Surviving the Design Studio: In 2019 make models and be happy.

I went to a lot of parties over December, and this is why I have been a little blog tardy. Well, 2019 is here, in fact, it is already February, and I am finally coming out of my summer slumber. Last week I was in Singapore and maybe being in an actual high-density city that has been planned, actually designed, and regulated without being anal-retentive insane, as compared to the free-for-all mediocrity of Australian cities jogged me out of my vacation fog. Rhetorical question: how did Singapore get to be so good and our cities get to be so bad?

For those of you who might be interested last year’s blog stats were certainly encouraging to me. 40 blogs 41,000 or more views and over 22,000 visitors. Thank you so much to everyone who has bothered to look at this blog.

And I indeed wonder if words still matter to architects. I say this because the more critical pieces of architectural criticism, such as my views of the Venice Biennale, I wrote were less popular than those kick-in-the head “why are architects such dumbass” posts. For example, the most popular blog last year was this one whereas my review of Australian Pavilion Venice was hardly read (maybe just as well). Is this a symptom of the penchant for architects for self-loathing and laceration than considered critique?

Anyway, welcome to 2019 and there are a few issues that I think I will probably pursue this year. I think if you keep your eye on each one of these as they unfold in our discipline you probably be ahead of the game in 2019.

The continuing demise of the architect’s role in Australia

There have been a few bright spots on this topic in recent weeks. But this has mostly been the result of the need to respond to tragic circumstances. With the Opal debacle and Neo200 façade fire its good to see architects stepping into the debate. Yes, the unregulated price competition driven slack-arse corner-cutting architect-hating developer and contracting industry has now taken a few hits. Opal has been a big one and thankfully the ACA and even the AIA have seen these events as a way to promote and advocate the necessity of using architects. If you are really keen you can read the Shergold report here.

Climate Change

Clearly, another Australian election issue and it is easy to only point to how conservative politics, both here and elsewhere, have chosen to contest this issue through a cocktail of contrariness, self-absorbed plain speaking and tabloid rationality masking a self-destructive insanity. What more can you say?

But, given the facts and catastrophic prospects of a 2 degree or more warming world, how will architects themselves deal with the prospect of humanities extinction. As we head down this path, will the response be just a bit more “business as usual” rhetoric of community, warm fuzziness, do-gooder resilience and potted pop-ups sustainability “interventions.” Sure, I am annoyed that people in numerous organisations across the architectural sector have built careers on this tripe. I think the architectural response needs to be more radical. So for me a question this year is this: When will the tipping point come when architects start to take to the barricades and seriously reconfigure the discipline to change the current path?

The coming NSW state election, as well as the Australian Federal Election, might even highlight some of these issues. But as with most elections these days, anything single issue might or might not arise out of the woodpile of politics.

Intersectionality

Yes. There it is I said it. And being a CIS white middle-aged male of privilege, who am I to speak for the voices that we really need to hear speak and allow to speak? How can we better achieve this? Maybe, All I want for Christmas this 2019 year is to see a design studio, somewhere in one of the many architecture schools in Australia, maybe just one, that addresses issues of intersectionality in relation to urbanism and our cities. I guess it’s easier to avoid the theory that goes with the intersectional territory and to speculate about all that middle brow and bourgeois housing.

Anti-Master

When will architects stop sucking up to the so-called masters, abandon the star system of privilege and canon formation and work collectively? Without putting too much of an excellent point on it, we have had another revered old crock in our midst recently pushing the same old same shamanistic lines (no prizes for guessing who). Then I hear Glen Murcutt is getting the next M Pavilion gig. The awful thing is the money these stars get is money that could be better spent going towards younger practitioners or funding people to curate great architetcural exhibitions.

The Academic-Industry interface.

Always a rich source of interest for a blogger like me. Now that the universities and architecture schools have been hollowed out with neo-liberal research metrics this interface will always be of interest. On the industry side architects still, need to get their heads around research. Sure, maybe the design as research mantra has gone off the boil. But just doing it, just thinking by fronting up to the studio and doing design and doing enough of or playing with the computers in the office to make stuff is somehow RESEARCH.

Big- Data-Robots-3D-Scanning-Drones-Next-Gen-Digi-AI.

