Explaining the architectural fee

Architecture; Architecture fee types; Fees; Money; Gold

According to the standard client and architect agreement published by the Australian Institute of Architects, there are three traditional methods by which an architect can charge fees to her client:

  • Percentage fee
  • Lump sum fee
  • Hourly rates[1]

There’s a fourth method that’s emerging amongst younger practices, inspired by the lean startup strategy and the practice of web-based design platforms like Elto:

  • Incremental tasks

The percentage fee is the most common method used by architects, however it’s rare in other professions. Potential clients are often unfamiliar with it, and almost guaranteed to ask for an explanation of its logic. Some also question its implied conflict of interest, where the architect is incentivised to inflate the client’s budget to in turn inflate her own fee.

Despite these hurdles, the percentage fee is my preferred method and the one we generally use at Mihaly Slocombe. This preference can be traced back to our university studies, where various architecture practice lecturers recommended its fairness and transparency. They dismissed the conflict of interest issue, pointing out that most service providers face the same challenge, be they dentists or lawyers or mechanics. Many years ago, the Australian Institute of Architects also published a percentage fee scale, further cementing it as the architect’s fee method of choice.[2]

When we started our practice, the percentage fee was in essence the default method, and it has continued that way since. My interest in exploring this subject now stems from an issue that I believe is only just entering mainstream discourse. An architect is a service provider, not a builder, yet her profitability is tied to the buildings she instructs others to make. Shouldn’t her fees be instead tied to the work she does?

The percentage fee is predicated on the idea of a direct correlation between the cost of a building and the amount of work it requires to design and document. But the very nature of the construction market assigns inconsistent costs to buildings. Factors well outside the architect’s control – things like a builder’s need for work, or how thoroughly he understands her documents – can influence how much it costs to build. These factors don’t affect the amount of work required of the architect, but they do affect her profitability. The quantity surveyor I use across all of our projects, Geoffrey Moyle, has reflected on more than one occasion that this arrangement is madness.

The issue runs even deeper however. As I discussed in my review of the recent Australian Institute of Architects national conference, the future of the architecture profession is unclear. Thomas Fisher suggested in his keynote address that the scope of an architect’s services is becoming increasingly untethered from the built environment. Is the administrative structure that surrounds and facilitates the percentage fee method not then hindering architects to exploit this transition? Is there a better way to link an architect’s remuneration to the broader value of her services?

I’m intrigued therefore to assess the benefits and disadvantages of the four fee methods. Notwithstanding my general use of percentage fees, I’m not convinced of its universal suitability. Certainly, I don’t believe there’s a single correct solution for all architects. Some methods will suit particular architects / clients / projects better than others.

Continuing on Monday next week, this series of five articles will aim to provide clarity on each fee method. I will analyse them from the points of view of both the architect and the client, and ask how well they tie an architect’s income to the value of her labour.

An archive of the series can be accessed here.

This article has been published in conjunction with ArchiTeam.


Footnotes:

  1. A copy of the client and architect agreement can be downloaded here. Membership with the Australian Institute of Architects is required to access this page.
  2. The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 prohibits mandatory fee scales. Source: The legal status of fee scales; Acumen; Australian Institute of Architects; last edited January 2012. There has long been talk of the fee scale re-entering general circulation, though there’s been no definitive action as far as I’m aware. The original is still persona-non-gratis, but I may know a guy who knows a guy who might have a copy. Send me an email and I can possibly put you in contact, for historic interest only of course.

Image source:

  1. Architectural fee types, author’s own image.
Posted in Architecture practice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Soon Is Now?

Adelaide; Aerial; City; River

The Australian Institute of Architects‘ annual national conference, How Soon Is Now?,  was held last month in Adelaide. Creatively directed by Cameron Bruhn, Sam Spurr and Ben Hewett, it explored the “agency of architecture to make real changes in the world.”[1] The directors identified the expansive conversation of last year’s conference, Risk, as a precursor, and proposed to “empower architects to actively participate in the massive transformations occurring to our cities, societies and the sustainability of our planet.”[2]

Around 1,100 delegates attended this year, almost all of whom arrived from interstate. The usual crowd of familiar Melbourne faces made the city feel like home, with the Pink Moon Saloon by Sans-Arc Studio (of recent Architecture Australia fame) frequented well into each night. I was also fortunate to meet some of the local contingent, and be taken out for drinks and late night yum cha. It was an energising reintroduction to a city I haven’t visited for years, and like the Making conference in 2014, a reminder that good Australian architecture, food and culture extend well beyond the parochial borders of Melbourne and Sydney.

How Soon Is Now? developed many patterns of its recent predecessors.[3] Once again, there was a clear delineation between Australian and international speakers, with the former confined predominantly to roles of commentary or criticism. Indeed, none of the keynote speakers were both Australian and working in Australia.[4] And true to Bruhn, Spurr and Hewett’s focus on agency, a sizeable number of speakers weren’t architects at all, but allied professionals engaging with the built environment through non-traditional models.

