Dear Architect or Surviving the Design Studio reader wherever you may be in this large architectural planet. You are invited to participate Surviving the Design Studio 2018 Global Architects Research Survey. The survey is intended for anyone working in an architectural practice from any country across the globe. Anyone who works in an architectural practice can respond even the interns ! If you would like to participate in the global survey the link can be found here.
In some ways, the last few blogs for 2018 the focus has been on the larger practices. (Although these last few blogs have lessons for small practices, or gleaner firms, as I would like to call them. The first blog focused on branding, the second on client relationships, and large corporate to institutional clients and in this blog I want to talk a bit about large practices and how they might create value through research. My concern is that the large practices (of course, except the ones I am involved with), who are in the best position to conduct research. But these practices have underplayed research in architecture. I would like to be proved wrong.
Trash for Cash Syndrome
The other day a friend who is a director of her own company reminded me that the real role of a company is to create value rather than simply just doing the work and getting money for it. For any kind of company, or not-for-profit enterprise, small and large, value creation is, I think the essence, of existence. Why else would you do it? Just for the money?
But, for architects it is easy to fall into the trap of simply doing the jobs and getting the money for it, for others making the widgets and just selling them, it’s a bit like just getting people on the tour bus and selling them a ticket and then going from A to B. Never thinking about wear and tear on the bus, or the customer experience, or even how happy your bus driver is.
I call it the trash-for-cash syndrome. This is what a photographer I know used to call wedding shoots. He said supply a trash or commodified product and get cash for it.
The value creation argument
Whilst you might make money in the short-term this approach does not add long-term value to your firm in the longer term. This is because as things change in your business environment you need to create potential value for the future. It is inevitable that your business environment will change over time. Using research, yes research and not just gut instinct, to foresee these changes and anticipate where future value can be captured is really vital.
Architects who continually value knowledge creation through research are able to get new jobs and provide new services to future clients. Creating new knowledge in you firm doesn’t come about by simply saying , “hey we are really smart and creative bunch” or “our pedigreed networks will always guarantee jobs” or “the clients will keep coming and paying because the like us.”
Simply doing what you have always been doing. Simply, cranking the handle of the practice, or whatever organisation it is, and designing, delivering projects that produce fees is not enough in the longer term. Sustainability is about growing a research culture in your practice.
So here are few clues as to how you can create more value in your architect’s office via this quick checklist.
How is your firm’s research health ?
1. Outward looking ?
Does the firm involve itself social issues or policy debates related to architecture or the firms areas of specialisation?
2. Specific functions ?
Does your large practice have a specific research function or is research just an adhoc or add-on function.
3. Staff Contribution ?
An architectural firms biggest research resource is its staff. Is there a governance or management structure that allows all staff to contribute to research? Or is research a function that only some staff are allowed to do? In other words, is research only conducted in the firm by directors or senior managers? Do only some people get all the special research projects? Or is the entire approach adhoc?
4. Technology ?
Does your firm research new technologies? Either technologies, or software that might be implemented in the firm, or new design construction and delivery technologies. Does the firm have a critical view of these technologies?
5. Knowledge Management ?
As new knowledge is created in your firm are there knowledge systems, or other systems in place to document, store and allow for this knowledge to be retrieved?
6. Strategy ?
Does the firm use research to create knowledge that might help to generate future fee income? Strategic research should be the firm’s first priority.
Arguably the dis-intermediation of architects in procurement processes, the rise of partial services, the easy replication of architectural services by others are all the result of the endemic lack of research infrastructure in practice. The professional associations should also bear some of this responsibility.
Architectural firms are great at creating knowledge and value through design. But perhaps only when they put their minds to it. Many architects struggle to understand IP and innovations systems and pathways are not often studied at the architecture schools. As architects we are too naive when it comes to research. Simply saying design is research is not enough to save our future skins.
Again, If you would like to participate in the global survey the link can be found here.