Architects are suckers for all of the big technology future buzzwords. Coding, Coding, Coding, Coding, these words too often hide masculinist tropes, and in fact, if you say the word coding often enough in a design studio one will think you are a real man. every . Architects really need to get it together on this stuff. Why are all the technology types in architecture predominantly men? Sadly, the strategic management of technology in practice leaves a lot to be devised. Too many architects think they are up to speed if they buy a few BIM licences or mutter the word coding or talk about scripts. Architects really need to stop thinking about these things as words to spin and actually try and understand technology and software development in a more concrete way.

Be Happy and Make Models

So for those of you who think I am too cynical, please think again. Here is a scrap of niceness for you. I am thinking in 2019 everyone needs to make more models. Yep. More models and models and models we need to abandon drawings of whatever kind and make more models. Models can make us happy. We would all be happier as architects and researchers (don’t get me started on research models). Think of what the world would be like without architectural models. A very sad place. It would be dismal. Models are so much fun and easily instagrammable. I fear the only place models are made these days is in the architecture schools and that in the world of practice the model has already gone the way of Briefing, DD and CA and just about everything else. Time to rebel and stick the physical models up your client’s arses.

And in some ways, this is what this blog will be about in 2019. If we are going to slow this drift into chaos in these pre-apocalyptic times, we architects might as well go down kicking and screaming by making models.

The Vampire Factor: Are the universities ripping the architecture schools off?

Are the universities ripping the architectures schools of? Sure, the 18-20 architecture schools across the country are not the most significant revenue spinners for the universities. But, those revenues are not insubstantial.

When most people did architecture up until about 2005, there was still a strong connection between the profession and the architecture schools. This connection is still mostly the case today, but the difference then was that the architecture schools largely controlled their destinies. The schools could largely dictate what could be taught and how it was taught. Architecture schools largely controlled the agenda of architectural education. For the most part, there was a close linkage between the Architecture schools, the profession—via the Institute of Architects (genuflect and cross yourself)—and the registration boards.

 

To better understand Australian architectural education, the Australia Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) is doing a survey of Architectural education in Australia. What is great is that the study is not only for architectural academics but also for the MANY SESSIONAL TUTORS who work in Architecture schools. Yep, let me repeat that it covers issues regarding research, university resources, career pathways, the practice-academic nexus, and what should be taught in Architecture schools. If you teach as sessional or fractional academic you can do it. This is a fantastic initiative and the AACA should be congratulated.

 Take the AACA Survey  

The blurb for the survey is below:

The brief anonymous questionnaire is open to all ongoing and sessional architecture academics and may be found at the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5RLYN62

It is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to shape the future of architectural education so please take a moment to make your voice heard! The survey is open until 30 November 2018.

The questionnaire will ask some questions about your teaching career and will seek your views on resourcing, teaching and learning practices, graduate pathways, and the future of architectural education. Participation is completely voluntary. You can read the participant information statement here.

This Architectural Education and the Profession in Australia study is funded by the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA), the Association of Architecture Schools of Australia and the Australian Institute of Architects, and is being administered by the AACA.

 If you have questions about the research, please feel free to contact AACA Research Director Alex Maroya on 0413 339 394 or email alexmaroya@aaca.org.au.  For occasional updates about the study, please “like” our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/aepstudy.

 This research has National Ethics Approval through the University of Technology Sydney: ETH18-2931N.

 Architecture schools no longer control the agenda. Their voice is mostly diminished within the university sector and of course, as is the habit of the profession, this is exacerbated by an increasingly fragmented professional landscape. In the past, the Architects Institute has not been much of a policy advocate when it comes to Higher Education policy. The Architects Consulting Association and Architeam seemed to be consumed, and perhaps rightly, with more local issues around membership. So who is advocating for architects at a policy level?

With the rise of, diminished federal funding, international student markets, research metrics (architects never really seem to get very many research brownie points), university managerialism (in all of its absurd glory), the architecture schools are not what they could aspire to be.

Are the Universities ripping Architects off?

 

So let’s look at a few numbers. This will help put things into perspective. I have only started working through these and happy to argue the assumptions behind them if you are interested. At the end of each year in Australia, the universities produce given that each graduate pays that is an aggregated revenue assuming each graduate pays around 36K for a place each year. As the recent AACA report stated:

Australia’s architecture schools produced around 1300 graduates from accredited Masters programs in 2017, which is consistent with preceding years.Overall, architecture schools enrolled over 10,000 equivalent full time students in bachelor and masters level architectural study in 2017, collectively bringing approximately $225 million to the university sector.

I think these figures understate the case. So let’s look at a local example.

The Subject Example

So in a subject which is 12.5 point subject out of 100 points per year that is around 4,500 per student in the subject. If I then have 280 students that’s total revenue for the subject of $1,260,000. That is equivalent to a pretty big renovation!