28th Street Apartments; Adaptive reuse; Mixed use; Los Angeles

28th Street Apartments by Koning Eizenberg, Los Angeles

In focussing on agency and change, How Soon Is Now? paid real tribute to the themes of risk and reward covered last year. There are similarities with Alejandro Aravena’s Venice Biennale too, which has just kicked off and runs until November. All three events demonstrate a keen interest in the social, political and economic contexts of architectural practice.[5]

Hewett neatly summarised the directors’ very broad agenda in their opening address, promising that the conference would ask “how architecture is dealing with tomorrow’s problems today.” The two days that followed revealed a diverse interpretation of what these problems might be. Climate change, population growth, overcrowding, refugees, transport, gender inequality and the widening gap between rich and poor all put in appearances.

To curate this diversity, the conference was split into two days of distinctly different ambitions. Day 1 examined what’s happening now, while Day 2 speculated on what happens next: the present then the future; evidence then strategy. The conference title, derived from The Smiths’ powerful 1985 rock ballad, shed further light on the directors’ intentions. It imbued the discussion with a sense of urgency, even panic.

When you say it’s gonna happen now
Well, when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone[6]

How soon is now? Never soon enough.

Safari Roof House; Kevin Low; Small Projects; Malaysia; Courtyard

Safari Roof House by Kevin Low, Kuala Lumpur

The prevalence of non-architect speakers, together with panel discussions at regular intervals, had what I imagine was an intended side-effect: the glossy image was firmly sidelined in favour of critical conversation. Indeed, barely a handful of actual buildings were presented across both daysThis focus away from built form was not received universally well by the delegates, one of whom bailed on the conference entirely and spent Day 2 touring a local wine region instead. The more I reflect on the experience however, the more I realise that Bruhn, Spurr and Hewett crafted a remarkably well choreographed event of two acts. Evidence and strategy; present and future; context and closure. Too many pretty pictures would have distracted from the central themes, and neither day made sense without the other.

Day 1 – Evidence
Keynote speakers
Nasrine Seraji, France
Vicente Guallart, Spain
Sadie Morgan, England
Jeffrey Schumaker, United States of America
Julie Eizenberg, United States of America
Amica Dall, England
David Sanderson, New South Wales
Panellists
John Wardle, Victoria
Greg Mackie, South Australia
Andrew Beer, South Australia
Sharon Mackay, South Australia
Abbie Galvin, New South Wales
Gabrielle Kelly, South Australia
Nick Tridente, South Australia
Maree Grenfell, Victoria
Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, Queensland
Charles Rice, New South Wales

Day 2 – Strategy
Keynote speakers
Astrid Klein, Japan
Urtzi Grau and Cristina Goberna Pesudo, Australia
Kevin Low, Malaysia
Thomas Fisher, United States of America
Panellists
Angelique Edmonds, South Australia
Ken Maher, South Australia
Tim Williams, New South Wales
Matt Davis, South Australia
Karl Winda Telfer, South Australia
Timothy Hill, Queensland
Kerstin Thompson, Victoria

To further explore the above, the conference program can be downloaded here.

Adventure playground; London; Playground

Glamis Adventure Playground, London

Day 1 – Evidence

As an exercise in context, Day 1 cast an unexpectedly depressing light on the shortsighted decision-making that plagues Australia. Guallart, Morgan and Shumaker were particularly brutal. Each shared insight into exemplar major infrastructure projects happening elsewhere, unhappy reminders of the positive outcomes achievable when city planning is divorced from politics.

The UK is investing in a high speed rail link that will eventually connect its entire southern half, and has placed Morgan in a central role to ensure that good design is at the heart of its implementation. She observed that the massive size of the project and the billions of pounds that will be spent on it don’t obviate the need for good design. Big things still need to bring small moments of joy to the everyday. Barcelona meanwhile is currently demolishing an elevated highway that runs through the centre of the city, one built only 25 years ago. Despite this emerging as a trend amongst some cities eager to undo the damage done by the car-obsessed 20th Century, to even suggest such a thing here is unimaginable.

These examples of foreign ingenuity were simultaneously inspiring and heartbreaking. It’s all Melbourne can do to get a new metro built, whether or not its design is any good is barely part of the conversation.

Every theme that emerged seemed only to hold up an unflattering light to its local counterpart. Eizenberg presented a glimpse into her studio’s extensive portfolio of social housing projects, anchoring her discussion in broader ideals of social benefit and civic duty, “We’re not saints, we’re just income blind. It doesn’t matter how much money someone has, we believe they still deserve a house.” In Los Angeles, only 20% of the housing stock can be afforded by people on the median wage. I imagine a similar statistic would hold for Melbourne and Sydney, where housing is treated as a commodity not essential infrastructure.

