Surviving the Design Studio: When you choose the wrong design studio and you realise you are just not that into your design tutors, and they aren’t into you.

The title of this blog was my life in every design studio. Anyway, I thought it was time to write something a little more positive and less cynical than in recent weeks. It’s been Design Week in Melbourne this week, and there have been lots of great events, and I would encourage all of you to go along to some of these before it finishes. I will be at this one on Sunday, and it should be an excellent opportunity to have a collaborative discussion about how architects can improve their working conditions and begin to think about labour practices in the profession.

But hey, let’s take it easy this week and talk a bit about design studios and design studio  teaching. Specifically, what should you do if you get that sinking feeling you are in the wrong design studio.

The Wrong Archi-School?

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Image: Simona Castricum 

So, you think you are in the wrong studio. And firstly, and you need to check this, you may actually be at the wrong graduate school of architecture, and if that is the case, it could be worth looking at the latest QS ranking list and seeing where your school falls. Some schools are better than others, and yes arguably the rating methodology is flawed. To say the least.

The ethos and the culture of your current school may not suit you. Especially, if you are different in some way and this clashes with the two extremes of Archi-school’s. These extremes are those with a prevailing cult mentality or those with a lacklustre culture of design mediocrity. I know of one new school of architecture where everyone has been narrowly recruited in the image of the head of school (cult). I think it is relatively predictable that without diversity in the academic cohort the school is doomed from the start (IMHO).

Another friend of mine is teaching at another Archi-school where the students seem to be so lacking in motivation; they are always late for class, and they never turn up on time for studio (lacklustre). Something is seriously wrong with that.

Ok, so let’s assume you are in the right architecture school for you but for whatever reason a few weeks into the semester you realise you are in the WRONG studio.

The Wrong Studio?

This may sound strange, but the best thing you can do when you are in this situation is to stay in the studio. I will try and explain why I think this is the case in more detail below. Firstly, there may be different reasons for thinking that you are in the wrong studio, and some of these reasons require more substantive actions than others.

Dud studio project

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Firstly, despite the lustre and appearance of the studio at the beginning or at the studio presentation, you might realise that it’s a not very interesting project. The site is banal, the brief is simplistic or the tutors love to dampen everything down with prosaic pragmatism.

If the project seems more comfortable than what you have done before, then that is obviously an excellent opportunity to think of ways to make it more complicated and to engage with your tutors at a deeper level. Try and understand the project and understand where your tutor wants to take it. Most tutors will have expectations about what they want from the studio. They don’t expect every student project to be super great, in the sense of looking fabulous at the end of the studio. Most tutors know that there will be people with a range of skills in their studios. But if you can understand what your tutors are passionate about and what ideas they might particularly want to develop in the studio then you can certainly use these to develop your project further. In tandem with your tutors you can help your them explore, to the max, the best ideas for the project even if the studio project seems dull.

Studio project beyond your skill set

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Of course, if you think the project is too hard for you and that’s the reason why you are in the wrong studio. A legitimate reason for this will be if your skills are not up to scratch or they are undeveloped (The bad reason is that you are just lazy). An excellent way to deal with this is to be very analytical about what skills you have and what skills you need going forward (some ideas on how to do this here).

A good design tutor will help you develop your skills and confidence. They will give you the space to do this. Having done your own skills analysis you will then need to figure out which skills you want to work on. Don’t be a dumbass and say: I just want to learn Revit or Rhino. You need to think about the range of skills you need. A good idea is to let your tutor know what it is you think you want to learn. Don’t make your tutors second guess what that is. Too often tutors don’t ask or just try and figure it as the studio proceeds. It’s not until the end of the semester that they actually work out what it is you needed to learn. Another related issue to this is your learning style, and it’s always good to figure this out and let your tutor know how you like to learn.

You realise that your tutor or tutors are a little bit crazy

Yep, this can happen, and it’s more likely to occur in schools where there is a cult mentality or a lack of oversight when tutors are chosen. Ok, don’t panic. Try and look on the humorous side of the situation. Take it easy, as the bad thing about this is that you probably are going to get contradictory messages from the tutors. And they will probably be inconsistent in either the value they put on your work, the advice they give you and even worse the respect they have for you. If you get caught up in the craziness you will end up being on an emotional roller coaster.