If the semester consumes 30% of my time that has a cost of around $50,000 per semester including all salary on-costs (using a 1.7 multiplier). If the Subject teaching budget, for tutors, is around $81,000 It will then be about $137,000 with salary on costs.

Hence the total salary costs is around $187,000.

Now let’s say that the multiplier for other non-salary on-costs such as overheads etc. (in contracted research projects this might vary between 1.7 and 2.1) is 2.5 we get total expenses of around $467,500.

Bottom line: Then the net gain to the university is, by this calculation, $792,500 a profit margin of 62.8%

The Studio Example

For a studio of 14 students as 6 hour subject with 14 students that is about 9,000 bucks per student. Hence, the revenue is $126,000 per studio. Ok, so let’s say you get 70 bucks an hour for a studio. For a 13 week semester that’s about $5460 bucks. Not a lot of bucks for a small practice. The salary on costs would be $9,282, and the non-salary on costs would bring that up to $23,205.

Bottom line: The net gain to the university for a studio is thus around $102,795 a profit margin of 81.5%.

Again, I am happy to further debate and refine these figures.

How much goes back to architecture as research dollars?

How much of this is going back to architects? This is the Vampire bit. Sure the universities support many small practitioners through sessional teaching. But how much of this is going back into architectural research?

Not a lot at all. When was the last time the Australian Research Council consistently gave anyone grants in architecture? For example, we did not raise any money from the universities for our Architeam project and getting funding for book publishing is also a nightmare.

So, I would urge you to survey as it will help present a united front on how we want to promote and shape Architectural Education into the future. But of course, the universities love architects, and I mean lerv, when they get them to brand the new campus or capital works program. Hey everyone wants that gig, But apart from that, in the meantime, the universities will keep ripping off the architecture schools and give us very little back for architectural research.

Take the Survey

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5RLYN62

It won’t be a silver bullet but it will help.

 

Surviving the Design Studio: Baristas $20.22 per hour vs Architects $29.76 per hour.

Thank you to everyone who supported the RAsP initiative. This applied architectural research would not have got any funding through any existing channels of research funding. I am hoping that it is the first foundation for creating a transparent and well-governed research fund serving the needs of architects. 

With the recent ructions in the Institute of Architects, one can only be reminded of the way the design focused discourse in architecture, has both corrupted and arguably destroyed, the way that architects both govern themselves and practice. The mantra that its all about design has led to an unbalanced design-centric discourse. This discourse has paradoxically diminished design and has done much to damage the profession in Australia, its institutions and the way it practices.

Is the Design focus a good thing? 

The focus on Design has meant that Architects are coming off a low base when it comes to a consideration of general business practice and protocols. As a result, an evident naivety abounds across the Australian profession when it comes to business. This naivety exhibits itself in a few extreme ways. Firstly, either in a direct antagonism towards considering business and management issues. Or secondly, bypassing antagonism, a complete lack of knowledge and a fundamental ignorance of money; alongside the idea that you can just fly in someone with business knowledge and they will fix everything.

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The naivety of architects regarding strategic management, business strategy and financial management often leads to poor decision-making. Often architects, get into a bit of a panic and say hey let’s get a business plan together or let’s get someone in with a bit of corporate knowledge to do our marketing. They then make the mistake of employing people who, while they might have business credentials, or appear to be “corporate” have no understanding of the profession its nuances and certainly no understanding of design. I have seen this happen quite a few times. Sometimes architects employ people who are from allied industries, but they still have no idea about design. These examples are all too familiar: The general manager of the large firm that was appointed because she had a background in construction (or worse still law), but no idea about general management in an architectural setting. Or the growing small firm who got in a marketing person they went to school with who also had no understanding of professional service marketing.

Only get in the experts with architectural knowledge

It is naive to think a firm can get ‘corporate’ by getting in people from the corporate world with little or no experience in professional services or architecture. It’s always best to get in consultants with direct knowledge and experience of architecture. Preferably people who have worked in practice previously in some capacity.

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The full story has yet to reach my ears about the demise of the CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects. But I suspect that this particular train wreck is a confluence of the above factors. A mismatch of expectations and naivety on the part of all concerned. A naivety about architectural profession on the one hand and perhaps a naivety by architects about policy, advocacy and strategic management on the other. Maybe, if architects knew more about money, they wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. We really need to mentor people in our own profession with both design skills and financial and strategic management skills.