From the panel discussion I attended after lunch, Culture and Development, I was interested to hear Beer discuss the idea of disintermediation, or the erasure of the middle-man. It’s a role already under substantial threat in many markets, will architecture be next? He asked casually who will become the Amazon of architecture, as though this manifestation lies somewhere in the future, though alarmingly I suggest it’s already happening.

Across Day 1, the speakers championed architecture beyond or even without form, a fundamental idea that to me was at the very centre of the entire conference. Morgan discussed the politics of good design outcomes; Eizenberg proposed that design should begin from social function; Dall peeled back the skin of form entirely; and Sanderson urged architects to think beyond the naïve form-making that dominates most disaster relief housing.

There was great value in much of this content, though it was hard to find hopefulness in it. Dall and her fellow Assemble Studios director, Giles Smith, in some ways encapsulated this despair with their highly critical assessment of the carefully designed Granary Square in London, and contrasting enthusiasm for the evolved or undesigned chaos of Glamis Adventure Playground. I couldn’t help but feel that architects are no longer in a position to be champions of the built environment, doomed instead to faff about at the edges while the real business of our cities gets done elsewhere.

I trudged out of the conference centre feeling pretty glum.

OE House; Fake Industries Architectural Agonism; Aixopluc; Spain

OE House by Fake Industries Architectural Agonism and Aixopluc, Tarragona

Day 2 – Strategy

Mercifully, the morning session of Day 2 was a refreshing antidote. Klein opened with a burst of cheerful pragmatism, calling her lecture “More than architecture” and discussing opportunities for value creation in what were otherwise pretty unremarkable commissions.[7] Grau and Pesudo followed with a handful of relentlessly conceptual projects, including some insightful discussion of their shortlisted Helsinki Guggenheim competition entry. I was particularly taken by Pesudo’s characterisation of the Finnish sauna as one of the most sophisticated civic institutions of our era: a group of naked, sweating strangers beat each other with branches in the dark, and reach consensus on the sauna’s ideal ambient temperature.[8]

Low closed out the morning session with a repeat of his superb Australian lecture tour in 2013, an act of laziness that at first made me question his inclusion in the conference program. Surrounded on all sides by architects with eyes firmly focussed on the future, Low’s work is sublime but anachronistic. He spoke of the sacred and the profane, of embracing imperfect construction, of subtlety, nuance and richness in the built form. He is the embodiment of the 20th Century architect, the sole-practitioner, the master craftsman. I felt he would have been perfectly at home amongst the speakers at Making, but what on earth was he doing at How Soon is Now?

Three important things, as I discovered.

First, he was the typist sitting in a room full of computer scientists. At times grumpy, he pushed and prodded and complained. It was fun to watch his panel discussion, Advocating Futures, and I’m pretty sure he deliberately provoked Pesudo with a scathing critique of the value of contemporary architecture. He was an important addition to the discussion, not so his nostalgic position might triumph, but to provide a critical lens through which to examine the alternatives.

Second, he offered the most sensible target for architectural advocacy I’ve ever encountered. In a brief respite during the Advocating Futures panel, where Hewett facilitated Twitter questions from the audience, I asked the panellists how and where they thought advocacy should be directed. Low said simply, “Education”. In a world changing under our feet, with scarce resources to impact public opinion, and architects regressing in our capacity to contribute to the city, how better to prepare for the future? By teaching architecture students how to be something other (and more) than an architect. The right word in the ears of the thousands of architecture students who graduate each year might yield our profession’s Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Elon Musk.

And third, Low’s entire lecture revolved around the opposition of form versus content. He argued that the best architecture derives from content, from narrative, and eschews the glossiness of perfect form. It was a familiar position that resonated with much of the discussion on Day 1, but took the important step of explaining why the profession’s obsession with starchitecture, formalism and the consumption of the glossy image are impoverishing the built environment.

I interpreted the narrative-driven craft of Low’s work as a metaphor for the need to develop a similarly narrative-driven commitment to the entire profession’s output. We need to reign in our adulation of the newest chunk of self-indulgent formalism and establish new territory as essential agents in the development of cities, economies and culture.

The two panels I attended on Day 2, Transforming Populations and Advocating Futures, further explored these themes. In particular, Guallart lamented that “Architecture is suffering because it has more to do with fashion than with building the city. The Bilbao model hurts the built environment – governments now think that they just need to deliver an icon, no further discussion needed.” From many angles and in many discussions, both days criticised the shallowness of form and praised the delivery of content.

