ArchiTeam Funding Research for Architects in Small Practice.

Small architectural practice is one of the hardest things you do in life. Sometimes it feels like the rewards are few and far between. Even the most modest house or house renovation can take years to design and see built. Small practices contribute much to Australian cities, small practices believe in design, the elegance of details and, more often than not, the hopes of local communities. The influence and impact of small practice is everywhere in our cities and suburbs. In our cities, small practice architects are an integral part of heritage and planning debates, the business of architectural education as well as the construction and property industry. However, small architects have not been served well by existing avenues of research funding in the field.

RAsP invite

The RASP launch is just before the MSDx exhibition which will give you a great idea of the range and depth of the many fabulous design studios at MSD.

The voice of the architect

In small projects, no matter what they are it is often the voice of the architect who stands up for planning and regulatory approval, common sense and sustainability. It is the architect who pushes back against the excesses of those only concerned with crude measures of time and cost. A generosity of spirit has always been an attribute of small practice. As a result, most architects at the end of their careers have accumulated those lines and wrinkles that only the careworn seem to gather.

The voices of architects both individually and collectively are often unheard or dismissed. Mostly these perceptions come from a distracted public unversed in design and more powerful lobby groups. Architects themselves worry and wring their hands about this and wonder how it could be better. We need research to combat all of this.

In conjunction with ArchiTeam and MSD, we are hoping to crowdfund a research project that examines the value that architects add to the property. It is unlikely that this project would gain funding in any other way. We are hoping to get around $25,000 for the project.

This initiative is a unique approach to research funding for small practices, and ArchiTeam is hoping to create an ongoing research fund for small practice. ArchiTeam have branded this initiative as RASP an acronym for Research for Architects in Small Practice. Building a research fund of this kind will send a strong message that small practice based architects need to be acknowledged and counted for in the design of our future cities.

The proposal

The research project aims to measure if architect-designed houses and house renovations improve capital gains in the Melbourne inner city housing market. The precise wording of the research question is “Do architect designed renovations improve capital gains in the Melbourne residential property market?”

In concise terms, the research will involve a descriptive, comparative quantitative analysis of two data pools. One pool will be based on sale data from architect-designed houses, and the other will contain sale data from non-architect designed houses. The data from each of these pools will be aggregated, analysed and compared. Descriptive statistics, as well as correlation and regression analysis, will be employed to compare the two pools. Email me if you have any questions about how we will do it. A research contract is in place the crowdfunding amount will go into a fund administered by MSD and ArchiTeam cooperative. The money will principally fund research associate time and data costs.

ArchiTeam 

For regular blog readers who do not know ArchiTeam was founded in 1991. ArchiTeam Cooperative is a membership association for Australian architects working in small, medium and emerging practices. ArchiTeam is democratically run by members, for members. Every member is encouraged to play an active part in shaping the organisation. With over 800+ members, it is the leading dedicated voice of Australia’s small architectural practices. This research proposal is unique and specific to the profession of architecture and small practices. It positions ArchiTeam as both a sponsor and a leader in applied architectural research in Australia.

You are welcome to come along to our celebratory launch night and the details are below. Justin Madden of Arup, Rosemary Ross of ArchiTeam and myself will be speaking. The RASP crowdfunding button will then go live !

RAsP invite

The RASP launch is just before the MSDx exhibition which will give you a great idea of the range and depth of the many fabulous design studios at MSD. Hundreds of projects will be displayed throughout the building during the exhibition, from 22 June to 6 July. If read this blog and see me there come and say hello.

 

TESTOSTERONE FUELLED TECHNO-OPTIMISM: 2018 Global Architectural Research Survey Part 2.

This blog follows on from the previous blog discussing the responses to my rapid survey of research attitudes and structures in architectural practices. I have sprinkled a few thought provoking quotes from survey respondents throughout.

As a new practice with limited mentor-type assistance research consumes a massive amount of time which results in inefficiency and financial stress. It is nevertheless a constant element that underpins all projects through all phases. The assumption is that through research we develop our knowledge and the ability to recall and apply it in order to achieve better result and with greater efficiency.