Its all about design 

This discourse that has led to these train wrecks and its associated mantras and aphorisms goes something like “it’s all about design” and any other consideration is secondary or the be disregarded entirely. This disregard leads to the most visible and remarkable naivety.

Within practices, both small and large the so-called design architects more often than not need to be saved from themselves. But often these design architects resent this, and the strictures and limitations placed crying out that money or even common sense management practices are crushing their sensitive souls and egos. I was the same when I was younger. Mostly such lamentations by these designers are an excuse for poor design outcomes. When will the architects who subscribe to this cultish view recognise that a consideration of other discourses outside of architectural design is essential if architects are to survive and prosper?

Selling out 

Of course, in writing this, I will be accused of somehow “selling out” design; which is by and large the general accusation levelled at those of us who hope for a better, smarter, meritocratic and inclusive profession.

Central to any rejuvenation of architectural discourse is a consideration of the organisational sciences including management and finance. The discourse focused on “design”, and its cult-like nature, as an autonomous, and singular practice, within architecture, has damaged the disciplines ability to support itself. To prove the point if there is one area where the design cult– and its insidious culture of business phobic managing up, discrimination and pedigreed favouritism — have destroyed the architectural profession it is in the area of employee wages.

2018 ACA salary survey 

The latest salary survey put out by the ACA and ably put together by the fantastic Gill Matthewson has just come out. As it summarises there is still a gender pay gap and some practices persist in paying under Award minimums. Perhaps the best thing that could happen to the profession is if a few architects were prosecuted for paying less than the award wage.

Paygaps

A Barista or a person with some training (Level 2 – food and beverage attendant grade 2 full time) gets an adult minimum hourly wage: $20.22. But also some get more on average if you look here. Architects get $29.76 an hour if you are registered and a full-time employee. This is not to suggest that the work of a Barista is in any way less worthy than architectural work. But it is to suggest that architectural training could be better served by a profession that took its responsibility for its own well-being.

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Woohoo! That’s $9 bucks an hour more than a Barista or a waiting person.  That’s like more than an extra dollar an hour for the combined 7 years (5 years of tertiary study and 2 years of experience) that most architects need to do to register and call themselves architects.

Thank you to everyone who supported the RAsP initiative. This applied architectural research would not have got any funding through any existing channels of research funding. I am hoping that it is the first foundation for creating a transparent and well-governed research fund serving the needs of architects. 

Boom times but Australian Architects still facing Mutually Assured Destruction

Shaun Carter’s recent piece on architects fees and money is something I think everyone should read. You can find the full article here at ArchitetcureAU.  Shaun is a past president of the NSW Institute of Architects Chapter.  I thought it would be worth commenting on some of the questions and issues that he raises. Everyone architect in the country should read this article.

The old joke 

He starts with an old blokey architects joke.

Did you hear the one about the architect who won the lottery? They kept on working until they were broke. This was my introduction to architecture. I thought it was a joke. Now I’m not so sure.

This was a fine joke thirty years ago. It has a little bit of the boom-bust mentality about it. Plus a tone of altruism. In other words, architects get money and then spend it on architecture. They get money and spend it on design hours. They do this because of a love and passion for architecture and society.  But as a joke it implies architects always go back to zero, or square one, when they go broke.

The usual catastrophe 

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However, while the joke might contain some sublte truths, the problem is as that architects don’t just go broke to the point of zero dollars. They go negative, and the financial and emotional toll on themselves their families and their profession is enormous. No adequate superannuation, no assets no worth in their small businesses when they retire, its worse I guess for employee architects who are inadequately prepared for their later years. Working from contract to contract, below award wages, no paid overtime, moving from poorly managed firm to poorly managed firm isn’t really a recipe once you are past 50 or 60 for a comfortable grey life.

Exploiting the talent

Last week a graduate came to me and said he had been offered a casual job at 17 bucks on a kind of “training” basis. Anyone reading this can look up the award. Sometimes I wonder if one of the best things that could happen to the profession is that the Fair Work commission starts to prosecute architectural employers for not paying award rates. Under the award, a graduate architect on a casual rate should get $31.09 an hour and if full time or part-time. $24.87.

The Scourge of Fee Cutting 

However, as Shaun says the real problem is price competition and fee cutting:

I talk to architects all the time and in almost every conversation hear stories of outrageously low fees and cutthroat fee gazundering. Economics 101 taught me that when a good or a service is in high demand and the supply is limited, the cost goes up. So why is it, then, in this boom time for architects, that we have managed to slash our fees in a desperate race to the bottom? He then goes on to say: If we are to achieve major reforms and be respected as a profession, we need to be not only financially viable, but financially successful. Otherwise, how are we to achieve gender equality? How do we stop our practices becoming sweatshops of juniors working long and late hours?