Leaf Chapel; Klein Dytham; Japan; Weddings

Leaf Chapel by Klein Dytham, Tokyo

Agency and the future

During afternoon tea on Day 2, energised by the Advocating Futures panel, a few colleagues and I enjoyed a vigorous discussion on the subject of the future. We spoke about the traditional role of the architect, and pushing beyond its boundaries. Rory Hyde’s excellent book on the subject, Future Practice, got a mention. We discussed computer coding, and its role in the frontier of new economies, in disrupting seemingly unshakeable markets from books to taxis to holidays. We touched on the sophisticated problem solving performed by architects and its relevance in activities beyond the making of buildings. And we discussed education – if the scope of the traditional architect is diminishing, and there are as yet unformulated roles ripe for our involvement, how should the universities prepare graduates today for the opportunities of tomorrow?

It was an exciting conversation, feverish even. It gathered together all the many threads covered in the preceding two days and narrowed my focus to a single question: what is the architect of tomorrow?

A moment later, I was sitting down for the final keynote of the conference. Thomas Fisher took to the stage, and in a truly cosmic reflection of our casual conversation, set out to answer this very question. “There are a lot of opportunities for architects to continue to design buildings. But there are many, many more non-physical systems that would benefit from an architect’s design attention. We could all have more work than we could ever address in our lifetimes.”

He argued strongly for an expansion of the role of the architect, speculating we could become, “Public intellectuals, provocateurs, visualisers, unsolicited strategic thinkers, generalists, holistic thinkers, strategists, pragmatic futurists.” As part of the making of buildings, we might proactively shift our services to the savings side of the spreadsheet, servicing “the economic structures that surround and facilitate architecture.” And beyond buildings, we might engage with the sharing economy, actively designing for initiatives like AirBnB that make more intensive use of a city’s scarce spatial resources.

It was a much-needed conclusion to a conference that had just spent two days ripping apart the value of architectural activity.

Adelaide Convention Centre; How Soon Is Now?; Australian Institute of Architects; Conference

So despite the rocky start to How Soon Is Now?, I’m glad I hung around for the punchline. I enjoy attending the conference each year for a number of reasons. It’s an opportunity to take a step away from the minutiae of life as a practicing architect. I catch up with people I don’t see all that often and chat avidly about architecture with them. I learn some things, and get inspired to do some others. Low’s contribution to the conference might have crystallised the parameters of the debate on form versus content, but it was Fisher who made the most interesting suggestions on how to act on this acknowledgement.

Heading home after any good architecture event, I struggle with the concept of inspiration. What do I do with the things I learn? How can I internalise and act on them, make use of the event beyond the silo of its own neat calendar slot in my life?

Last year, Risk compelled me to take on more risks in my business. After five years of running Mihaly Slocombe from our spare bedroom, we finally moved into a proper office that now doubles as a profit-making coworking environment. Well, almost profit-making, it’s early days yet. Still, the key ingredient was to exploit our skills as architects in crafting a working environment for others, a small yet successful instance of speculative agency.

How Soon Is Now? has left me with a similar itch.

I find myself eager to seek opportunities outside the traditional model of architecture practice. What can I do that will buffer our studio against the storm that’s approaching? How can we use our carefully honed skills in creative thinking, systems design and problem solving to benefit the world beyond our small collection of private clients?

We stand at an important moment in time, with the threat of great change in our profession, the built environment and even the planet looming in front of us. How Soon Is Now? captured this moment perfectly, imparting both desperation and hope.

In particular, the agency of architects is under threat. Our traditional model of practice is tied strongly to the old way of doing things, and continues to steadily diminish in its scope and opportunity. Global markets, the sharing economy, the internet of things, disintermediation are all poison pills for the profession, yet most of us continue to blithely practice in the way we always have. If the current generation of architects continues on our current path, will there even be a profession for the next?


Footnotes:

  1. Cameron Bruhn, Sam Spurr and Ben Hewett, creative directors; How Soon Is Now? overview; accessed May 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. A full list of my reviews and interviews from past conferences can be accessed here.
  4. Julie Eizenberg was born in Australia but practices in Los Angeles, David Sanderson from the University of New South Wales works in Australia but is American, and Urtzi Grau and Cristina Goberna Pesudo work in Australia but are Spanish.
  5. For some insightful reflections on the Biennale, see Jeremy Till; The architecture of good intentions; transcript of a talk given in Venice; May 2016.
  6. Steven Morissey; How Soon Is Now?; From the album Meat is Murder by The Smiths; 1985.
  7. I almost wrote value adding but couldn’t bring myself to use a phrase that has been so utterly disembowelled and shamelessly co-opted into developer double-speak.
  8. This in fact underpinned Grau and Pesudo’s Guggenheim proposal, a museum of atmospheres and interiors. Note that this project was completed in collaboration with Jorge López Conde, Carmen Blanco and Álvaro Carrillo.

