels shown on the drawings, but lid levels of manholes and sumps shown.  House slab level clearly shown, and adjacent retaining walls were dimensioned but the level at their base was not.  Builder built the retaining walls to required dimension and then set out the house from the derived height:  house floor 250mm too high.
  • Rural house designed to specific slab level and submitted for building consent.  Council required increased slab level approx. 300mm above surface water flow path.  House framed up to roof level and council pre-clad inspector noted that the builder had set out the slab level from priced drawings instead of the consented drawings. 
  • Site is subject to both local body setbacks and covenants recorded on the title or terms of sale.  Examples:  Architect assumes (or decides) that one or other of the controls either supercedes the other or is not required to be complied with:  this results in a major redesign and damages paid to affected parties.  Others where the architect advised the clients to gain the approval of neighbours but proceeded without confirming that the necessary approvals had been given and recorded in writing.


Engineering consultants

  1. Confusion about who is to detail/specify foundation waterproofing or grades versus floor levels. 
  2. Engineers being overly specific about scope of work, leaving gaps (in observation particularly) that the architect is not aware of.  Example – termination of foundation tanking at ground level not protected or perhaps allows water to enter behind it.
  3. Survey/geotech input which does not go far enough out from the immediate area of work.  Examples:  survey stopped at boundary, so the architect was unaware that the overland flow path was restricted = bottom floor of house built in a puddle;  another where engineered fill under a house washed out because of flowing subsurface water.
  4. Conversely/similarly, engineer is required to observe as part of BC requirements, but architect is not:  engineer fails to spot/report architectural issues which might appear self-evident, and architect gets lumbered with the outcome.  Example:  foundations boxed up and reinforcing placed and inspected by the engineer, but an error in the setout in relation to an existing building or boundaries is not picked up and is blamed on the architect’s drawings.
  5. Structural detailing (or approval of shop drawings) which requires a change to the architectural detailing, or which compromises acoustic design or vapour barriers, or creates thermal bridging, but which is not made apparent to the architect.
  6. Services engineers – typically works not performing to required standard, or corrosion problems – swimming pools especially!
  7. Late delivery/changes of structural work which then requires downstream alteration of other design work.
  8. Errors in calculations of lintel deflection, cantilevered slabs, wind loads, capacity of existing structural work to carry proposed new work.

Tolerances and detailing

  1. Inadequate allowance for lintel deflection in the pursuit of minimal detailing:  large sliding windows couldn’t.
  2. Joinery using solid timber sections as panelling did not sufficiently accommodate timber shrinkage/warp/movement.  (Similarly, veneered MDF joinery panels with one “feature” side and another thinner laminate on the reverse which warped accordingly).
  3. Concrete structural items designed on the assumption that specified cement or reinforcing would be used, or end-seating as designed would be provided;  failure occurred because there was insufficient on-site monitoring and/or inferior products were substituted by the contractor.
  4. Technical issues with special places or spaces that require special attention:  Indoor pools and gyms;  coastal or geothermal environments;  localised wind or weather conditions;  animal accommodation;  laboratory pressure differentials;  acoustic separation or isolation;  wet area tiling and associated balustrade installations;  inbuilt fireplaces;  concealed gutters and low-pitch roofs;  materials or details which require secondary protection;  exposed polished concrete floors;  concealed spaces subject to potential condensation or cold bridging;  remediation/recladding or leaky buildings;  flooring slip hazards,  plus many more!!!!


Cost estimation    

  • House client instructs design work to proceed on the basis of a prospective contractor’s guesstimate based on concept drawings.  Final design costs considerably more and the previous contractor refuses to become involved:  architect accused of embellishing the work and adding costs.
  • Very expensive house;  client expands the budget significantly, but the cost of the final design as tendered is still well above that:  client abandons the project and seeks refund of architect’s fees as well as other abortive costs.
  • Client for 4 or 5 townhouses pushed the development options and cost-savings to the extreme and eventually could not achieve what they sought, at which time they lodged a claim in NZRAB as a prelude to a civil claim on the basis that they lost money and potential development profit. 

Certification & payments

  • Client maxes out the funding approvals, and the funders require a fixed cost price without contingencies.  Site or existing building throws up issues which are clearly a contingency item:  cost cutting must be applied elsewhere to free up the necessary funds.  Examples:  On opening up the ceiling in alteration works it is discovered that services and/or structure is unexpectedly present/absent/failed/redundant.  Another where the contractor’s tender was based on using a mobile crane but unforeseen circumstances made that impossible, and extra cost was incurred because a tower crane had to be used.  

Client refuses to accept Variations. 

  • Examples:  Retaining structures requiring to be “beefed up” and/or extended in scope to deal with ground conditions which only became known when excavation done.  Others where the architect has had second thoughts about a better design during the course of construction, and the contractor provides minimal credit for deleted work and maximum cost for the new design. 

The death spiral of Slow Payers: 

  • The client thinks the contractor has overcharged;  the contractor cannot fully pay his subbies;  the subbies prefer to work on other sites where they are getting properly paid;  there are resulting problems in co-ordinating work on site;  the contract period stretches out;  the client thinks the contractor might abandon the site or become insolvent, and with-holds payment as leverage to get the work done (or to retain funds for it to be done by others).  The architect (if doing observation and contract administration) loses hair and sleep trying to get the project back on track, and the client holds the architect responsible for the contractor’s work – or lack of it, whilst the contractor thinks the architect has been biased in under-certifying payments due.  If the architect is not involved in the construction phase, then the client and contractor will both take the position that the drawings and specification were inadequate and the cause of all these problems.  When the client consults their lawyers, the death spiral has firmly taken hold, and the prospect of an amicable resolution fades.