Shaun Carter proposes four areas where he feels that architects need to change. These are architects, clients, regulation and cheap overseas labour (WTF?).

Idolising the creepy architects

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Shaun argues that architects need to be better at business and that being poor at it is “just plain dumb.” I agree with this but to change this architects really need to shift their culture around. As architects, we have to stop idolising and revering “bad boy” designers. These guys are mostly creeps and yet they are the ones that get all the symbolic capital in our profession. Plus they know nothing about business or management. Or for that matter anything really. But hey does it matter when you get all the street cred.

Sludge 

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However, he argues that architects need to collectively bargain minimum rates of fees and architects need a “strict ethical and moral code to prevent rogue architects from damaging our profession.” Fair enough, but try telling that to the AIA which as an organisation appears to have governance and decision making processes that are slow bureaucratic and easily hi-jacked by ego-driven personalities. Witness the recent hoohaa around the AACA vs. the AIA. Hence reaching any consensus that might translate into policy or advocacy approaches for architects is like wading through sludge.

Going for the Mandate 

Carter calls for minimum fee guidelines for the entire profession. He argues that governments should then follow these guides as well. However, I am not entirely sure how this might work in practice, and I am concerned in legal terms it might be seen as being anti-competitive. But hey if you are starting a practice, it would be great to get an idea of what you should be charging. I think one thing that all of our professional groups and associations could get behind is the idea (suggested to me by Vanessa Bird previous president of the Victorian Chapter). This is the idea that it should be mandated that every building project in Australia, over a certain amount, should have an architect. I am not sure how this kind of regulation would work in detail. But as Shaun Carter argues:

Regulation has been a dirty word these past 30 years of neoliberal and trickle-down economics. What we know of this period is that the failed economic model has advantaged the few at the expense of the many. Economic literature has thoroughly documented the failure of loose and limited regulation and the way this has run down professions and reputations.

Mutually Assured Destruction

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Shaun’s third notion for saving the profession from the “existential cliff” and “Mutually Assured Destruction” as he calls it is to limit university places in architecture degrees linking this to the outsourcing of architectural work offshore. As he says:

“If the profession is going to send our future architects’ jobs offshore, then let’s stop the cruel practice of offering them meaningful employment with one hand and ripping it from them with the other.”

He then goes on to say:

Perhaps the most controversial reason for the erosion of fees is firms employing cheap overseas labour to undercut the market. I believe that this is the emperor’s new clothes of business school management. It drives down fee expectations that will be difficult to claw back, while limiting employment opportunities for our young architects because their jobs are being sent overseas, all at a time when we are enrolling and graduating architects at record rates.

Protectionism?

I am not sure about this line of argument because it starts to sound a little “protectionist” and raising the spectre of “cheap overseas labour” suggests stereotyped images of what that labour looks like. Think, call centres full of Revit CAD monkeys in large second-order centres full in South, South East or North Asia. Nonetheless, I certainly dont think that Shaun Carter is intending to cross the lines into Trump Tariff and Immigration territory. But really what is being suggested here does raise questions about some of the current dynamics in practice. This includes the globalisation of competition between architects and the commodification of architectural services with the rise of new technologies. Despite all the BIM hoopla are we really ahead of the technology game?

Too many at Architecture School? 

As for the numbers of architecture students in the Universities and how many graduates are produced in Australia I might leave that to a later blog. But needless to say in 2015, the universities made $225 million bucks out of architecture (Check that out here). I also doubt that very much of that goes back into research of direct benefit to the profession. On the plus side, the Architecture Schools do support the professions with lots of sessional teaching contracts. However, is that enough given how much money the Universities are making out of architecture? For Australian Universities, Architecture Schools are a valuable cash cow. However, Architecture Schools are by no means the largest of their international education cash cows. The universities also love architects, and they love architecture schools because it all adds to their branding, reputation status and symbolic capital.

However, I don’t see many of the 18 schools of Architecture joining these debates about the value of the profession and its worth. Most architecture schools and faculties are struggling to manage the strictures imposed on them by central university executives who think that having an architecture school, in the portfolio, is a bit valuable and kind of quaint. If that is the case, maybe those same executives can give architecture some more research money.