Image sources:

  1. Adelaide by Andy Steven; image sourced from Skyscraper City.
  2. 28th Street Apartments by Koning Eizenberg; image sourced from Detail.
  3. Safari Roof House by Kevin Low of Small Projects; image sourced from Small Projects.
  4. Glamis Playground; image sourced from Play by Nature.
  5. OE House by Fake Industries Architectural Agonism and Aixopluc; image sourced from Dezeen.
  6. Leaf Chapel by Klein Dytham; image sourced from Klein Dytham.
  7. Adelaide Convention Centre theatre; author’s own image.
Posted in Architecture, Festivals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reform at the AIA

Dilbert; Change

In recent months, members of the Australian Institute of Architects have received a stream of emails addressing substantial changes underway within the organisation. The changes target the very heart of the Institute and systematically rethink the way it functions.

This is a subject I’ve discussed previously (see Why I’m a member of the AIA and A better AIA), so have followed the proposed changes with keen interest. For those of you who’ve missed the detail arriving in your inboxes, here’s a brief summary:

  • Long serving CEO of the Institute, David Parken, has announced his retirement.[1] His successor has also been appointed. Jennifer Cunich, previously of the Property Council of Australia, begins in the role next month.[2]
  • Architext has been closed and the Newcastle and NSW Country Division of the AIA has been reabsorbed into the NSW Chapter in Sydney.[3]
  • A governance review by authority and governance advocate, Henry Bosch AO, has resulted in a proposal to replace the Executive Committee with a Board of Directors.[4]

These are some big changes. To offer a sporting analogy, we have a new coach, a couple of expensive yet underperforming players have been scrapped, and – should the new Board be implemented – we’ll have a whole new way of making decisions about our footy team.

I think there are a few important questions that need to be asked: why is reform necessary? Are the proposed reforms the right reforms? And what happens next? For some of my more skeptical readers, you might even suggest that there’s a more fundamental question to be asked first: why is the AIA itself necessary?

Dilbert; Change

Why is the AIA necessary?

I tackled this question in detail in Why I’m a member of the AIA, but let me repackage my thoughts in an easy 4-step answer:

  1. Within the big building industry ocean, architects are the smallest of fish. Real estate agents, bankers, developers, planners, lawyers, engineers, project managers and builders all have far greater influence on the strategic planning of our cities than we do.
  2. The same goes for both political and public opinion. In the context of Australian life and culture, we are chronically undervalued.
  3. This context in fact forms part of a broader downwards slide. We are an historically important and influential profession rapidly losing ground to competing occupations.
  4. Halting or even reversing this slide is not something individual architects can do on their own. We need a peak professional body like the Australian Institute of Architects to transform our many tiny voices into a single, unified and much more powerful soapbox.

That is to say, we’re up shit creek and the AIA is our paddle.

Now, there are many organisations advocating on behalf of the architecture profession in Australia. There are the AAA, the ACA, Parlour, the Robin Boyd FoundationArchiTeam and many others. All are membership organisations seeking to further the AIA’s own purpose, that is “to improve our built environment by promoting quality, responsible, sustainable design.”[5]. All do good work, but none boast the history nor member saturation of the AIA. They’re the small forward crumbers to the AIA tall timber.

The AIA is necessary now more than ever. The architecture profession is already in a state of crisis, can you imagine how much worse off we’d be without our biggest collective organisation?

Dilbert; Change

Why is reform necessary?

The Institute has experienced successive years of alarming financial difficulty. Annual reports from 2012 to 2015 show negative cashflow from operations to the tune of $18,000,000.[6] While the majority of these losses are offset each year from other activities, over this same period the Institute saw real losses of around $3,000,000.[7]

In both the 2014 and 2015 annual reports, the independent auditor concluded her analysis by stating that the losses incurred “indicate the existence of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the ability of the company and the consolidated entity to continue as going concerns.”[8]

As a member, it is deeply unnerving for me to discover that the day to day activities of the Institute have been so financially unsustainable over such a long period. The auditor’s words really strike home: business as usual at the AIA may very possibly lead to bankruptcy.

Put simply, reform is an inevitable and essential ingredient in keeping the AIA afloat.

Dilbert; Change

Are the reforms the right reforms?

Jon Clements, National President of the AIA, has been instrumental in orchestrating reform at the Institute. I’ve spoken informally with him on this question, and have been left with the lasting impression that national leadership is acutely aware of the crisis currently faced by the AIA, and is doing everything in its power to overcome it.

The closure of Architext and the Newcastle division are the most easily identifiable changes, but they’re not the most important. I suspect they’re merely the low hanging fruit that give weight to the new mantra of “a more focused strategic plan embracing three core pillars – membership, advocacy and education.”[9] The theory being that the AIA will progressively shed activities that fall outside these areas of operation, thus spreading their resources over a smaller area.

