Business Suits vs. Designers: Why architectural practice is going down the gurgler.

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This was another popular blog post from the last year or so. Many readers contacted me to comment on the post. Most were in general agreement with the sentiments expressed in it. Re-reading it now, I am more emphatic in my thinking, and wonder how does a profession or a domain of knowledge expect to survive? Especially, if it gives no priority to educating its best and brightest about economics, finance, business strategy and management.  

Down the gurgler is Australian slang for: down the plug hole; something has failed; wasted (as effort, money, etc.); ruined, destroyed. 

Before you read this you may be interested in the:

SURVIVING THE DESIGN STUDIO: 2018 ARCHITECTS GLOBAL RESEARCH SURVEY. 

At the 2106 ARCOM conference I attended I met a few other researchers working in the area of architectural services. One was from Western Australia and the other was from Delft. Delft is one of the largest and well regarded architecture schools in Europe. At Delft my friends there have a large EU research project looking at the nature of architectural services and their value. Whilst standing at our conference having a cup of tea one of them mused that architecture seemed to have a global ideology. I asked “What do you mean?” thinking that perhaps the counter is that architecture is something that is pretty much formed by what Kenneth Frampton called critical regionalism.

The great divide 

She went on to discuss that no matter where you went in the world in architecture there was always an insanely stupid divide between the creative designer’s and the so called “business” people of architecture. At her architecture school the “in-crowd” of design professors turn there nose up and reject the so called “business side” of architecture. I agreed and then thought more about it. This divide is contributing to the demise of the profession. It prevents big practices from integrating knowledge and going upstream; it cripples small practices because they often do not have the business skills needed to make them sustainable.

It’s not real until it’s real syndrome

This divisive refrain has often been driven home to me in the architectural practice classes I teach at MSD. Every semester students question why we would do business plans in the class as part of the syllabus. Of course, when I talk to practitioners and I tell them we teach business planning in the class at MSD they say that’s awesome. When I tell they students this they don’t really care and they don’t really get it until they themselves become practitioners. Even when I say: “you will be more employable if you understand this stuff”, they still don’t seem to get it. It might be the it’s not real until it’s real syndrome.

The “practice” lecturer syndrome 

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How “design” architects see “business” architects

Also, as the so-called “practice” lecturer I constantly, get the impression, that  in some way I am written me off as some kind of accounting value managing drone who hates architectural design because I have an MBA. Yet, I love Debord and Deleuze and Guattari and late Foucault just as much as the next theoretically inclined architect.

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D & G 

Of course, in other fields it is different. For example, in advertising, the dark heart of capitalism itself, the collaborative tensions between the creatives, the so called suits and the production people are acknowledged and managed well. Agencies still manage to produce great work that moves people and contributes to brand survival in the spectacle.

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“Design” architect complete with mandatory jacket. 

What exactly is the business side of architecture? 

Thinking about it I am actually not sure what is meant by this. It is such a vague term and ideological prejudice. Does it mean you just want architects to make money (don’t we all want this?) Does it mean if you are “pro-business” you just do what aesthetically ignorant clients do? Does it mean you hate design and design processes? But just maybe actually, paying attention to the “business side” means architects need to pay attention to the following: Diversity,  in our team structures, strategic positioning, innovation systems, knowledge management processes, technology implementation and how we respond to emerging forms of procurement.

Oh and there is that that other area of academic and professional study that is often ignored in architecture schools, and missing from our competency standards, also relegated to the “business” side: Leadership.

Long hours, price cutting and other structural problems of the profession 

As the Sydney architect Clinton Cole eloquently argues, amongst other things, the profession is beset by a number of structural problems that impact on its well-being and competitiveness. He cites the “hugely entrenched cultural tendency to perform long hours” combined with truckloads of unpaid overtime, anomalies in charge out rates (Charging staff out at 40 hours per week but working more than this). As Clinton points out these practices disadvantage women in the profession. Or anyone else, for that matter, seeking a reasonable work life balance.

Oh and I forgot to mention  the other structural problems such as fee competition (the persistent rumours about large practice cartels price fixing low fees) and the push in some quarters, even by some so called-architects themselves, to deregulate the word architect.