I think the best you can do in this situation is to gather around you a group of support critics and friends who can provide you with consistent design advice as you negotiate your way through this. If you can do that and you can gather enough support around yourself, then you should be all right. But it’s a bit like doing two studios at once, as you will need to meet with your friends each week and tell them what your crazy tutors have told you and try and work out your own design priorities. Two studios are better than one and if you survive you will be better off. Best not to worry too much about your marks in that situation.

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No studio friends?

You might find your friends aren’t in the studio. Really? My advice is to find some new friends and quick. Having no friends in the studio is an opportunity to make new friends and especially if the studio involves group work. Too often architecture students are crap at group work, and too often design tutors, even those tutors who insist on group work don’t give students any hints or ideas about how to do the group work.

There are a few fundamental rules of group work that everyone should know. Like assigning roles at the start and understanding everyone’s different working styles and maybe even working out common methods of contact. I guess I worry that architects and Archi students are hopeless at organising teams and teamwork.

The research syndrome.

Most studio participants don’t mind this. Hey, procrastination can’t be all bad. You can put off the hard stuff (actually designing) and talk and drink filtered coffee almost all semester. But it is essential not to go down this path at Archi-School. This used to drive me crazy, and it has a couple of different variants. Basically, it’s when the studio spends like 80% of the time talking and researching and talking and researching and talking and researching and never any ACTUAL designing. If you get stuck in this kind of studio vortex, don’t be sucked in. The sooner you start developing and generating your own design propositions the better. The idea that you have to wait for all available information and ruminate over it before you design the best way to never learn anything about design.

You realise you just not that into your design tutors, and they aren’t into you

Look you don’t have to be. And sometimes it’s hard when your tutors are vainglorious, discriminatory or they excessively foster others through obvious and not so obvious favouritism. But hey that’s architecture, and it’s something we all need to negotiate. But these things are also what we all really need to call out: the self-serving ambition, petty rivalries, profiling, bias and cronyism that is endemic in architecture schools and studios. If you feel bullied or discriminated against get help to call it out.

But again, getting yourself through this morass means you need lots of support, especially if you’re the only intersectional person in the studio and you feel like you have to hide in a corner when everyone else in there seems like they are in some kind of club or a clique. But shit who wants to be in that club anyway.

Make your own club as this is always better.

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In the global architectural system, architecture as a domain of knowledge practice is continuously being eroded, and so many architects have blindly accepted the celebritization (is that a word?) of our discourse. The elite clubs, the secret meetings, and unspoken smarmy clubby masculinities and handshakes. The few stars and the many. Why do we swallow it so readily? Why do our architecture schools mirror that stuff?

For me, celebratory and absurdist vitriol is one way to dismantle all of that. Someone asked me after I told them I was in the process of writing a book if it would be as vitriolic as the blog? I thought that was hilarious (I am just waiting for someone in my small village to say I am flaming down in a bitter and twisted way). However, for regular readers I am sure you will appreciate that the vitriolic tone has been pretty consistent over time. I like to describe this tone and voice as one of celebratory vitriol. After all what else can you do?

Finding your place 

If you get really desperate, you can find your voice in the studio via design tactics of irony, collage, mimicry and absurdity. Take a look at PJ’s work. Is it critique or homage to corporate capitalism. As soon you stop thinking that your mediocre tutors, in their many little mini-celebrity club guises, no longer have power over your design you will actually begin to design. For some of us we are never going to be in the club, we are never going to win the awards or the Archi-School prizes, or hang out with the celebrity architects. We will never have that Archi-pedigree. The architectural celebrities aren’t as fun as the real celebrities and they will only wipe their feet on you anyway, and the pedigreed types will never change the profession. After all, why would they?

Don’t Panic

Above all, and firstly, when you don’t like the design studio, you are in don’t panic. In architecture we don’t always like our clients or the projects we get dealt with and learning how to deal with these things as result of these factors is something we can learn when we hate our design studio.

But more importantly, the best tutors are the ones that will respect you regardless of how you look or your background. The best tutors are the ones who will not have favourites, and they will help you find your voice. These are the design tutors who have respect not only for you but for the future of architecture as well.

