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.

 

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.

 

Strategic vs. Project Thinking: Sticking your head up the dead bear’s bum of Projects

Here at this low class, sex, drugs and rock and roll, architect focused, in-the-gutter blog it helps the blog stats to write popular tags like “Sticking your head up a dead bear’s bum.” Sticking your head up bear’s bum” is one of those lost, and now inappropriate, Australian sayings that thankfully is no longer in use. It can be used in a derogatory sense as a direct call to action—best not to overthink that—or it can suggest a kind of head in the sand attitude. The original line comes from the Australian film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, and I have adapted the line here for my own purposes.

In my lovely mannered, patrician and bland-boosterish world of academia, it is not a saying that I am loathe to bandy about that much.

So, enough of the self-indulgence, the point is that for far too long architects have stuck their head up the dead bear’s bum of projects.

What Architects are good at 

Architects are great at spatial thinking, great at design thinking great and great at integrating knowledge across the construction, engineering and most consulting disciplines. Architects are good at looking at details (for those of you who can still actually detail) and then look at the larger urban scale all in the same breath. They are trained to shift their view to focus at different scales. As a result, architects are great at managing ambiguity and tackling the wicked problems.

The is what architects are supposed to do and what architects are good at. However, all of these skills and unique ways of thinking are hampered by the fact that architects are too often are stuck and blinkered by the project mindset. Everything is about the project. In practices large and small it’s all about the projects: big projects, little projects, built projects, or unbuilt projects, school projects, retail projects, domestic projects, commercial projects and urban design projects. Bathroom and toilet projects. Architects compare themselves to other architects through the lens of projects; their awards systems are based around projects, and the internal management systems of firms are founded, not around strategic management, producing design knowledge or the talent but the holy than holy projects. It’s always about the project.

The curse of the Project Centric

This project-centric focus keeps architects chained and enslaved in their own small pond. This pond is becoming increasingly smaller because of this very focus. Broader, market trends, macroeconomic changes, and the impact of future technologies on the profession often go unnoticed. Architects are clueless because of this lack of strategic thought. The profession is still only just grappling with the idea of advocacy; let alone producing any industry research about the impact of future technologies on it. Many strategic decision makers in practices medium, small and large are so project focused that they cannot see the forest for the trees.

As a result of this overbearing project centricity, the competitive advantage and value of architects is slowly being eroded. We have already lost construction administration, and Design Development is hard to argue the value of, design thinking has been taken, and repackaged by the graphic and industrial designers. A raft of new technologies, such as Big Data and AI, is slowly eating away at our design thinking skills. Some architects still think a digital strategy is about getting onto Instagram.

Architects are going to lose 

So if my argument is correct, that architects can’t think strategically outside of the project mentality, it follows that this lack of strategy, will in time, diminish the domain and agency of architects. We have already lost project management, and the banks are screwing us over our contracts. So where might the next pinch points be?

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Maybe it’s time we stopped letting the special technical nerdy types from running the IT department in practices. Maybe uni administrators should stop thinking that just teaching software skills or techniques is all we need to do in Architecture schools. Alternatively, we should stop thinking that being “strategic” when it comes to new technologies, is about curating the images in an Instagram profile. Wooo Hooo. Half the Instagram profiles of practices in my city say the words: Award Winning Architects. So what? However, it’s all about those projects, isn’t it? The elusive award-winning project. The one we would all die for.

Drinking the kool-aid 

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Architects have really drunk the Parametric and BIM kool-aid but at the cutting edge of practice as well as in the teensy weensy practices, and in the so-called professional associations. However, did anyone ever stop to think how architects might manage these new technologies in a strategic sense? All too often, architects have a kind of buy it and plug it in and play mentality when it comes to new technology. The new technologies are the kinds of things that make the project go faster, or cheaper or maybe sometimes better.

Architects have not been able to manage IT within their practices strategically. Yes, they have jumped onto BIM and the people I hate it when the students say: “why don’t we learn BIM at architecture school.” For the universities administrators BIM, and all other such widget technologies, is precisely the kind of curricula that they would love the architecture students to learn: easy to teach, the students think they are learning a skill (even if they are not learning to think) and a great way to make money. I mean WTF?

Architects might still have an opportunity to shape digital strategy. However, if they are not careful the digital strategies in the property and construction arena will be taken up either by new specialists, marketing, and asset managers who can run the data analytics. In workplace design, Big Data and associated analytics and AI are going to sweep the floor. Architects need to figure out how the Internet-of-Things is going to change things. Moreover, How will BIM data be connected to other broader IT data systems and analytics?

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Big Data, BIM and AI and will get together with the property and construction types, and before you know it, we will lose Feasibility Studies as a source of income. God help us when the nerdy nerds start thinking about data analytics in construction. As BIM and AI conjoin, the result may be a new take on generative designing, and then as AI begins to develop options to make design decisions where we will end up then? Just following the pack I guess.

General and strategic management skills

One more thought I would be rich, if I got a buck for every time, someone said we don’t teach business skills in architecture, or when people say architects lack in business skills. Teaching ourselves a few numerate business skills is not going to help and I am beginning to weary of this mantra. It’s the general, and strategic management skills architects don’t have I tried to find those in the Australian AACA competencies, but hey who wrote these new competencies? These are skills are critical to understanding all the activities that architectural practice encompasses. They are critical to understanding the universe outside of the architect’s bubble. Sticking your head up the dead bear’s bum of Projects is not doing us any favours.

Yep, maybe I have been hanging out with the copywriters too much. However, seriously, for those who know me well, I guess I am wondering how much truth-to-power stuff I can actually get away with these days now that I have some kind of immunity in my own version of Survivor. So stay tuned and we can see how outrageous I can be in the face of mediocrity.