The need for industry research 

Industry development backed by evidenced based research is the key to help architects  argue their case. But, as far as I can tell the AIA has had no real research function for years. The Government Architect’s across Australia are also generally deficient in this regard. So it’s great to see the Association of Consulting Architects taking up this mantle and filling some of the basic research gaps with the fine work of Gill Mathewson.

As suggested above, there is a whole range of research areas, that architects could collectively pursue for the benefit of the public, policy makers and even their clients.

7 tips for bridging the divide despite the horror of small practice

Lets face it in small practice organising and scheduling time, managing cash flow, preparing marketing materials is extremely boring. But it is stuff that needs to be done. In larger firms, let alone any firm for that matter, strategic thinking, marketing and branding, HR and management policies that promote diversity and creativity are vital. So if you are a small or solo practice in the outer suburbs or inner suburbs of a large city. What do you do? How do you avoid the quagmire of overwork, high stress and the feeling that you are always reacting from crisis to crisis.

In my experience the following things are all definitely worth considering to bridge the divide.

  1. Don’t cut your fees just to get the job.
  2. Have a business plan even if it is only two pages long.
  3. Calculate charge out rates that allow for fair work hours and profit. Stick to them.
  4. Work on your business systems.
  5. Take the time to constantly market the value of design.
  6. Do what Google does and don’t work for half a day a week. Just think or meditate.
  7. Do some research that will help strengthen your knowledge base.

Unless a practice considers acting on the above 7 points it will always struggle.

Design value and design fees are positively correlated

Of course I fear, that if you mention business systems to one of those big name alpha-male architects  that adorn the global system of architecture they look at you as if you some kind of pariah. They always leave it to someone else. As a result our profession is getting killed. It struggles to argue to clients why there is a direct relationship between design fees and design value. It struggles to shake off the overall prejudices that the broader public have about architects. More importantly, it is currently struggling to compete with other professions that claim to offer similar services.

The business-creative divide and corresponding global ideology has crippled architecture and threatens to hasten its further demise as a domain of knowledge. As a result the viability of architecture as an profession is increasingly at stake. Unless the divide is bridged we remain a naive profession full of poetic and narcissistic dreamers who are rapidly losing ground.

MSD Architectural Practice 2018: Seeking Tutors, Practices and Architects to be involved.

We are looking for architects with a commitment to architectural education to tutor, guest lecture or join our weekly discussion panels, in Architectural Practice at MSD in Semester 1 of 2018.
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Subject aims and syllabus
The subject aims to develop a strong connection between MSD MArch students and architectural practice. The tutors are a key part of helping us to make this connection. For many of the students in the class this will be their first introduction to practice.
Using a traditional practice syllabus as a platform (e.g. fees, tenders and contracts), the subject covers strategic thinking, emerging forms of collaboration, scenario and business planning, negotiations, gender issues and work rights in the profession, as well as knowledge futures.
The subject covers just about anything architects need for survival in the current age. In 2018 the lecture content will again be delivered online and via lecture based panel discussions as well as structured tutorial case studies.
Social media 
We will be using social media more this year through our Instagram account amongst other things. To give students a sense of the reality of practice each tutor will also be responsible for posting “a week in the life of the architect” content to the Instagram account for one week of the semester.
Wanted: Tutors with passion 
We are not looking for star-architects but architects with a passion for architectural practice, business and design. The tutorial team is diverse and I welcome applications from architects with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. The  guiding philosophy of the class is that professional practice is actually about maximising design outcomes.
Ideally, tutors in this subject will be registered architects or practitioners, with post-graduation or post-registration experience, who are currently working in their own practices, or as project architects in medium to large firms.
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Time commitment
Time commitment for tutors is significant: 11 x 90 minute tutorials plus 4-6  x 1 hour moderation sessions during the semester. As well as attendance at 2 x 1 hour lecture panel presentations. This is an opportunity to make a direct contribution to current debates about architectural practice. Tutors will also need to view the online lectures. There is approximately 32 hours of marking during the semester. Tutorials and lectures are Tuesday evenings.
It is expected that tutors will meet the challenge of teaching in a cross-cultural and diverse context. Tutors are expected to abide by the universities teaching policies.
We also welcome architects currently in leadership positions in practice, no matter where you are based as we can easily Skype,  who wish to contribute to the subject either as a tutor or as a guest lecturer and discussion panel member.
Host practices  
This semester we are hoping to have one tutorial in an architectural office or practice. This will probably take place in May on a Tuesday afternoon. If you are willing to host let me know. That would be fantastic. We are also hoping to run some employment ready sessions through the class.  Contact me here if you are interested.
Interested? 
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I am happy to talk with you further if you have any further questions about your contribution as tutor to the subject. I look forward to your application as a tutor via the MSD’s Session Staff Recruitment System at the following link.