Updated March 21 

Pritzker Prize meets Instagram: Architects and their social media train wreck

Isozaki got the 2019 Pritzker, and I came across a picture on Twitter of him and Rem having a kind of dinner according to the Twitter caption they were talking about Metabolism. One  article I found in the non-architectural press was the one which described Isozaki as the “The man who fused east and west.” This kind of hyperbole aside, I wanted to vomit, and I couldn’t work out why.  But maybe its because I think the entire Pritzker prize thing is a flawed conception because it by and large supports the star architect regime. A regime of royalty ruling over the architectural masses. A regime whose tentacles reach across the globe into every aspect of architectural life: education, design and the way practices are managed.

Hashtag tyranny 

I started to think about all those Instagram hashtags that architects are now enamoured with. I checked, and the hashtag #pritzker on Instagram has had 23,582 posts. Many of  post-2000 Pritzker architects are all now on Twitter and Instagram. Of course, there are a few exceptions as not all of the Pritzker prize winners have readily embraced these new media channels build their brands. Both Doshi (2018) and RCR architects (2017) have a relatively low key presence on these platforms. Doshi only has one Instagram post which states: “Lifestyle celebrates when lifestyle and ecosystem fuse.” I mean what else can you say?

Pritzker winners and social media 

Jean Nouvel (2008) has 12.1K followers on Twitter and 194k on Instagram as well as that #Jean Nouvel hashtag has almost 80,000 posts. On Intstagram, Shigeru Ban (2016) has 13.3k followers. Herzog De Meuron (2001) has 1681 followers on Twitter but 380K followers on Instagram. Even if you’re trying to split from the band and go out your own you can have your own account Thom Mayne (2005) of Morphosis has #thommayne with 5923 posts. But #Morphosis has 18,860 posts, but this includes posts for a brand of hair products. Even if you’re dead you can still get a hashtag, for example, Jorn Utzon (2003) who died in 2008 has  #jornutzon with 8,308 posts. Other long-dead architects have lots of hashtag followers, for instance, @corbusier has 1067 followers, on Twitter but #corbusier has 41,072 Insta posts. LC® Le Corbusier has 722 followers and Corbu at @corbucorbu a Psych band from NYC have 25.8K followers on Insta. I might listen on to them on Spotify.

Zaha Hadid 

But if you are a female architect social media popularity of any scale–even on a global scale–may not mean much. Another Pritzker winner, now deceased, is Zaha Hadid (2004) and Zaha Hadid Architects now has 508K followers on Twitter, and 687K followers on Instagram and #zahahdid has just under 370,000 posts as of March 2018. Indeed, Hadid is arguably the most significant Instagrammer of the Pritzker prize winners.  Yet, as Katie Lloyd Thomas pointed out in Architectural Research Quarterly, Zaha Hadid’s death in 2016 gave rise to many of the old tropes of architectural misogyny, in the reporting of both her death and life. You can read what Katie writes below:

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Craig’s List

And if you an architect who wants to sell something, and an acolyte who wants to buy something, then Instagram is just the place. You can buy the Glenn Murcutt Folio (2002) a “Limited Collectors Edition boxed folio of Glenn Murcutt’s design process and methods” has 2840 followers on Instagram and the followers and the #glennmurcuttmasterclass has 411 posts and the  #glennmurcutt has 2,421 posts. It really doesn’t get more exciting than that, and maybe we will soon see architects selling stuff on Craig’s List.

YouTube 

Then there is also YouTube. Broadcast in 2016 The Greg Lynn Show on YouTube, indicates the ways where the emergence of new distribution channels in social media collide, and I mean really collide, with the canon of high architectural culture. In 2016 Lynn was the curator of an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal entitled Archaeology of the Digital: Complexity and Convention. The curatorial purpose of the exhibition was to examine how architects from the 1980s onwards sought to incorporate digital tools into architecture. So hey why not do a YouTube thang and develop what Lynn called an “an archaeological reading of how digital tools were incorporated into architecture.”

Arguably, if we are to be churlish, the purpose of this endeavour was to highlight Greg Lynn’s own position in the canon. Nothing like killing a few birds with one stone.

Using a late night talk show format Lynn employed YouTube to interview the architects of various projects these included amongst others “stand-up comedian and special effects guru Neil Denari,” and Patrik Schumacher, who is promoting his new book, “Para-Patrik Schumacher, which is about being Patrik Schumacher.” As reported the Youtube format lent itself to numerous sound bites as reported including Francis Roche exclaiming “I am not a digital masturbator,” and then saying “I wish I were a masturbator.” Alejandro Zaera-Polo being described as “just a peasant from Spain,” and Wolf -Pritz also interested in ensuring his place in the canon architecture. By you know just being Wolfy. The show ran for 11 episodes⁠1 with each episode being around 10 to 11 minutes in duration.