Much more important is the governance review undertaken by Henry Bosch. To understand what is being proposed, I suggested you head to the governance page of the Institute’s website, which summarises the changes and includes this neat infographic:

Australian Institute of Architects; National Council; Executive Committee; Board of Directors

Bosch’s review identified that the existing AIA leadership structure (on the left) is unwieldy, and impedes good governance practices. Currently, the National Council meets only three times a year. In these meetings, Councillors are expected to address and decide upon issues spanning policy, strategy, business and finance – an enormous agenda to slog through in just two days. The National Executive meets more regularly, but isn’t empowered to approve expenditure, meaning all decisions need to head back to the the next Council meeting for approval.

This governance pathway is tortuous, obstructs good information flow and regularly leaves local Chapters in the lurch while they wait for new initiatives to be approved.

Bosch advised that effective governance requires a smaller, more focussed board derived from National Council with independent directors to add specific expertise in areas like the law, accounting and marketing. Thus the AIA’s proposal (on the right) is to establish a Board of Directors that addresses business and finance, leaving National Council to focus on policy and strategy. Council will still meet only three times a year, but the Board will meet as often as every month. This division of duties learns from corporate structures to create a much more nimble and responsive leadership arrangement.

It’s important to recognise that this change in leadership structure will not automatically fix the AIA’s current financial crisis, nor is it intended to. Instead, it acknowledges that crises only occur when leadership is not successful in its role. Asking sixteen volunteer Councillors to meet once every four months, cover an enormous quantity of material each time, and then make effective decisions across many areas of AIA operations might work okay when it’s plain sailing, but is horribly ineffective when the seas get rocky.

A more nimble leadership will be better empowered to begin the process of rebuilding. Really, it is just the first in a series of important steps towards reform. With a new structure in place, the strategic plan for the AIA can also be updated, which in turn can flow via the new core pillars (membership, advocacy and education) into day-to-day activities. I’m not convinced the pillars actually exclude anything the Institute is doing now, but am happy for the reform process to play itself out. Ultimately, I’d like to see more aggressive tightening over the next couple of years, driven by a new strategic plan and a systematic appraisal of the cultural and financial benefits of all existing activities.

As I’ve stated before, I also think the AIA needs to focus on increasing its member saturation within the profession. Like any governing body, cutting expenditure is only one half of the equation, the other is to increase revenue. With only 45% of registered architects opting in as AIA members, there’s a huge pool of untapped financial support waiting to be leveraged from the other 55% of the community.[10]

Dilbert; Change

What happens next?

The governance review has already evolved beyond Bosch’s initial proposal. Feedback was sought from members last month, importantly resulting in a gender equity commitment from the AIA to mandate a minimum of three women and three men on the Board of eight directors.[11] As the leadership structure is established by the AIA constitution, a lengthy draft of the required amendments has also been produced and circulated.

The next step is to commit to the leadership reform.

This will happen on Friday the 13th of May in Melbourne, at the Institute’s 87th Annual General Meeting. As a vote on a change to the constitution requires a minimum of 75% of the vote to pass, there is currently a push across the country to contact members for their support. In Victoria, this happened via a special email from Victorian Chapter President, Vanessa Bird.

I strongly echo this push.

It goes without saying that the AIA needs to stay afloat financially if it’s to continue it’s work. The scary evidence revealed in recent annual reports proves in no uncertain terms that business as usual is unlikely to ensure this. Major reform will give the AIA a better chance of stemming the losses of recent years, and enable leadership to improve the Institute’s role as peak body for the architecture profession. Most significantly, I believe that the survival of our profession is inextricably tied to the survival of our peak body. If it sinks, so do we.

Please consider this article an entreaty to either vote for leadership reform in person at the AGM next month, or if you can’t attend, to support Item 6 of the AGM proxy form.


Footnotes:

  1. David Parken; media releaseFrom the CEO; December 2015.
  2. Media release, A new era as Australian Institute of Architects welcomes new CEO; April 2016.
  3. Greg Ridder, Interim CEO; CEO’s report; Australian Institute of Architects annual report 2015; page 6.
  4. Ibid. See Jon Clements, National President; National President’s report; page 4.
  5. About the Institute; Australian Institute of Architects website, About Us page; accessed April 2015.
  6. See net cash inflow (outflow) from operating activities line items quoted in finance summary sections of Australian Institute of Architects annual reports 2012 (page 8), 2013 (page 10), 2014 (page 11) and 2015 (page 11). The annual reports are accessible to the general public and available for download here.
  7. Ibid. See net increase (decrease) in cash and cash equivalents line items.
  8. Alexandra Spark; Independent auditor’s report to the members of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects; 2014 and 2015 AIA annual reports; page 41 and page 44 respectively.
  9. Jon Clements, National President; National President’s report; Australian Institute of Architects annual report 2015; page 4.
  10. Warwick Mihaly; Why I’m a member of the AIA; Panfilocastaldi; May 2015.
  11. Gender equity; Australian Institute of Architects website, Governance page; accessed April 2015.