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

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

Enchantment 

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

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

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

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

More activism 

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

Architectural theory 

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

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

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

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

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Surviving the Design Studio: Seeking MSD Architectural Practice Tutors

We are looking for architects with a commitment to architectural education to tutor, guest lecture or join our weekly discussion panels, in Architectural Practice in Semester 1 of 2017. The subject aims to develop a strong connection between MSD MArch students and architectural practice. The tutors are a key part of helping us to make this connection. For many of the students in the class this will be their first introduction to practice.
Using the traditional practice syllabus as a platform the subject covers strategic thinking, emerging forms of collaboration, foresight and forecasting, negotiations, gender issues and knowledge futures.
In 2017 lecture content will be delivered online and via lecture based panel discussions as well as structured tutorial case studies.
Ideally tutors in this subject will be registered architects or practitioners with post registration experience who are currently working in their own practices or as project architects in medium to large firms. It is expected that tutors will meet the challenge of teaching in a cross-cultural and diverse context (perhaps unlike the people in the photo above)
We would also welcome people currently in leadership positions in practice who wish to contribute to the subject either as a tutor or as a guest lecturer and discussion panel member.
Time commitment for tutors is significant and this will be: 11 x 90 minute tutorials plus 4 x 1 hour moderation sessions during the semester. As well as attendance at 2 x 1 hour lecture panel presentations. This is an opportunity to make a direct contribution to current debates about architectural practice.
Tutors will also need to view the online lectures. There is approximately 32 hours of marking during the semester. Tutorials are generally either Monday and Tuesday evenings.
To give students a sense of the reality of practice each tutor will also be responsible for posting “a week in the life of the architect” content to the subjects Instagram account for one week of the semester.
I am happy to talk with you further if you have any further questions about your contribution as tutor to the subject. I look forward to your application as a tutor via the MSD’s Session Staff Recruitment System at the following link.

Surviving the Design Studio: Bjarke Ingels is evil because he has hair.

It never ceases to surprise me that other architects, and indeed clients, would continue to promote the cults of identity  that beleaguer the architectural profession and our discourse. It has been exacerbated I think by the celebritization of social media. Maybe the phenomena surrounding identity cults make it easier to brand architects in a global setting.

Be like Bjarke 

Last week or so a fellow blogger whom I follow, and have great regard for, lamented how his studio tutor had told him “to be more like Bjarke.” My friend took the advice wholeheartedly and earnestly and whilst there was for him some merit in being told to be more like Bjarke. I wondered if he was being encouraged to join, in yet another architectural identity cult, centred on Bjarke Ingels.

The cults 

In the 50s and 60s in my city it was the cults of Robin Boyd and Roy Grounds that caught peoples imaginations. Their enmity, if that is what it was, is the stuff of legend. By the time I was at architectural school in the 80s there were quite a number cult’s available for archi-students to join. Firstly and fore mostly there was the Australian Venturi Scott Brown suburbs cult (although Scott Brown was usually never mentioned)? Lesser cults, each with their own local deities that architecture students could worship at where, the mud brick cult (think roll your own cigarettes and Confest), the humanist brutalist cult, and the beginnings of burgeoning  postmodern eschatalogical absurdist architecture cult (which became very successful; and which I was a fully subscribed member of). Another one was the smaller cult centred on the work of Christopher Alexander. Then there was also a kind of offshoot of the AA’s Roxy Music architecture cult (the Raisbeck archive is pretty much sealed up on that one). As a cult member one a few of these cults I felt like I belonged to something, that I was learning about architecture and that the cult leader would keep me safe.