But maybe Greggie really needs to get back onto Instagram as he only has 20 posts 1,745 followers. Although from the look of this post from a crit in Vienna he is trying. If architects are going to brand themselves then sometimes its good to have a refresh. Gregg Lynn FORM is getting a bit tired.

Cardi B and Alexandria 

But in the scheme of things, despite all this hyperbole, architects are really not doing that well on social media. For example, Cardi B 41.4m followers for only 635 posts followers and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 386 posts 2.7m followers. Diet Prada has 1.2 million followers and Saint Hoax with 972K followers on Insta.

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Cardi schooling Trump (sound on 🔊)

A post shared by Saint Hoax (@sainthoax) on

This really makes me think that the best Instagrammers in popular culture are those able to dis-assemble, play with and regurgitate the norms of that culture and its image-politics. I don’t see a lot of that on social media when it comes to architects and the so-called architectural canon. It looks like for architects the same old tropes and prejudices are being reproduced on social media. Quaint hero photos of Isozaki and Rem at dinner—post-coital Pritzker style–on Insta don’t really do it for me. But I guess if you don’t like what you see on Insta you can always watch Greg Lynn and his old 90s mates on YouTube.

No wonder I wanted to vomit.

Architects are on fire but the designer types are in La-la-land.

The recent issues surrounding the Shergold Report, the Opal Tower and the VCAT decision concerning the fire at the Lacrosse building raise severe questions for Australian architects. These questions are broad but centre around issues concerning architectural education, the pricing of risk, contracts and procurement and most importantly the culture and tenor of architectural practice management. As well and in addition to these issues are broader issues of public policy.

Now of course as some of you will know I sloshed my own way through the Archi-Prac classes and my efforts in the specification class were feeble, and similarly in the cost management class I didn’t really give a toss. Like many architecture students, I was obsessed with design. But of course to be a great designer I also needed that special special pedigree and I also really needed hair. I have written about all that here. All I can say is having the hair and the gendered pedigree to win the competition or network the room doesn’t mean you are the best architect to manage risk.

Where are the voices of designers?

So these days, in my life limited dotage, I have to be content with involving myself in seemingly very mundane matters in the great canon of high architecture such as gender equity, intersectionality, pay and working conditions, public advocacy and policy, risk management and in fact anything to do with management at all. None of these things has anything to do with design? Or do they?

They call themselves designers, but by not discussing what is actually happening in the profession the so-called designers are selling architectural design down the river.

opal-tower-investigation-final-report-2018-02-22_Page_01When I see the pictures of buildings cracked, facades burning or even just sloppy slack BIM style detailing it makes me angry to think that architects might have any part to do with these travesties. As I followed the Opal report and then read the Shergold report, I thought oh wow. This is great for architects we can really use these events to advocate for the importance of our role in the industry, the importance of our professional regulation, and the importance of our education and knowledge. The developers, builders and the building regulators have sidelined us architects for so long. Anyone can call themselves a Project Manager.

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Lacrosse 

But then came the Lacrosse VCAT report. It is a long read, but every architect in the country should read it and reflect. It is a report that raises serious questions about many things concerning architectural design practice, architectural team leadership, and practice management. How architects outsource is another issue? Do architects really understand the fundamentals of risk and reward? High risk leads to high rewards. But, might high rewards also mean there are high risks to manage?

You can make your own judgments about the Lacrosse VCAT determination.

The Shergold report, Opal and then Lacrosse and the “follow up” by the federal Building Ministers forum points to the policy spinelessness of politicians in favour of free markets, the unchecked greed and rent-seeking of developers, and the complexities of risk management for architects. The Building Ministers forum has yet to produce a response to its “joint implementation plan setting out the direction of the proposed reforms” in response to the Shergold report.

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Cover of the Shergold Report 

Novation

For me some of the practice issues that architects need to address include issues around the inherent risks of signing novated contracts and consultant agreements. As well as considering the various power asymmetries in the relationships between architects, contractors and developers; if architects need to act with responsible care and are liable under different contract formats, then we need to be able to exercise our full knowledge forcefully to manage risk in complex situations.

But as well as this, how do we educate architects to manage these risks in a way that delivers excellent design outcomes?