We are family

To overcome the malaise that architects find themselves in the architecture schools, the professional associations, and the AACA need to lobby for the worth of architecture collectively. A fragmented and ungovernable architectural community will not solve the problems architects face. As Shaun Carter argues fee cutting is a recipe for Mutually Assured Destruction.

I am almost on annual leave between semesters. In the next few weeks expect to see a few more relaxed beach blogs and tweets from Italy and the Biennale. If you want to know more about our RASP research project you can find it here

We Need To Talk About MONEY: 10 profit drivers of small architectural practice.

I can already see the disgust in the faces of those of you who have just read the title of this blog. This is supposed to be a kind of architecture blog and not a money blog. The P for Profit word, and of course, the D for Drivers word. Some of you will also be thinking we never talked much about money at architecture school. So why should we talk about it now?

The AIA in America (not the other Australian one with the similar acronym) 2016 Firm Survey reports that in American firms in 2015 9.7% of firms were not profitable.  21.5% were very profitable with profits above 20% of revenue. 27.6% had profits of between 10 and 20%. But, for 41.2% of everyone else, they only had profits of less than 10% of revenue.

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In Sydney the other week, I mentioned this to another MBA graduate who was managing a large firm. It was the usual Architects with MBAs conversation, bemoaning the financial knowledge of architects. This person suggested that there would only be a “few firms” in Sydney that were making a profit of more than 10% or even 5%. If that’s all you are doing then you might be better off putting your money in the bank or buying some shares that will give you a 5 or 6% dividend.

The following is for you: 0 to 10 percent architects, for the architects, wanting to get out of the doldrums of low margin profits. There is no one silver bullet for making your small practice, or even large practice, more profitable. Unfortunately, managing a practice is about getting whole range of little things correct to make it profitable.

1. Don’t guess or make up your charge out rates.

Don’t guess it or make it up. I am thinking maybe there are still people who actually don’t bother to work out charge out rates. Your charge out rate has to cover your own salaries, superannuation and all overheads. The Australian ACA has a great tool that can be found here.

2. Charge for everything (and I mean everything).

Don’t give anything away for free. Not your Intellectual Property, not your time and not anything else. Think like a lawyer and charge your clients for copying, printing, travel and especially your EXTRA time. Charge for EXTRA time expended on a project as a result of client backtracking, indecision, planning or other stuff ups outside your control.

3. Fix (or actually have) your office systems

Ever get the feeling you are spending your life trying to find bits of information no matter in what format or where they are stored. The essential bit is being able to find information quickly and efficiently.  Having in place databases, filing structures and systems that makes workflows quicker is important given that your time is the biggest cost in a practice.

4. Negotiating: Say no and be willing to walk away

Don’t take on a job at a low price because you need the work. What’s the point of doing a job at such a low fee that you are either making a loss or you cannot pay your staff to do it. That’s like you are actually paying the clients to let you do the job.

5. Cash Flow

Sadly, this can be almost full-time job and requires constant vigilance. Get a bookkeeper. Cash flow is volatile. If you think architectural practice is about a steady stream of cash or revenues coming in you are very wrong. You need to manage the volatility of erratic and chaotic cash flows. Use the dreaded Excel sheet.

Figure out when your bills or expenses are coming in and when you will get paid. Try and understand the concepts of Free Cash Flow and Economic Value Added. Managing your cash flow means you will not crash and burn and always be lurching from crisis to crisis because you have no money for stuff. There is great advice and techniques here about Cash Flow management for small practices at Panfilo.

6. Looking after the talent

Don’t underpay your staff. That can be illegal. Don’t discriminate. Don’t treat your staff like shit. You will reap what you sow. It takes a lot of time and money to employ new staff. Don’t yell at them, don’t give them conflicting messages or information. Manage staff in a timely manner. Recognise if you are employing less experienced people who are cheaper to hire, then please help them to be more experienced.

This is a huge subject, and it goes without saying the better you can mentor, manage, and treat your staff the more profitable you will be. Take the time to be with them and provide them with everything they need to get things done for you. Managing and empowering your staff so they can do the boring stuff means more time for you to design.

7. Managing your portfolio of projects

Don’t try and design everything. Spend design time on the projects that matter to you. Decide which projects are trash-for-cash. Don’t waste your time on these get them done. For every five projects in an office one will be great, one will be a nightmare and 3 will bring in the dollars.

8. Competitive strategy

Having a strategy means you know what you are doing and what it is you will design. Don’t waste time designing things that don’t matter.

