Q: Is Architecture Inclusive? A: No.

In my part of the galaxy architecture is in a dire state. I think this is the same everywhere. Most architects are either individual scavengers or living in tribes scrabbling to survive on scraps from the big tables.  In sociological terms an institutional logics of survivalism reigns. Architectural knowledge is being increasingly commoditized in a global system. This commodification will eventually erode design knowledge to the point of where it’s domain and practices will have merged into other networks of knowledge.

For many architect’s architecture still remains a coherent and unified discipline. It certainly seems like it might be if you have the privilege of being able to access and pay your social media subscriptions. Everyone on Instagram is doing the Architectty influencer thing (me included). The digital viewpoint — all the images, the hashtags, the digital spin, the groups, the likes, — can easily seduce us into thinking that architecture is a multi-faceted, idealistic, humane, reformist discipline.

But when I think further I am not sure any more. There is something monstrous at the heart of architectural practice. The fundamental issue that hampers architecture’s survival, despite digital appearances, is that: architecture is not inclusive.

If architecture is to survive then it must embrace diversity and envelope in our ecologies of practice: gender, LGBTQIA, first nations and indigenous peoples; different ethnicities, minor literatures and the Subaltern; the disabled and the insane. As architects we need to have this conversation. But it needs to be a broad conversation and one fostered, but not dominated, by our professional associations; or by the new associations and networks that will replace them in response to architecture’s current lack of diversity.

This lack of diversity is killing the profession and exhibits itself in myriad seen and unseen ways. Mostly, it is an exclusion through quiet and passive silence. The woman who goes to the robot-in architecture-conference where there are not peers like her, the gay person who can never quite make the Associate Director grade, the transgendered person who is shunned from studio teaching, the indigenous person whose seemingly radical views are wanly smiled at by the senior management academic but never truly engaged with, the study group of international students that no one wants to join at architecture school. Of course, I myself can’t speak for these other voices. But how often do we as architects silence them? It’s our role as architects to make our design research, networks and practices inclusive so that these other voices are prioritized.

Architects need to understand intersectionality, the idea that intersecting identities compound to make a whole, in order to understand how regimes and flows of power have structured our discipline and the symbolic capital that circulates within the global system of architecture. An intersectional approach is different to the diagrammatic description, segmentation and distinctions made by the taste-makers of our discipline. As Gary Stevens notes in The Favoured Circle: The social Foundations of Architectural Distinction. “Taste is the primary notion by which privilege groups can maintain their cohesion and separate themselves from outsiders.”

It never ceases to amaze me that even in the field of Construction Management, a seemingly “backward” field, for architects that extensive research has been undertaken in notions of inclusiveness, identity and ground up ethnography. All we seem to talk about is Design Research. There are of course some glimmers of hope as last year’s November 2016 AHRA conference in Stockholm indicates. At the conference the aim was to address “connections between architecture and feminism with an emphasis on plural expressions of feminist identity and non-identity.” There were some notable papers from local colleagues Gill Matthewson questions the existing notions of “meritocracy” in architecture and the need to forge new modes of practice and identity in architecture. Janet McGaw questions, what I call the Boyo-ness, of recent biomorphic inspired digital production in architecture. She asks to what degree digital experiments and design research in architecture are “simply new practices of anthropogenic subjugation of non-human material systems that continue the environmentally destructive modernist industrial project.” Nicole Kalms examines, so-called safety technologies, their corresponding digital apps and sexual violence in the city.

The lack of diversity shapes both architectural history and the current dilemmas of architecture’s global system. A system dominated by a charmed circle of masculinities. As Martin Hultman has suggested this charmed circle — of tribes, warlords and transformers as I have called them– are intimately involved in the production of the contemporary city. The production of new and renewed cities, and the ecotopian dreams associated with them, are intended in theory at least, to be our salvation in the face of environmental catastrophe. Yet, as Simona Castricum noted at the same conference our current cities are riven by fear and a lack of safety for those who are different. Fear is embedded into the core of our cities. Cities have largely been designed through privileged masculinities that have produced spatial configurations that now need to be challenged; and in any case, hasn’t it always been the subaltern at the centre of the cities actual history.

Architects need to recognise they are a long way from being an inclusive profession. The silence of the smile that elides and silences difference is not really an option nowadays.

The full image of Leigh Bowery in this post can be found here.

Design Entrepreneurship: Getting out of the bog of traditional architectural practice.

We all have our own contradictions. In between railing against the vagaries of the capitalist system and dreaming of living in Constant’s New Babylon, hanging out in Paris with Alice Becker and Debord and having coffee with Tafuri in Dorsoduro, I also have a real job.