It all makes me wonder why can’t designers engage with the real issues surrounding the profession? Why can’t designers develop theoretical and political approaches steeped in reality? Why don’t designers come and talk at the events to do with gender pay gaps, flexible work and the like? I would really love to hear a designer talk about some of this “practice” and “practice management” stuff instead of the endless word talk like: “new ways of making”, “spatial immersion”, “eco-anything”, “textured materiality”, “bounded boundaries”, “interstitial nooks”, “ design interrogation’’ “cosmopolitan traces”, “new institutionalism”, “distorted geometries”–and anything with the word future in front of it –“Future practice”, “Future identities,” “Future Fucking Futures” and those weird words with trivial capitalisations like “ReCast.” And “Award-winning” is another bit of word soup I hate every time I look at Instagram. Its all like something out of a Rem-Bjarke-Assemblage-Log-Volume dictionary. I forgot to mention the word “Paradox” or Journal’s with names like “ReInflection” or is that “Infection”?

I hear and read all this stuff and then I want to throw up and weep and stab myself in the eye with a biro. It makes me want to speed life up and take cocaine and do heroin mixed with serepax. After those feelings pass all is left is the sense that the profession is on fire, and the designer types are in La-la-land.

Are Architects Oblivious to Employee Suffering? The four syndromes.

Are architects oblivious to suffering when it comes to work practices and workflows in their firm’s and studios? Are employee well-being and flexible work-life balance practices ingrained in the way that architects manage and organise their offices? Paid maternity and paternity leave might be a case in point. I am not so sure how well architects are getting across these issues in Australia; maybe, just maybe, architects are getting there a bit?

However, I am prompted to write about this because of a few recent stories, from the front-lines of architectural practice. I have framed them in the form of syndromes as many of them seem to persist in studio culture. If you witness all four of these syndromes in your workplace maybe it’s time to get out. To help I have tried to offer a few counter suggestions of how you might act if you are faced with these kinds of syndromes.

At a broader level Negotiations is indeed something I would like to see taught more of in Architecture schools. The best design architect I worked with, who shall remain nameless, was also great at negotiations: pragmatic, modest, yet tough when required with an innate sense of negotiation timing.

How else do you get real architecture and great designs built? By being a prima-donna-baby? Certainly not by thinking your design is great and you don’t need to negotiate. Or worse still imposing your giant design ego on the design process without a clue about negotiating.

S1 Silence when we forget to pay you.

Yep, a middle-sized practice that forgets; to pay its employees for a month. Pays monthly then very little or no communications with the staff for an extended period (WTF, like 3 weeks). Eventually, practice leaders say there is a stuff up with their accounting system and tax payments, and as a result, the staff weren’t paid.

Apparently, the real reason the practice itself has not been paid is a result of poor agreements with clients and an inability to manage cash flow. I think more architects should use debt collectors.

Counter with: No-money No-workee. Try and say that and you will be surprised how good it makes you feel. And you can easily find another job. Besides, why work for arseholes who don’t pay their staff or their architects.

S2 The rubber band syndrome

If you are competent, you will get piled on with lots and lots of work. Until you snap. The project work keeps coming. You keep saying yes. You put your heart and soul into that work because, unlike your supervisors, you are ethical. They will keep piling on the work until you break. It’s a tactic of bullies. Eventually, all the responsibility, the extra hours, the so-called “all-nighters” will make you snap. At its best, you might just get angry with someone at its worse you will have a mental breakdown or worse still an aneurysm (Perhaps we need to ask just how many How many architectural employers will cover your sick pay after the snap).

After you snap, your employers will blame YOU the victim. Believe me, I know.

Usually, people have worked outside of the award or their employment contracts, if they exist, and the best situation in this instance is to make sure you have good legal advice when signing employment contracts.

Counter with: Post-Snap always good to get a bit of legal advice and a legal letter to your employers outlining the situation. Call out the bullies, and that will usually get you out of being blamed as a victim. But, maybe not.

S3 Fruit and Veg Market syndrome

This syndrome is particularly devious and fundamentally manipulative. But it is very very prevalent. I once saw an architect I worked for at the Vic Market in Melbourne. He was shopping for fruit and vegetables and going from stall to stall, picking up each individual fruit and mango, examining it and then putting it down. Eventually, after a few stalls, he selected the Mango he wanted. This was the mango that seemed just right: for the moment. But he had picked up and tried and examined a lot of mangos along the way.