Every small practice, in my country does housing of some sort. Every architect says they are into sustainability. How are you going to market yourself so that you are seen to be different?  How is your practice going to deliver its services to clients in a way that makes them want to come back one day in the future?

9. Research

Do some research or design research (maybe the odd competition or speculative project) that will build design knowledge in your firm. Work on it when the drudgery of everything else gets to you. Build expertise in something you are passionate about and this will help you differentiate yourself and win work.

10. Operating priorities to build capability 

One thing at a time. Do you have an operational plan? A plan that helps you to prioritize the next three to six months? Do you have projects in the office that will make you more productive? Projects that build capability. Like sorting out the material samples, reviewing the marketing stuff, getting some new software?

Finally: Andy and Philip

For those of us who drank the Architecture Kool-Aid when we were young architecture students the future seemed rosy. Imbued with the Kool-Aid toxin I was convinced that I could make a go of it. I would live the jet-setting architecture lifestyle and hang out in the art galleries in NYC with the New York 5, Nico, Andy W, Lou and the Velvets, and go to a loft dinner with Fischerspooner and Laurie Anderson. We were spoon fed this stuff and these days the star-architect’s dream now seems embodied in Bjarke, Rem and Schoomie.

The more efficient and profitable your firm is the more time you will have for design. In a strange way design is actually all about the money. I am definitely sure Andy Warhol (and this most subversive of architects) would agree with this proposition as well.

Architects and the branding of the new Ecocity: The need to dismantle the greenwash

We have just had the Ecocity 2017 world summit or conference in my city. Al Gore came to speak about his work and he received an honorary doctorate from my university. I didn’t attend the conference but the spin round it prompted me to think a bit about what an Ecocity might be. It made me think how architects and urbanists should respond or think about the Ecocity concept.

Since 1990 the ECOCITY World brand has claimed to address “the way humanity builds its home — its  cities, towns and villages.” Interestingly, the Ecocity brand is promoted as a series as if it was some kind of global franchise:

“The series focuses on key actions cities and citizens can take to rebuild our human habitat in balance with living systems, and, in the process, slow down and even reverse global heating, biodiversity collapse, loss of wilderness habitat, agricultural lands and open space, and social and environmental injustices.”

I worry that the Ecocity brand nexus of neoliberal policies, big property linked to the markets, and what I would call the “smart” and “sustainable” city industry is only leading us down the Business As Usual path to climate catastrophe. For some of your reading this, in mentioning the C word (catastrophe), I am going to sound uncool and alarmist. But maybe that is the reality and maybe since  Nicolas Stern’s The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review neoliberal and oh-so-nice, left of centre policy makers, have really been compromised.

 It’s always great to talk about cities as ecosystems or as places full of so-called smart sustainable infrastructure. There is a lot of that talk in my architecture school about this. But, is this enough? Do we really need cities; and in the Anthropocene, is it wise to conceive of cities as ecosystems. Doesn’t this conceptual act place our own species with a role at the center of the natural world. Are we really at the center?

A recent book by Derek Jensen the radical environmentalist also raises the above questions. He argues that sustainability is now a devalued term. He writes about what he calls the conservation-industrial complex:

“big green organizations, huge “environmental” foundations, neo-environmentalists, some academics–which has co-opted too much of the movement into “sustainability,” with that word being devalued to mean “keeping this culture going as long as possible.” Instead of fighting to protect our one and only home, they are trying to “sustain” the very culture that is killing the planet. And they are often quite explicit about their priorities.”

Jensen, argues for, and imagines, an end to “technologized, industrialized civilization and a return to agrarian communal life.” Of course to the well-heeled policy urbanists this is a seemingly extreme view. But nonetheless, it is a view, that at this point in time, I am drawn drawn to. It reminds me a bit of the urban efforts and gestures of the architects Leon and Rob Krier to return us to a pre-industrial urbanism. So what exactly would be wrong with such a return? 

Another author of interest to me in this debate is late Australian philosopher Val Plumwood. Plumwood questions what she denoted as hyperseperation. Hyperseparation gives rise to the dominant structures that drive binaries such as, nature-culture, matter-mind and savage-civilised. In the context of the Ecocities debate we run the risk of simply arrogating all mind to our own species and seeing everything else as mindless matter. Matter, as exemplified by the cities formed in our own image. These Ecotopias, Ecopositive cities and Ecocities are now crowding out our social media feeds, and these imagined cities are too often image-cities emptied of, and destructive of, real ecologies.