When Peter Eisenman came to our architecture school I remember shouting at the Berkeley trained Christopher Alexander adherents. I was pretty obnoxious thats for sure. At the other main  architecture school the cults seemed to congregate around the Miesian shearing  shed aesthetic (which came to represent Australian architecture’s global brand).  Often these cults were adaptions of overseas trends to the local cultures and layers of Australian architecture. But these days the identity cults now are often global and the poorly mirrored by the local adherents.  Of course its great to have architecture schools were different cults, or traditions, emerge and architectural debates are fostered as a result. But, in hindsight I think the problem is that all of these cults seemed to coalesce around particular figures and identities.

I have nothing against Bjarke himself having never met the man and whilst I might quibble about the simplistic and descriptive dreariness of the “Yes is More” book (not enough room to go into here) and as some of you know I liked this year’s Serpentine Pavilion designed by his firm BIG.

Calling out Bjarke’s hair 

But, I really wonder if it would be better for architecture students and architects to be less Bjarke-like and I thought about it a lot and I think that in some ways Bjarke is evil because he has hair.

Of course, it is not really Bjarke himself who is evil (although he might be if I knew him well enough to make that judgement). It is  and the way that architectural discourse seems to privilege hair. Of course for those in the Bjarky cult he must be great because he has hair and also he did a TED talk. Which you can see here.

But then again maybe TED talks are just another artifice as so described here by Pat Kelly.

 

I guess it is the cult of celebrity that goes with the hair that I am railing against. It is the politics of identity in architecture that leads me to say that Bjarke’s hair is evil and makes me want to Bajrke.  It is a look that says: You will never achieve architectural fame yourself unless have hair that can be styled in a cool photoshoot. Thick and boyish, sometimes parted on the side. A few shots have it flattened down. But mostly it is tossled. He looks like he just got out of the bed of his NYC apartment. An architect who can afford to hang out in bed all day playing Pokemon Go. What a great image for an architect.

Silverfox or Moptop? 

Unfortunately, identity politics tends to coalesce around those architects with hair. Have you noticed that all, I mean a lots and lots of them,  of the star celebrity architects have hair. Gehry has hair (silverfox), Ando has hair (beatles moptop), Libeskind has hair (kinda spikey, but sometimes kind a flat) and of course Patrik Schumaker has hair. The Californian Tom Wiscombe has a great head of hair. His is a kind of swept back and lion like. Together with Schumaker they make a great couple. Patrik is looking at you and I wonder what he wants? Tom is looking into the distance and I wonder what he is thinking? Its slick versus Wild West. Central European, kinda F1 racing with that little stripe,  vs. American Bruce Goff optimism.

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Whilst I was writing this blog I did a count at this site in the web swamp lands I found entitled “40 famous architects of the 21st Century” 37 of the 41 pictured architects were men; one firm (Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas )with a male and female director was counted only as one and not two people. Oddly, Zaha is the last image on the bottom right. At least 24 (60%) of these architects have a lot of hair. Notable studio photos are from Portzamparc who has a kind of wavy silver fox look. Steven Holl has hair. De Meuron has hair. Heatherwick has hair. He has kind of curly hair. Viny Maas has hair. Fuck, all the guys are probably using luxuriant hair conditioner.

Of course, you might say I am jealous as I dont have hair. But I am not worried. Because, yes, there are those architects on the list who are cultivating the Raisbeck look. It’s a look that is a little bit Italian, I picked up from the style influencer guys working in the Ministry of Finance in Rome. Closely shaved head  a bit of a stubble.  Herzog and of course Koolhaas and Rogers are all following my lead. It works for the ageing male architect. But Nouvel has taken the Raisbeck look further, perhaps too far,  and has a shaved skull (Recently, whilst on hols I spotted him shuffling out of up market restaurant in the hills behind Nice, he waved and thanked me for the fashion tips).

All of these so called famous 21st century architects are mostly white and generally european males. There are no tatts, there are no peircings, no mohawks, or mullets, no Trump-like toupees or much gender diversity of any kind (as far as it is portrayed in these shots).  Perhaps, these are the architects smart enough to get the stylists, the photographers and the interns from the “elite” architecture schools pumping out the stylised and identity driven content. Maybe there isn’t much hope for the rest of us, we cant all live the dream in NYC as Bjarke does, and maybe this is why so many people rejoiced when Assemble won the prize.