When I saw this, it dawned on me that this was how this person treated staff. Pick them up and pick them out from the other mangos, give them an attractive job a role or position, turn them around and about, and then as soon as the mango picker has extracted some worth its time to discard.

Don’t be a MANGO in the hands of a fickle and clueless director or manager. I am never going to fall for that one again.

Counter with: When you get picked as the Mango make sure your rules of engagement—and exit mechanisms–are discussed, outlined and clearly written down.

S4 Drip Feed Syndrome

This one is about incentives and many of you reading this blog will realise just how familiar it is. Too often potential clients and even real clients employ this on architects themselves with a promise of future work or benefits. Your employers are unable to offer the correct wages for your knowledge and skills so they will provide you with incentives here are a few of the more common ones.

•We will make you an associate.

• We will give you a great project to work on.

• We will provide you with more experience.

• We will give you a permanent job.

• We will actually pay you.

Drip, Drip Drip and Drip.

Counter with: Point out and highlight the drip each time you get a drip. And try and negotiate for real and authentic incentives in exchange for measurable outcomes.

All of the above syndromes have implications for the employee. For the person who is not in a position of authority or power. The student, the recent graduate, the intersectional employee or even the really experienced older architect. Many architectural employees have invested 5 to 7 years of education, and more years, in architecture to only then be caught up in a global, yes global, system of callous disregard. Usually, a disregard associated with the teeth-gritting masculinities of the pedigreed architectural tough guys.

In each of the above syndromes, the well-being of the employee involved tends to be ignored. I wonder what it is in the design studio system that breeds such callousness? I wonder what it is about the system of pedigrees and architectural stars that also produces such callousness? What is it about the architecture schools, especially those run by architects, that seem to replicate these syndromes within them?

So two questions remain: Are the most successful architects the ones who are best at exploiting the talent? And are the most successful architects the ones that can exploit the talent while being oblivious to the suffering and well-being of the architectural talent they exploit. All I can say is architects need better skills and managing the people in their firms and across their institutions.

On a positive note we should all be more like Cardi B.

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 search for a new model of architectural practice.

Architecture in Australia is currently caught in a vortex of low fees, poor management and business practices as well as traditional hierarchies. Of course, all of this was hinted at in last week’s blog. And a few people wrote to me and said things like:

I have been burned twice by small practice. I have recently moved to a large company where I am paid above award and overtime is minimum (so far). The treatment of my friends and peers in architecture has me livid….

and on to the haphazard way so much of architecture as business is run: even with only two years working in architecture following the years of study, my own experience rings true…

Crawling up the pyramid 

As result, the widespread horrors of practices that are barely numerate and naïve about management and business means that clients and public users are not being served well by architects. I would argue that current and traditional models of practice are no longer viable. It’s time to abandon the old-timey hierarchical model of student, graduate, graduate, architect, associate, senior associate, principal, associate directors and directors. I mean what is that ladder about? It is like a kind of pyramid sales scheme where you pay, with labour and time at the bottom of the pyramid, in the hope that you might eventually move up. It’s a pyramid riven by egos, pedigrees, insecurities, and fiefdoms. Tough luck if you’re in anyway different. Hey, who wants to work with Pinochet’s. 

 

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Design studios work better when the hierarchies are flat. I would argue that instead of focusing on gaining back territory from Project Managers, or questioning Novated Contracts, or pinning hopes on the “collaborative” possibilities of BIM architects need to look at the way they organise and manage themselves.

Assemble as a model 

Assemble, the London based group of collaborators who were awarded the Turner prize in 2016 indicates how legitimacy and authority in a collective logic is made manifest. Assemble is an organisation that is more project network orientated rather than project-centric orientated. Based in London Assemble consists of 18 members working together since 2010. As a Collective, the practice is, of course, interdisciplinary, and the focus of Assemble is to “democratise” architecture and to “activate overlooked spaces” through “community focused” programs. Too many practices acclaim these values and yet their internal cultures are riven by petty rivalries fiefdoms and hierarchies that do not foster the creation of design knowledge.

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Assemble at Venice 2018 
The collective as an alternative model

As a collective Assemble confirms to the logic of having a focus on process and community; the group sees the process as being “interdependent and collaborative”, and its members actively seek to expand their community networks, blurring the line between who has agency,  by “ involving the public both as participant and collaborator.”  The first project by the group in 2010 exemplifies this approach and network focus. This project was the Cineroleum. In this project, employing volunteers, Assemble created a cinema from a disused gas station.