Surviving the Design Studio: This is the end; the last things before the design crit.

Last week I had the opportunity to see some student crits in my Archi-schools undergraduate program. I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing projects from undergrad students and in my dotage there seems to be nothing more appealing than the prospect of prancing around a crit with the tantalising possibility of letting loose with a few well-chosen design criticism barbs. Thankfully, for all concerned including myself, the projects I saw were pretty good all things considered. It was indeed a pity because I still yearn to employ the darker arts of studio criticism and you can read about a few of them here. But it did remind me that in the last weeks of a studio—or even a design competition–there are lots of things architecture students should be doing.

1. Don’t turn back on your concept. Avoid concept-diarrhea

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Developing a concept beyond the pragmatic is an excellent idea. One of the problems many students have in studio is that by the time they do the research, understand the site, procrastinate, do a few half-hearted sketches, have a look at what Remksy, Herzog and de Neuron, MVRDV or Bjarke spark-a-larkles are doing on Insta, then do some more reading, fool around on the internet, procrastinate some more and its like 3 weeks to go and then the panic sets in. Perhaps it might have been better to do some design sketches in week one?

If at that point you don’t have a concept get one. If you do have a concept, don’t lose faith with it. Don’t replace it with another different concept. Concept replacement is usually seen as being desperate, and a reasonable jury will always sniff out projects based on the last-minute rush to finish. You have to run with it and make it connect to all the different aspects of your building that you need to design.

If you have burnt up all your time, the first thing you need to do is remember the concept and try to fashion and explain it in a way that is not merely about a knee-jerk functional reaction to the clients, the brief the studio outline or the site.

At the end of the day critics, everyone will want to see how you have used your concept or conceptual apparatus to fashion your design. Maybe, summarise your concept in one diagram or image and put this on your final print out.

2. Work on your plan. Avoid DLD (dimension-loss-disease)

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As everyone knows I hate plans, and they sued to bore me senseless when I fancied myself as an archi-school student designer. I was more interested in the developing dynamic volumes and three-dimensional architectural language.

And FFS get your scales and your spatial dimensions correct. There is nothing worse than looking at a plan that is full of empty space or the kitchen benches or door openings that are too big or too small. Another aspect of DLD is that some areas are either much bigger or much smaller than what they are supposed to be.

Print, yes actually print out your plans, and get a friend to check them. I am sorry to tell some people this, but plans are about measurement. One old trick is to actually design into your plans cool bathrooms, laundries, kitchens or storage areas. Yes, get those toilets right. If you can do that the whole plan will have more detail and look more convincing to a jury. Get some level of detail into your plan even if it is only visual.

3. Work on and present your sections. Avoid alt-right-angle-sectioning.

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I cannot stress this enough. Yes, I am a section guy. I love those Siza sections which communicate so much about volumes, light, spatial sequences, and the relationship between spaces. After all, a section is in some ways a plan that has been turned on its side. Good sections are of lines that are articulated, a section is a line that has a profile: steps, nibs, thickenings and thinnings, bumps, protrusions and the whole affair is a contoured and shaped image.

There is not building on the planet that has a right-angle where the exterior walls meet the roof. Just spitting out from a digital model, plans, sections and renders without thinking what they are like in reality is not architecture.

4. How is it to walk around your building and what will you see? Avoid unreal-viewpointing.

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Avoid the impossible angles, screwy scaled views, hot air balloon basket views that no user of your design will actually see. Avoid viewpoint unreality.

The worse thing you can do is front up to the crit and have no idea yourself what your building might be like to walk around. Looking at things in the computer is not the same thing. So, you need to walk through it in your mind and not in your computer. What will you see and what will you encounter? If you can produce and present a series of vignettes and views of what it might be like for someone, perhaps as an actual user of your building,

5. Show the context. Avoid render-plopping

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Please, I beg you, I ask you with all my heart, to show the context. Nothing shows archi-school and computer ignorance more than just plopping on a sheet—and I mean plopping in a scatological sense— render as if it is completely isolated from any surrounding urban, material or physical context.

6. Show the design process. Avoid process-voidance

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Bring along all your sketches, preliminary models, have them ready to show the critics. Stick them into some kind of consistent format. I mean how long does to take to do this?

Physical models are excellent. Even if you are running out of time, it’s still good to do a small, simple scaled physical model even if it is tiny. It’s probably worth at least 5 more marks if not more.

7. Get your project timing right. Avoid timing-desperation.

Of course, all the above things might seem like they are going to slow you down or take up too much time. Better to just stay in the model and keep on doing stuff as that will be quicker. But in fact attending to the above issues either partially and or fully will, in the long run, make for a better design and a set of images at the jury end of the process; it will communicate more about your design to a jury.

If you get too desperate about timing, you will screw everything up and end up at a broken printer. Timing is everything, and you need to plan ahead as to how long things will take to do.

I suppose the above is a kind of plea for the importance of design thinking and its associated crafts. Working on a computer model and then just spitting it out into a presentation—extruded plans, oversaturated renders, no sections, Insta-people collaged into all the views, a completely missing context, isn’t really architecture. It is just crap.

Previous blogs along these lines include the following:

Surviving the Design Studio: How to start making architecture with an actual drawing.

Surviving the Design Studio: How to avoid plan reading blindness

Surviving the Design Studio: 7 things to do to hit the ground running.

Surviving the Design Studio: 6 hacks to develop your crap design quickly.

Surviving the Design Studio: Symptoms and cures of design jury anxiety.

Surviving the Design Studio: Getting through the last days before the submission deadline.