The construction of the architectural identity should be regarded as being problematic and contested rather than being seen as a singular, wholistic and a stable domain. As architects in this age of celebrity we need to foster debates around the real laws,  and dilemmas of architectural design our cities. It perhaps goes without saying, but it keeps needing to be said, that the identities that we privilege in architectural discourse need to be more inclusive of difference. The recognition of collaborative practice is one way forward. But in the swamplands of social media a constant critique and dismantling of the rhetorical images that are presented to us is essential and necessary. Otherwise, the rhetorical idealisation of the architectural identity will continue to corrupt our discipline and architectural education.

This week I am the Parlour Instagram guest. You can find me at @_parlour on Instagram and of course more usually at @archienemy.

 

Cutting to the Bone: How fee cutting is destroying architectural practice

The architecture awards in my city is normally a time for celebration. As it should be. Many architects in my town live for it. This is not unlike my friends in advertising, who are also obsessed with awards but the difference is if you are in advertising you get to go to Cannes for the ceremony. In advertising you get an actual Lion. Architects in Australia get to go to their local state chapter awards or maybe if they are lucky to the nationals in Canberra. If you win you get a framed certificate.

I now no longer go to the AIA awards I think I was banned after my last visit there.  Of course the ban was self imposed after I knocked the the tiny but sticky dessert wine glasses off a waiters tray to see them spin in the air in slow motion and land on the toupee of a distinguished middle aged contract admin architect. Another year in the early 90s I remember booing at some of the award winners and one year, as chair of a jury, I was told if my jury didn’t give a particular building the award I might as well pack my bags and leave town. Another year I passed out at the after party and woke up in the president’s kitchen with my hands clutching someone else’s framed award. That’s probably about as close as I will ever get to an award. All of the architect awards functions I have been to in my city have now blurred in my memory into one large ceremony of alcohol, glittering prizes (always badly framed) and bad cut-price function centre food.

Social media was on fire after the recent  Victorian chapter awards because the President of the institute reportedly admonished every one for fee cutting and not arguing for the value of design. If that is what she said then she is right. Ranked just below the scourge of gender inequality in the industry the other great scourge of our profession is fee cutting. it doesn’t matter if you are in Australia or elsewhere iI think it is a global phenomena.

Fee cutting is the scourge of architects no matter where they practice as it devalues design as a service in every respect. This year in my practice class we asked students to develop fee proposals using the Association of Consulting Architects Australia Time Cost Calculation Guide. The software helps people understand the relationship between office overheads and variable rates in relation to the hours needed to be spent on each phase of a particular project.

With another colleague I am currently researching the degree to which architects choose to specialise in practice. Linked to this is how much architects charge for their knowledge and expertise. Our early results indicate that for design services most architects will charge a either a fixed fee (30% of respondents) or a fixed fee with added charge out rates if circumstances change (38% of respondents).  As most architects will know good design takes large amounts of time. Particularly in the early stages of a project.

This above statistics beg the following question: if design is the central skill that architects offer then why is it predominantly charged for with fixed fees? A fixed fee might get you the job and give your client some kind of “certainty” as to what you will charge. But if the fee is low you will always inevitably end up spending more hours than you allowed for if you care about the design. If that is the case you might as well pay your client to get them to let you do the job for them. This may be why 41% of our respondents felt that partial services were unsustainable. They were more optimistic about the profitability of specialist services. But if you are stuck in the low fee vortex you will never develop those new services.

If a firm is in the spiral of fee competition, fee cutting and fixed fees you will never get the resources to undertake good design. It’s no good just cutting the fees, or offering a fixed fee, just to get the job. Of course most developers don’t really know what good design is and will exploit price competition in the market for architectural services to get the design cheaply. The talk around my city is you can get a fully designed high rise apartment building with planning permits for around 120k. Not bad for developer constructing a building with 200 apartments with a sale value of 60M.

Many  small firms dream of going upstream in the knowledge stakes and adopting a management consulting style model. They dream of clients paying a premium for their architectural knowledge and expertise is indeed a dream unless firms charge more for design. With the rise of digital practice and workflows, the disintermediation of architectural services, (try explaining what design development is to a client), the loss of contract admin to project managers and the outsourcing of documentation all architects have left is design. The problem is low fees undervalue design and ensure crap outcomes all round. It also means firms are stuck in a vortex of reacting from crisis to crisis; from low fee job to low fee job and never getting above water. If fees are low firms will never have the time or be able to invest in the R&D and the innovation they need to undertake to go upstream. Eventually these firms, and perhaps architectural services as we know it, will disappear.