Images:

  1. Dilbert comic strip, A successful transformation… Published 11th July 2010. This and subsequent Dilbert comics copyright Scott Adams.
  2. Dilbert comic strip, Don’t be afraid… Published 30th September 2010.
  3. Dilbert comic strip, You must learn… Published 13th December 2015.
  4. Dilbert comic strip, We must change… Published 13th December 1996.
  5. Proposed governance changes, copyright Australian Institute of Architects.
  6. Dilbert comic strip, If we are… Published 3rd August 1996.
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Other social media for students

In my casual surveys of architecture students from first year to final, I’ve been surprised to discover how few engage professionally with social media. While Facebook is ubiquitous and many have Instagram accounts jammed full of selfies, there is little interest to extend this activity into the professional sphere.

This is the last of eight articles exploring the major social media outlets. It differs from the preceding posts in that it takes a brief look at a few of the sites I don’t use, and why. An archive of the series can be accessed here.

Social media, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google +, Snapchat

Tumblr
Total users: 555 million[1]

Purpose: An image-focussed blogging service. It covers every subject on the planet, from humorous tombstones to partying pandas.

Why I don’t use it: With my involvement in Panfilocastaldi, I’ve never had the need to explore other blogging platforms. As Tumblr relies very heavily on imagery, it is particularly unsuitable to this blog, which is concerned with written discourse. I guess I only have so many hours in the day.

Food for thought: Yahoo paid $1b to purchase Tumblr a few years ago, and in neat symmetry, the platform is fast headed towards the magical 1b user mark (which will make it the second only platform to do so, after Facebook).[2] Can so many people be wrong?

For students: Tumblr blogs occupy a space somewhere between Instagram and WordPress. They’re filled with more than instantaneous photos, but don’t have room for the hundreds or thousands of words contained within a traditional text-based blog post. If you’re interested in starting a blog, but are turned off by the idea of having to write a lot, this might be the social media outlet for you.

Pinterest
Mihaly Slocombe
Following: 16
Followers: 26
Joined: April 2015
Total users: 100 million[3]

Purpose: An image-based portfolio site a bit like Instagram and a bit like Houzz. It can be a place to exhibit your work, though is probably better geared towards collecting ideas from other people.

Why I don’t use it (or use it much): I uploaded a few of our projects onto Pinterest a year ago, but lost interest in keeping our site current. I’m also not keen on the idea of having a scrapbook of things that interest me available to the public.

Rumour has it: I’ve heard that the majority of Pinterest users are middle-aged Americans, which would make the platform of questionable interest to an Australian architecture studio. A quick online search confirms these numbers: around half of Pinterest users are from the United States, and two thirds are 35 and older.[4] Curiously, 80% are female too, which contradicts many other social media outlets, like LinkedIn and Google Plus, whose users are mostly male.

For students: Though I’ve dismissed Pinterest as a marketing outlet for our studio, its broad content might make it more useful to you. It’s an opportunity to show unbuilt work, sketches and things that inspire you. The challenge will be connecting to people locally who will value this contribution.

Google Plus
Mihaly Slocombe
Total users: 418 million[5]

Purpose: A single portal that gathers together all of Google’s many social media services, including Youtube, Hangouts, Communities, Adwords etc.

Why I don’t use it (or barely at all): We’re on Google Plus for two reasons only: so people can access our contact information when someone Googles us; and to track user analytics for our website. If we were to ever take on an Adwords campaign, Google Plus would also be the portal through which to do it. Really, these are all business marketing tools, not social media services.

As a social media service, I frankly have no idea. Browsing through the various functions contained under the Google Plus umbrella, I suspect the platform can do an awful lot. That said, it lacks the clarity and simplicity of every other social media outlet discussed in this series.

For students: Reading through a few articles online that explain what Google Plus is, I got the picture that it’s halfway between Facebook and Twitter. It’s formatted like Facebook, in that you have your own page, and can take part in communities that share your interests. Yet like Twitter, the communities are yours to choose – your feed isn’t clogged by the inane things written by your friends and family.

Snapchat
Total users: 200 million[6]

Purpose: An image-messaging service that allows you to send photos or videos that self-destruct after a few seconds. Snapchat has recently added a Stories feature that allows users to aggregate 24 hours of content at a time. The content then self-erases when the next day ticks over.

Why I don’t use it: Like most people over the age of 30, all I really know about Snapchat is that it’s famous for high school students using it to send photos of their junk to their friends.

This video by Casey Neistat opened my eyes to an interesting insight though: in a world of ever-shortening attention spans, Snapchat is the logical successor to Facebook and Instagram. You capture your content, you distribute it, it’s watched (or not), and then it’s gone forever. It is the digital equivalent of living a life with no past and no future, only the now.

I find this fascinating, though recognise that as an architect interested in creating things that will outlast me, Snapchat is in many ways the antithesis of my work.