A real debate around cities needs to merge that examines how cities might be dismantled and decolonized and how we might see them less as machines of innovation and capital. At the conference the academic program looked like more of the same old pap: Densification, greening the cities or “Bringing Nature Back In”, resilience, healthy cities, new forms of co-operation and sustainable food production. Certainly there was some good stuff in the conference around the First Nations and those other real cities, the organic informal cities full of inequalities.

But, in the face of climate change and the loss of actual and real ecosystems, habitats and species, outside of our existing cities there is only so much of this pap I can take. A few papers held glimmer of hope about new research agendas and questioning of this prevailing, and increasingly branded paradigm. I guess the image that headlined the conference (ably devised by Simon Cookes) of chucking plants onto concrete buildings and rooftops kind of says it all for me.

As architects and urbanists we need to explore the dynamics and effectiveness of architecture in relation to the real and deeper ecologies than just greening up the cities in Photoshop. This also means having a debate around how we might dismantle the cities and explore new forms of settlement. We need to dismantle the greenwash.

Trump’s climate abandonment: How architects can fight back.

Now that Trump has abandoned the Paris climate agreement what can architects do? Are architects doing enough? In the face of the prospect of two-degree global warming I would suggest that we architects need to reconfigure and question our current professional certainties. The issue of global warming and its relationship to architecture is one that warrants being written about in a polemical fashion.

Enchantment 

I fear that we architects are consumed and distracted by a narrative of enchantment. A discourse that distracts us from developing a more radical narrative and leadership in the face of climate change. As I suggested in a previous blog this is narrative has a focus on utopian poetics; a naïve poetics that should be dammed for its lack of irony and unself-conscious perspectives. As Urban-Think Tank have proclaimed we need to forget utopia and need to focus our perspective on the unfolding, and catastrophic, realities of the Favela cities and informal settlements. These are the cities which will be impacted the most by a warming atmosphere.

The fantastic technologies, futuristic cures and emerging intelligent processes that circulate in popular culture and social media have little immediate impact on the realities of day to day practice; nor do they touch the cities that are driven to highrer densities as a result of volatile capital flows. Why have architects and urbanists so thoroughly embraced the densification of cities and the global urbanisation mantra?

Architects need to avoid the comforting fairy tales and cures of technology.  We also need to avoid the self-comforting warm slosh of green of sustainability. Don’t get me wrong I am all for innovation and Futures thinking.  But I am not for a distracted profession that is naïve when it comes to arguing and debating different alternative futures. Our futures should not be simplified and depicted as picturesque renders of flooded cities; or worse still floating cities that are little more than polluting cruise ships; or the escapism of outer space habitats.

Yep, the robots, and articial intelligence is coming, but that doesn’t mean architects need to unthinkingly embrace emerging technologies as the next best thing to ride. The robots and drones will probably kill us.

More activism 

Architects are uniquely placed to address the above issues and the serious issue of a warming world.  But in order to do so architects need to be more radical in their activism and policy stances. Our discourse is too conditioned by tropes that imply adaptation, integration and accommodation, rather than militancy,  in the face of a looming disaster. Words like sustainability, adaptation and resilience need to be abandoned and recast. This is a salvage operation in the face of mass extinction and should be seen as such. It should not be too strident, too polite or too crazy to discuss things in these terms.

Architectural theory 

Architects also need to recast their theoretical instruments. The apolitical and abstract theories and debates that emerged out of the pedigreed schools of the American East coast in the early 80s no longer have any utility. In practice these theories have too often supported neoliberal capitalism. We need new theories that encompass diversity, difference, ecological realities and contest neoliberal urbanism. As some have suggested we need to abandon the dictatorship of the eye.

Architectural education needs to change and orientate itself towards developing a scepticism about emerging technologies. As argued by myself elsewhere the production architectural knowledge needs to be privileged over the production of the physical object or building. We need to teach young architects how to manage data, information and knowledge.

If design research is to mean anything then we need to argue about how we can measure and qualify its contribution to architectural knowledge. The latest funky or sustainable design requires a theoretical infrastructure and argument that establishes how design contributes new knowledge to the architectural canon. Just saying and making the claim that a particular design is design research is not enough.

Architectural leadership is important in the current age of barbarians and fragmented truths amidst the swirl of, what Debord designated, as the Spectacle. But in order to exercise that leadership architects need to avoid the easy seductions of a naïve and seemingly idealistic poetics. Only then will architects help to shift the narrative in favour of the Polar Bears.

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