So what is the solution to this downward spiral? How do small firms, which are most of the profession, get out of the vortex?

Firstly, a change in the professions  broad culture is needed. The old stereotypes really need to fall away. The myth surrounding the dichotomy between innate “designers” and “business” types in the profession is sickening. It annoys me that because I teach practice at MSD and have and MBA I am typecast as a kind of business “man” architect rather than being seen as having a stake in design or architectural theory. You can just see me in the chinois and the boating shoes playing golf with my gentleman stockbroker mates. I think these old stereotypes are perpetuated by the appalling gender constructs within the profession. As architects we all need to know about the mechanics of business strategy and competition.

As one eminent colleague said to me when I started teaching practice, “Just stand in front of them at the first lecture and tell them it’s all bout the fucking money.” In some ways it is all about the money. But, the troglodytes would argue that such a sentiment cheapens design. That is not the case as it is really about about valuing design services and arguing the case for their worth.

The best architects I have worked for have been good designers and highly skilled negotiators. A winning combination. We need to mentor our young architects so they gain negotiation skills. Yet negotiation and financial skills are not really a big part of the national architectural competency standards last time I looked. Its all about doing the traditional things and there is nothing about management, finance or negotiation. The competency standards are a sop to those who think architects need to be technical experts rather than a profession focused on generating design knowledge. The balance is all wrong.

Small firms, indeed all firms, also need to conduct formal R&D. R&D into simply doing a bit of design and calling it research. It should not be an adhoc activity. Nor is it about having a chat, and throwing around a few ideas, with a few friends down at the pub. Firm’s need to invest in formal R&D programs if they really want to develop their design skills and go upstream. R&D and innovation is the way for architects to compete with their competitors. There needs to be more institutional infrastructures from the AIA and other bodies to enable this. Architects need support to understand IP and commercialisation pathways. Unitised Building is a great model of how formal R&D can lead to a successful commercialisation pathway for an architect.

Firms need to charge more for design services. Fixed fees or even fixed fees with hourly rates for variations should be abandoned for the design phase or for partial design services. If all firms charged a percentage fee for design or an hourly rate for design the profession would be better off. Firms need to argue to clients that design is labour intensive and until it is undertaken it is hard to know how long it will take. Firms need to argue for its importance in the early stages of the project. If clients go elsewhere so be it. But they will eventually figure it out: You get what you pay for. I inform my students that they are better off going down to their local single origin, filtered coffee, wified, barista heaven with there sketch book than take on a project for low fees. Why do a job for such a low fee that you end up doing it at a loss. Effectively paying the client to do it. You are better off just buying the coffee.

As a profession we need to out the fee cutters and the informal price-cutting cartels. The culture of the profession needs to avoid the schizoid tendency when it comes to design fees. On the one hand architects exalt design and glorify the designers. On the other hand firms are viciously cutting their fees behind the scenes to get that elusive job next job. This schizophrenia will eventually destroy the profession as we know it. Fee cutting and price competition has already destroyed the middle sized firms and the small firms will be next unless all architects change this. This is architecture’s last stand.

This is the last blog for the month. Thank you to all those who read it and have sent me comments (good and bad). I am leaving the periphery and off to the northern hemisphere sunshine in my gentleman architect chinois, panama and boating shoes. So in July watch out for a few Kerouac road trip style blogs from the so called centres of architectural excellence and culture.  

Surviving the Design Studio: Why architects and archi-students should go non-digital cold turkey.

In between moving house and writing the conference paper I was able to attend attend a few end of semester pinups at my architecture school. Afterwards of course the tutors and critics sat around in the local pub and get about the current state of play. We mused about one very prominent and recently built facade in the city and how it may, or may not have been, developed via the computer. Inevitably the discussion turned to the insidious grip that the computer and digital design has on architecture students and even architects.

We were however, or at least it seemed to me, to be in agreement that the computer’s influence on modern day architecture students was often, although not always, potentially negative. An understanding of orthographic design, iterative process, and the ability to research design issues via different media are all essential skills for the architecture student.