But as it happens, there are some people in this world who don’t believe being an academic is a real job. WTF? In Australia, these myths still seem to prevail, especially amongst politicians, and maybe this is why our current federal government does not actually have a working universities policy model. Yet, it is forecast that international education’s (including unis and VET) contribution to export dollars is expected to almost double to in excess of $33 billion by 2025.

A Quiz 

Despite the above prediction I wonder if it would be different if academics all took part-time jobs as coal miners or shock jocks in order to get some policy respect from our politicians. I still get people thinking that as an academic I am:

a) having lots of holidays for 6 months of the year when I don’t teach.

b) always on university funded overseas trips (don’t get me started on this misconception).

c) hanging out with nerdy bespectacled graduate students in my cargo shorts, white socks and Jesus sandals.

d) I am spending my time down the pub drinking and carousing with the non-nerdy graduate students 24-7.

e) researching weird shit about floating cites that seemingly has no benefit for anyone.

Only one of the above is true. Can you guess which one? (Click here to find out? Actually the link to the real answer is here).

Seriously, for academics, the old mantra “publish or perish” is slowly being overtaken by a new mantra of “impact or perish.” I think this mantra also equally applies to architects, especially those struggling to survive in a tribal system, looking for new pathways and modes of practice. Architectural firms also need to create impact if they are to survive.

Design Entrepreneurship is one way to do this and to begin thinking about this. This is because of the following seven factors.

1.Market Size Supports Entrepreneurship

The size of the markets architects operate in suggests we should be more entrepreneurial. According to 2014 IBIS figures the AACA notes how architectural services revenue will grow by 2.6% per annum over the five years to 2019-20, to reach $7.3 billion. (you think someone at the ACA or the AIA would buy the latest IBIS report).  The ABS reports that the overall construction market the seasonally adjusted estimate of total building work done rose 1.3% to $26,695.2m in the December 2016 quarter.

2. The Shift to Research Impact

 As international teaching revenues are forecast to increase in Australia and remain stable I feel graduate schools of architecture have a greater role to play.  But this role should not be simply about producing architectural graduates in order to gain short term revenue for central university coffers. With the rise of new policy initiatives around research impact graduate architecture, and built environment schools, need to foster entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial outcomes.

As defined by my favourite institution the esteemed Australian Research Council (ARC): “Research impact is the demonstrable contribution that research makes to the economy, society, culture, national security, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond contributions to academia.” If that’s the case why doesn’t architectural research, which cuts across so many of the above things, get more funding?

Of course, the ARC being the ARC, we are still waiting to see how this broad policy will shake out and what the measures of impact will be. I would put money in my Ladbrokes betting account that whatever measure the ARC comes up with will actually add another layer of regulation to academics and in fact stifle innovation.

3. The Emergence of Early Stage Exemplars

A significant number of entrepreneurial design initiatives have emerged of late such as: Shacky, Crowdspot, Black AI, Larki and Nudel and STRUDL and of course United Make and AR-MA. All of these start-ups and early stage firms point to different modes of practice now available to architects and all have a design entrepreneurship basis.

4. Strategic Opportunities

The emergence of the above new ventures and start-ups come at a time when many traditional, and tribal, architects themselves are struggling to survive as small businesses.The above conjunction of the above industry segment revenues and research policies suggest there are opportunities available for architects, with architecture schools and professional associations, to exercise their design skills in order to create new opportunities.

There is a strategic opportunity for architecture schools, because of their critical mass, to be a bridge between architects, the engineering and construction industry and the recent crop of digital entrepreneurs, who are often so code and engineering systems orientated, that they do not know a lot about architects or the other allied professions such as landscape architecture, urban design, property and planning. Hence, architecture schools need to both teach and market design entrepreneurship through engagement activities and alumni networks.

Architects are great system integrators and have a better overall understanding of the construction industry than other specialists; this is particularly true in the competitive area of housing. In construction architects are more futures orientated technologically savvy and entrepreneurial than the brutish contractors who rarely think beyond the short-termism of the cheapest price.

5. New Entrepreneurial Pathways

The traditional path to entrepreneurship for architects has been through property development. This is high risk and we all know a few architects who have embarked on this course and who have failed dismally as property markets have turned.  But I also know of a few others who have through good risk management made mega-bucks.

But I think property development opportunities are limited and also highly speculative. Our  architectural associations need to think about creating entrepreneurial pathways based on creating new products, licences, companies, spin-offs start-ups and joint ventures.

6. New Housing Prototypes

I see opportunities in the areas of  alternative housing forms, sustainable and green housing, not to mention the impact on housing as result of the roll out of the NDIS and ageing demographics. Let’s face it unlike our political class architects have been exploring and proposing alternative housing typologies for a long time. That is what they are great at. I foresee opportunities in the emergence of different financing structures, and new ownership structures. Internationally, I see opportunities for architects who pursue design entrepreneurship in South Asian cities in the areas of low-cost housing, urban design, waste and recycling and construction technologies. The UB system is a great example of a commercialisation pathway.