Research Ad hocism

Around 57% of responding architects have no, or only partial, systems within their practices to capture research knowledge. Yet as noted in the previous blog on this many architects still claim that they are doing research in informal ways as they design projects.

Chart_Q18_180322

If all this ad hocism is the case then it is reasonable to ask: what sort of research are architects currently pursuing in their wonderfully ad hoc, informal, doing the project-at-hand and organic ways? The survey asked a two questions about this. The first question asked: Does your firm conduct research into any of the following established research areas ? The results are below:

Chart_Q12_180322

Perhaps the survey question could have been sharper. But look at the chart: Lots are doing sustainability research (surprise, surprise), lots are into Urban Design (I am old enough to remember when no-one did this) and then different variants of health, housing and education crop up. Health and ageing looks like its a bit low. Nonetheless, my innate trained at RMIT cynicism tells me its a list of the usual suspects.

What is probably more interesting, in the above somewhat prosaic list of responses, are the outliers (the other responses) and these were things like: indigenous cultural awareness, forensic architecture, animal welfare,  pre-fab, modular, briefing methodologies, co-living, design advocacy and dispute resolution.

The list certainly reflects broader economic realities. Being the areas where clients have the money and the architects are following. As they say, follow the money.  So this may simply reflect broader economic realities.  But is this really a list of research areas that are going to help architects enhance their agency in the future? If everyone is doing the same research how can an individual firm differentiate itself?

I’ve noticed many practices in the UK do formally engage in meaningful research and employ full time research staff to organise and catalogue information. Not only does it help to strengthen the practices body of work, but also their image as a practice that engages with contemporary issues, this consequently gives them a competitive edge when competing to win much sought after public projects and roles involving design advisory for government bodies

One strategy for firms is to set up structures, to research the things around what the practice is currently doing but also develop a few research projects that lie outside of the firms expertise; research that might create knowledge that will differentiate the practice.

Chart_Q19_180322

The research carried out by the practice is underutilized, and should be benefitting the practice and the industry in general.

Which leads us to the next chart, the second question about what architects do, which was intended to be a little more future orientated:

Chart_Q13_180322

Looking at this one, I am beginning to wonder, again with my cynical hat on, if anything outside of the techno-optimistic agenda might be too hard for architects. But all of the other usual and overtly macho-boyo technical suspects were there including: BIM, Parametric Modelling, Drones & 3D Printing or Scanning (stab me in the eye with a biro),  Virtual Reality, CNC Fabrication and Advanced Prefabrication. Not a word about the organisational or social sciences. The what?

I was somewhat shocked to see that a huge slab of architects listed BIM Modelling and Parametric modelling as the big ticket future research items. Maybe not so suprising. Surely, any future research in these areas is more about incremental rather than radical innovations. Perhaps architects are now lost without a kind of technical agenda for guidance.

But, as someone said to me if you are going to research this stuff don’t dabble in it. Either do it as pure research or do it as serious applied research, at the other end of the chain, which will give you some kind of competitive advantage. But don’t dabble.

Little thought is given to incentivising staff to carry out research. For more could be achieved if there were incentives for staff. Staff are assumed to be interested in research but many capable members of staff feel they are too busy to do it especially when they do not see a return.

Heres another chart looking at research governance:

Chart_Q16_180322

While there is a knowledge bank from previous successful and never built projects that can be accessed by anyone in the practice, it is a tool that it is rarely used. There is this idea among architects that there is always the need to reinvent the wheel, even when sometimes the answer is within previous research and projects undertaken by the practice.

Ladbrokes 

For my money I am betting with my Ladbrokes account on research into data analytics and social media. This is because I think architects can profitably bring their creativity, spatial thinking skills and ability to see across disciplines fields like data analytics.  Maybe those qualities are a bit old school. But, I am over the boys-with-toys technologies in architecture. And what really worries me is all that testosterone fuelled techno-optimism has eroded our ability to think clearly.