Too often architecture students rush into digital design and then never return. Too often as a design teacher I am faced with students who are lost to me. Lost in the computer, they seem to have no interest in learning about architecture and its relationship to the real world. They are certain that the computer itself will solve all problems.  I think the computer software vendors have a lot to answer for.

Architectural education is a continuous process. Architects learn from one project to the next and the then the next. Each time lessons are learnt and the knowledge gleaned from the encounter with one project or situation is then banked in the mind for later use. But this continuity also extends into our lives as architects. Perhaps it sounds trite, but architecture is a spatial medium, and as architects we encounter this medium in our everyday lives.

The journeys we fleetingly conduct, the places we inhabit and bodies that we encounter are all a part of our continuous education as architects. Too often the allure of the computer limits our understanding of these other encounters.

So I would suggest the best thing any architecture student or architect is to have a few free digital days, weeks or even a life between projects. Yes, I think it is a great idea to go non-digital cold turkey. At the end of it the next time you do a new project, which will inevitably mean using the computer, you will feel be more capable and have a different insight into the design process.

So next time you are between projects go non-digital cold turkey and try and see what happens. The following exercises and rituals should help. The are designed to help you get over the fever of going cold turkey.

Observation

Yes its not a bad idea to look at things. Yes, actual things in the world. This is what going non-digital is all about. Architects are constantly observing and assessing the everyday environment that  surrounds them. In a way there is really no need to go and visit the latest building or luxury product produced by your local version of the star architect. Houses, streets, details roads, objects and urban patterns. Record what you see and interests you in a note book or a sketch book. Study on particular thing: street lighting, doors, kerbs, drainage grates, or windows. You could also observe different materials like concrete, brick, steel or paint and render. Of course, you can cheat a bit and take photos with your phone and start a new Instagram account based around a particular element or issue.

If you get really desperate you can always go to a gallery and sit in front of some art. Sit in front of a Rothko; or maybe even a building buildings or a landscape.

Measure

Size is everything. Measure you house. How big is a chair or a table. How much room is need to clear a path of circulation through a space. How high are your kitchen benches? Its all too easy to pull things out of a digital library and plaster them all over your drawings. But do you really know what it is those things represent.

Going non-digital means observing things to consider how high or how big they are. Its always good to carry a tape measure in your bag to help.

Imagine how big something is. a place or a building or a door, and tray and quantify this. Then go and measure it in reality and see if you are right. This exercise or ritual will help you explain to your clients the size of things when they don’t quite understand how big thing will be.

Different scales

Going non-digital means measuring things or considering the relative size of things in the real world. This way of seeing inevitably leads to a consideration of scale. Consider juxtapositions in scale. In some senses the architectural world that we inhabit is comprised of elements thrown together at different scales. Architects, if they choose, are able to nest and embed different scales within the one project. Arguably every project is a series of nested scales.

The tiniest renovation or detail fragment can evoke the monumental.

Viewpoints 

Vist a view buildings and consider how the are viewed and how viewpoints are either controlled by the architect or taken advantage of in their urban setting.

View points and scenography have always been big in architecture. For some post Tschumi architects viewing architecture via the viewpoint, based on the architect as an individual observer, might suggest a dated and static approach to signification. Contrary to those design methods reliant on conceptual abstraction, field theory and overdetermined diagrams, I think the viewpoint is still a valid compositional consideration. Ask Brunelleschi (except he is dead). Even Zaha Hadid’s (also dead) riffs on Suprematism rely on the view and the viewpoint.

Going non-digital means asking yourself does this building reveal more as I engage with it from different viewpoints? The facade of the building (that shall remain nameless), I was talking to my fellow jurors about, looked terrible to me from its Southern perspective. Coming up in the tram, it looked like a ham fisted commercial office building with coloured glazing : yet from another more oblique viewpoint, travelling in my car, from the Easter approach it looked great. I could almost imagine that this was the viewpoint from which the architects actually designed the building.

I guess what I am suggesting is that, as architects we should practice a kind of architectural mindfulness; its great to live in the digital world but maybe its also better to understand how the real world is. Going non-digital means taking back architecture before it becomes just another gap filler amongst the virtual banner ads.