7.The Robots are Coming

Time and space here prevent me from saying more about the design entrepreneurship opportunities in AI, CNC fabrication and the coming world of the robots. If the profession is to survive into the future, we need to build the research and design entrepreneurship infrastructure that will create both opportunities and new pathways of practice.

Tribes, Warlords and Transformers: Which architectural practice are you?

After the last post, which focused on Australian Architects, I thought I would expand some of this apocalyptic thinking to the global system of architecture. Arguably, architecture is at an end because of the commodification of the services that architects provide. But the effect of neoliberal policies and market competition is more insidious than that. I think that this global system has also come to condition the very types of practices that operate within it. In the late 20th Century the heroic architect of the 20s morphed into the star architect of the late 90s and the early 2000s. But I think we also have some new practice types.

The Three Types: Tribes, Warlords, and Transformers. 

I have named the three types of practices as Tribes, Warlords and Transformers. These practices are conditioned by a survivalist mentality that accounts for architectural competition in the global system. Architects are desperately trying to survive as their knowledge and workflows are being simultaneously digitized and commoditized.  The work of Sklair, examining star architects and the work of McNeill which looks at the political and cultural economy of globalization and cities. No doubt there are others.

This impetus of market survival is evident as a result of global flows of capital pertaining to: neo-liberal policies, service disaggregation and fee for service competition. Despite its allure and heroic mythology in architectural traditions architects have in reality abandoned the old binary logic of Creative vs. Suit. In this global system there are recognizably three types of architectural firms:


Tribes are small community based and local practices. Their territories are local. These firms create a design knowledge ecosystem around their own local field of practice. These are small firms which develop linkages both within their teams and the communities that surround them. These firms inwardly focused and are bottom-up in they way they create design knowledge. They are collaborative and community orientated. Whilst a single designer may dominate these tribes the emphasis is on consultation. As many of these firms feel they are struggling to survive these Tribes will sometimes form together to make bigger firms.

Examples: Assemble Studio, RCR, Grupo Toma in my town we have Architecture Architecture and our very own Assemble.


Warlords: Warlords are best exemplified by the so-called star architects. Their territories are media channels. They dominate both national and global systems. These firms create a knowledge ecosystem around themselves that is dominated by a single, style, aesthetic ideology or person. These firms create design knowledge on a project by project basis. However, the creation of design knowledge is secondary as the firm seeks legitimacy through media hits. They are focused on winning prestigious commissions and often create conflict in order to win media presence.  They are intent on creating seminal projects that build their reputation in the architectural canon.

Examples: Schumacher, in my town we have you know who, Aravena (star or tribe?) and of course the older generation of people like Gehry and the remnants of the New York Five like Meier and there is of course Rem (but I think OMA is a Transformer)


Are large multi-disciplinary and networked mega-firms firms that work within the global system and often across borders. These firms are predatory. They need to be to survive. Their Territories constantly captured, expanded and rebuilt. They resolves conflict in order to govern. In these firms design, knowledge, systems and governance are integrated. These firms create highly specialised design knowledge which is integrated into their own systems.  As a result these firms are large enough to anticipate, create, design and deliver large mega-projects such as urban infrastructure and cities; whether or not we need these urban products. These firms are intent on building projects that enable the firm to be continually self-sustaining. They transform as they their constituent networks ebb and flow. They are often surrounded by tribal firms that act as a Remora fish.

Examples: RMJM, Arup and Aurecon. So whats BIG, tribe, Warlord, Transformer or Mega-firm? Probably a hybrid tribe-star on the way to becoming a Transformer) Some firms are hybrids and we can see  them changing  from one type to another.

Its all about the Brand 

Certainly, an overarching institutional logic of survivalism is arguably the result of a number of factors. The changes since the 1970s in professional status as a result of neoliberal policies leading to trans-national and market competition. The loss of traditional services to other disciplines and subsequent disaggregation of full fee-for-service regimes. The rise of new technologies alongside new procurement systems have also led to the commodification of design activities and knowledge.

In this system design knowledge has been confused with branding. So I guess Tafuri, and perhaps even Guy Debord, may have been right about the intellectual work of architects after all.

This is The End: Australian Architecture’s end game.