Unlike those practices stuck in the treadmill of client-architect patronage and the crippling hierarchies that go with it. Assemble have not been averse to a kind of entrepreneurship, this is evident for example in the 2014 Yardhouse project in Stratford. This project was an affordable and creative workspace building created by the group. In 2016 Yardhouse was then sold through the in 2016 through the Modern House Estate agency for a reputed cost of 150,000 pounds. Yardhouse was the result of a research process that was described as “strategic design and research project” that analysed the Bow Interchange and Stratford High street in East London. This project resulted in identifying the need for an affordable workspace in the area. The project was funded by London Legacy Development Corporation, Kingspan a construction product manufacturer and Assemble themselves. In 2017 Assemble began working with the Art Academy an independent art school in London which included not only an analysis of physical infrastructure but also a unique collaborative process. Assemble involved itself with the Academy through initial “dinner discussions” that were employed to “inform initial conversations about the redevelopment” as well as a series of “Professional Practice seminars” and a “public programme of talks and debates.”

So what ? 

Assemble’s reach, into community networks, and range, across different project types, is sustained by a governance system within Assemble itself that appears to enhance the group’s ability to quickly form and reform itself to connect into and expand its own networks.  This fluidity and agility allows Assemble to reconfigure itself to conform to project network flows of local capital and micro-finance. The collective nature of Assemble is underscored by the fact that even the exact number of people in the group is in and to some extent ambiguous. The group’s knowledge base is established across different disciplines including architecture, art, design and construction as well as members with educational backgrounds in architecture, philosophy, As Joe Halligan, an Assemble member has noted the group “enjoys working across different fields” and the “title of our role is really flexible.”  Capital flows through Assemble via a model where any money that comes in 50% goes to the collective then 50% goes to the project team.

A better model of practice

Assemble’s a model that is unique and obviously specific to its context. Nonetheless, I would suggest that a collective is nowadays a better model for architectural practice. In contrast to models based on the old outdated hierarchies of management and a client -architect patronage culture. Central to new models of practice is the following:

  • Consensual decision making and governance systems.
  • A recognition that difference and diversity within the collective is important.
  • Non-exploitative work practices.
  • Self-initiated advocacy projects
  • Funding on a project by project basis.
  • Engaged with architectural research.
  • Pro-active in taking up particular projects and advocacy issues.
  • Engaged with various communities and publics.

Email me or contact me here, at Instagram or Twitter, if you are interested in talking about exploring the idea of and then forming an architectural collective in Australia. So far half a dozen people have expressed an interest. I am committed to doing this and it is an endeavour that could, quickly, and easily develop a portfolio of projects. The older models of practice are too slow, not agile enough, and have not served the profession well. We really need to develop new models of architecture in Australia that recognises the need for equity, difference and new ways of thinking about architectural advocacy and public engagement. The old way is no longer working and is killing the profession. I am up for it so send me an email if you are interested. 

 

The same old mistakes: Emerging practices, the cult of timidity, underpayment and overwork.

Last week, two things happened related to early stage architectural practices. Firstly, it was related to me how a young architect had started working with a larger practice because she was sick and tired of the overworking, underpaid and disorganised nature of the seemingly emerging practice that she was in. A practice that might be described as a social media icon. I then went to the Architeam Awards, and it was great. This is my favourite tribe of architects. Of course, as everyone knows I am positively biased towards Architeam after the RASP project.

Architeam Awards

It was a great party, and for those who know me I am trying to party as much as possible during this end of year architectural season, and it makes the AIA awards seem like a dreary and pompous affair with the alcohol. The Architeam awards are a fun, less formal and more casual party where everyone gets to mix and actually talk. No long drunken monologues form the small coterie of architects who get the awards all the time. Architeam is a diverse organisation with its base in the architectural community. It is a cooperative governed by a diverse elected board. This year there were six judges for all the awards categories, perhaps a better system than what the AIA does.

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As my favourite professor once said to me, “just tell the practice students it’s all about the money.” As a small practitioner or any kind of practitioner for that manner, it is much cheaper to be involved in the Architeam awards than the AIA awards. They even have a Youtube clip by Bowerbird to help architects prepare their award for the mass media.

