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.
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.
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.