Like Martin Sheen in the above image most architects in Australia are barely surviving. Their heads are just barely above water. Like the Doors song “The End” one must question if the profession is heading down the gurgler as I noted in a previous blog. For those of you reading this in larger practices with lots of awards and institutional work or from the comfort of the large multi-disciplinary practices or consultancies spare a thought for the noble and small architectural firm. The tribal firm, protecting its own local territory and connecting to community, and yet struggling to survive. These firms exist in a highly competitive climate; most do housing , competing with every other wackadoodle price cutting, project manager, builder or huckster, and most are struggling to survive.

Tipping point. 

Without new industry wide strategies and approaches aligned with effective industry development the long term survival of these firms is not sustainable.  We are possibly about to reach a tipping point as baby boomer firm directors retire leading to even less critical mass in the profession. A tipping point and mass extinction.

Chart_Q7_170406Chart 1: Outsourcing is widespread 

Technology and Disaggregation

A few quotes from the architects who responded to our recent surveys will suffice:

“We see that conventional Architectural Services are not going to be sustainable in the future and are looking at other services and models of practice to survive.”


“Specialist Services, sadly, are a precursor to the the shame of the an industry being eroded by the increasingly acceptable practice of piecemeal delivery”

and this doosey from a practitioner working in the housing market:

That market is highly competitive and the fees were not sustainable and the liability was enormous. The role and respect for architects in those areas has dramatically reduced over the last 15 to 20 years.

In the practice class at MSD this week we had a Q&A panel on documentation. A practitioner who runs a documentation outsourcing company came and spoke. He is at the cutting edge of disaggregated services. He fills the gap for architects who can’t document or administer contracts. Some of the work of this practice is outsourced to documentation factories in South-East Asia. Increasingly technologies such as BIM are driving the commodification of architectural services. Design Development is almost non-existent these days. Ever tried explaining to a client what DD is? 

Chart_Q14_170406Chart 2: Competition is Intense 

Strategy and business plan education

Architectural education at large, alongside the accreditation standards, basically doesn’t give a fuck about anything outside of the box ticking. By this I mean any curriculum or syllabus, that might suggest that architects are more than just a profession of digital building technicians; more than a profession plying commoditized knowledge and processes. The univerisites simply want fee revenue, customer satisfaction and graduate employment outcomes. All of which conspires to corrode our discipline of architecture. Worse still, our own accreditation standards have been built around activities that, are not about analysis, entrepreneurship, strategic thinking or innovation but are about simply “doing it.” Doing the old SD, DD, CD, CA dance is what it’s all about.  Thank god those national competency standards still at least cover a knowledge of history and theory. It won’t be long before the university’s replace those aspects of our architectural education with CNC fabrication subjects. 

Business planning or strategy specifically tailored to architecture students is scant. Much easier to get the commerce faculty to give them a dose of generic marketing and branding. In response to our survey questions it is obvious many architects do not have business plans and I suspect this is because they are just struggling to get the work at hand done.

Chart_Q6_biz-plan_170406 (1)

                      Chart 3: Too few business plans 

Demographics and Diversity.

Yes, we still need more data and research into the demographics and underlying industry diversity. But the problem here I think is that architects think they are already diverse enough when they clearly are not. This is still a white Anglo-Celtic male dominated profession. This has hampered the profession at large from rejuvenating itself from within. It may be the efforts to rejuvenate the profession by correcting its misalignments with gender, race and class may now be too late.

Check out this great video and then think about the profession you know.


The architectural profession in Australia has had no research infrastructure for some time. As a result, architects have little knowledge about their own industry structure. Profitability, what segments of the market they dominate, various practice financial demographics, and the impact of technology. are all mostly mysteries. In the battle for survival it is always the larger firms that win out in driving industry policy, research and shaping industry structure. The problem is all of our current research on our industry, fostered by the peak bodies and associations, is catch-up research. Very little of it will add to the competitive standing of architects. It’s mostly about understanding how things stand. Not about how architects can get better at innovating. 

My own bitter experience suggests that the ARC research system, with few exceptions, has not served us well at all. As far as many architectural researchers are concerned it is a broken system. A few years back myself and two other middle career researchers joined with a small firm to submit an ARC Linkage proposal focused on small practices and BIM. We got excellent peer review reports back. The other researchers thought it was in the bag. One of them even had dream we had got it. But in that round the big money went to a project with eminent and credentialed researchers with a big practice partner focused on health. In the ARC system its much easier to get funding if you have been to an elite uni overseas and sometimes you don’t even need a PhD. Fair enough, that’s how the system works. It would be a better system if it was blind reveiwed. But it’s a system that is killing a profession that needs effective bottom up research as it struggles to survive.

The Perfect Storm 

It’s a perfect storm. Of course its easier to think that everything is ok. But everything is not ok. Architects in Australia may be at a tipping point. The profession is in a parlous state and even though I believe architects have much to offer our society and culture it is tragic many ordinary practices are stuck in the constant game of survival.