One of the more exciting awards was for the Contribution & Innovation Category.  This Award is to recognise contribution and innovation to architecture beyond the design and production of buildings.

Commendations were jointly awarded to 4 entries in the Contribution and Innovation category: Accessibility in the Built Environment by Visionary (now that I am actually disabled I think Mary Anne Jackson is excellent): New Architects Melbourne (NAM) by New Architects Melbourne (NAM); Sydney Architecture Walks by Eoghan Lewis; and Our City Our Square campaign by Citizens for Melbourne – all contributed greatly to Australian Architecture in a variety of innovative ways.

It was great to see Our City Our Square campaign by Citizens for Melbourne get an award as well as (NAM) by New Architects Melbourne. I am not sure either of these groups would get an award in the AIA system.

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Emerging Architects and Politics?

But lest you think this blog is just an Architeam love fest: one of the more interesting comments made to me by a winner on the evening is that “young architects are not interested in community advocacy and politics” and seemingly uninterested in being engaged in public advocacy.

Both of these tales, made me wonder if our young early-stage practices are making the same mistakes like those made in the past.

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Mistake One: Not speaking out (plus mistake 1A misuse of social media)

A disengagement with urban and local politics motivated by the fear of not getting work if a particular practice or a group takes a position or a stand. Let me be savage and cynical, I am over the wishy-washy view of architecture with its comb-over of good intentions: sustainability, saccharine placemaking and a residue hipster style social media presence.

For some, it’s all about the emojis and the insta-likes. Oh, gee whiz, I just posted another exotic image of a long-lost fragment of brutalism. Let’s see some insta-images from architectural influencers that mess with people’s heads rather than saccharine gumpf (mistake 1A). I am over the mild-mannered, but a little bit quirky, modernism; you know a little bit Eamesy, the limed wash joineries, the laminated timber tables, the affectation of funny windows, the micro snapshots of architectural ephemera, and the cult of vibrant youth studio pictures. It looks all so perfect, but is it? How can it be perfect when everyone is getting overworked and underpaid.

It goes without saying that architects will not add value to public debates, or achieve a policy presence unless the emerging networks of young architects are more militant. Policy advocacy and militancy are sorely needed in the profession.

I don’t know what it is about the AIA that makes them so weak. Others would use harsher terms. Sure, I know lots of people on the various chapter councils. Many are excellent and notable architects. But maybe it’s something to do with governance, the lack of leadership and management capabilities, or the spineless devotion to not rocking the boat. Meanwhile, all of the other interest groups in our broader industry have no compunction in pushing their own agendas.

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Mistake Two: The same old same old of traditional practice. 

Small and newly formed practices have a chance to make it different. Practice culture is set in the first year of practice. Sure, small scavenger practices are all desperate to get jobs and survive. But overwork is not going to get you there. Have a business and marketing strategy and shit have an actual business plan. Get your practice organised with a few basic systems at the beginning of the practice. Basic business accounting systems, contact databases, timesheets and actual strategy.

Think about how you will manage staff and outline some goals. Pick up on a few managerial skills. Learn how to collaborate with others. Go and network and coffee with other people who are not architects even if that means not getting desperate about cutting your fees for that next miserable job. Talk to some of the marketing consultants who know the profession well. And for fuck’s sake don’t underpay, or overwork, your female staff members compared to your male staff.

All of this is about building your small practice infrastructure and capabilities ahead of time. Instead of falling into a miasma of panic, desperation and making it up as you go along.

The design studio cult of overwork, underpaying staff, long hours, bidding for low fees, should not be a part of the culture of newly emerging practices. Starting a practice is an opportunity to change this and set a new culture and explore new ways of doing architecture. The firm’s that do this now, without following the path of traditional practice culture, will be the ones that will survive and prosper in the future.

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Getting back into it 

If I was to start practice now, rather than when we did in the early to mid-90s, I would probably do it all differently, everything has changed, but its like we keep making the same mistakes.

Yep, even I would be up for starting a small practice and this time around I am thinking of a ground-up tribe of practitioners working collaboratively, with great governance, considered strategy and an activist architectural politics. Not only do we need ground-up professional organisations but we also need ground-up and community-based practices.

Let me know if you are up for it. I reckon a collaborative group of six to twelve architects (plus a few poets or painters or performance artists) would be enough to keep everyone employed and well as enough to quickly kick ass. The time of the traditional practice is over.