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‘It works for us’: architect Parti on turning holiday home developer

Words:
Tom Leahy

Architecture practice Parti used its experience working with hotels to branch out into hospitality, creating ARC to develop houses that accommodate large groups

Parti's London studio. The practice was established in 2015 and current projects include a Thameside restaurant and a mixed-use building in Islington.
Parti's London studio. The practice was established in 2015 and current projects include a Thameside restaurant and a mixed-use building in Islington.

As a practice, Parti has always tried to create its own opportunities, and have broader involvement in projects than is customary. At the Royal College of Art, my Parti co-director Eleanor Hill and I were surrounded by people in creative disciplines for whom self-initiated work is the norm. Questioning our industry was encouraged: do architects have enough control and reward, financial and creative? In some projects we’ve taken equity stakes in lieu of profit, with mixed results. 

Our boldest venture is ARC, an architecturally-focussed hospitality business, which launched last spring. We have holiday homes in the Cotswolds and Cornwall, with more in development. We had worked for five star hotels and learned about the challenges in that business model. After researching UK tourism and identifying an opportunity in event-related travel, we developed a model for houses that accommodate large groups, offering better value and renting year-round. 

To protect the practice from risk ARC is a separate company that employs Parti for design work. And as workloads are choppy; we can divert time to ARC when things are quiet. Architectural training is hugely valuable in hospitality, helping us to think about maximising all aspects of the experience, as well as operational efficiency.

As workloads are choppy; we can divert time to ARC when things are quiet. Architectural training is hugely valuable in maximising all aspects of the experience

Managing ARC houses doesn’t take a lot – we use agents – but development is very time-consuming. Eleanor concentrates on the practice while I lead ARC; close collaboration means projects move quickly. I still see myself as an architect though; much of my work is design review and site meetings. Creative freedom is a benefit, but I wouldn’t suggest all architects do this. Not everyone wants to deal with spreadsheets and borrowing, but it works for us. 

Tom Leahy is co-director at Parti

 

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