Food for thought: Snapchat became popular very, very quickly, particularly among teenagers. On the back of this, Facebook tried and failed to buy the platform for $3b in 2014.[7] Since then, the estimated value of the platform has more than tripled. I suspect the founders think they will do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace.

For students: While buildings are permanent, the way they are used, the light and shadow that fill them, the sounds they make are not. Even more so, the design and business processes that lead to buildings are ever-changing. It would be an interesting experiment to see how you could use Snapchat to explore the ephemerality of architecture.

End.


Footnotes:

  1. Leading social networks worldwide as of January 2016Statista; January 2016
  2. Tumblr targets Australia as it heads to 1 billion users; Australian Financial Review; August 2015
  3. Statista; January 2016
  4. Pinterest statistics sourced from: Pinterest has 70 million users. More than 70% are in the US; Semiocast; 2013. Can brands and businesses by successful with Pinterest marketing?; Joop Rijk; January 2015. Two thirds of Pinterest users are 35+; Red Clay Interactive; October 2012
  5. Google Plus; Wikipedia; accessed April 2016
  6. Statista; January 2016
  7. What’s the point of Snapchat and how does it work?; Pocket-lint; October 2014

Image:

  1. Other social media, logos copyright Tumblr, Pinterest, Google Plus, Snapchat. Composition by author
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WordPress for students

In my casual surveys of architecture students from first year to final, I’ve been surprised to discover how few engage professionally with social media. While Facebook is ubiquitous and many have Instagram accounts jammed full of selfies, there is little interest to extend this activity into the professional sphere.

This is the 7th of eight articles exploring the major social media outlets, how I engage with them, and how they might be of interest to students. An archive of the series can be accessed here.

Social media

WordPress
Panfilocastaldi
Direct subscribers: 193
Indirect followers: 961
Created: October 2010

Purpose: WordPress is a blogging and website content management system.

Staggering statistics: Depending on the articles you read, it’s estimated that about 25% of the internet runs on WordPress.[2] More concretely, each month WordPress users produce 54 million new blog posts, and over 400 million people view 21 billion blog pages.[3]

Community: There is probably a WordPress blog on every subject known to humankind, so the problem is less discovering your community and more whittling the millions of options down to the one in which you’re most interested. As it says in the Panfilocastaldi byline, my blog explores the culture, practice and business of architecture. It didn’t start this way, originally covering a much broader range of topics, but over time I have narrowed my focus down to this fairly specific subject.

Almost all of my followers are other architects running or working in studios around Australia. This makes sense, since this is precisely the audience for whom I write. Occasionally I meet someone at an event and discover that she’s been following (and benefitting from) my blog for years. I always act cool when this happens, but just below the surface I’m giving myself massive high-fives and whooping like a little boy who’s just discovered that Spiderman lives next door.

I follow a small number of other architects who maintain active blogs. This circle would be larger if possible, but there just aren’t that many architects committing themselves to generating content.

Posting: Before I had children, I wrote a lot more than I do now. My unwavering commitment however is to ensure I publish at least one article every month. This keeps the blog current, and ensures subscribers are exposed to regular content.

For students: I started this blog as a way of encouraging me to get off the couch. Having the blog inspires me to experience new things so I can write about them. The process of writing then encourages me to see more new things. It is a very positive feedback loop.

At architecture practice lectures I gave recently at both Melbourne University and RMIT, I asked students to raise their hands if they write a design blog. Of the 400 or so students in attendance, I counted only 5 raised hands. There should be more.

Good examples:

Importance:
9 / 10

 


Footnotes:

  1. Leading social networks worldwide as of January 2016Statista; January 2016
  2. Tom Ewer; 14 surprising statistics about WordPress usage; ManageWP; February 2014
  3. How many people are reading blogs?; WordPress; March 2016. This page also contains a neat world map that flashes a light over the relevant city whenever a blog post is published.

Image:

  1. WordPress, logo copyright WordPress. Composition by author.
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Houzz for students

In my casual surveys of architecture students from first year to final, I’ve been surprised to discover how few engage professionally with social media. While Facebook is ubiquitous and many have Instagram accounts jammed full of selfies, there is little interest to extend this activity into the professional sphere.

This is the 6th of eight articles exploring the major social media outlets, how I engage with them, and how they might be of interest to students. An archive of the series can be accessed here.

Social media

Houzz
Mihaly Slocombe
Following: 22
Followers: 477
Joined: October 2013

Purpose: A massive online database of house photos, it’s the eBay of residential architecture.

Community: Unlike many other project typologies, private residential clients are notoriously difficult to find and connect with. As the Houzz user group is mostly populated by non-architects, it’s evolving into one of the best ways to overcome this hurdle.

I follow a very small number of colleagues and clients. I don’t see Houzz as a useful tool to connect with other architects (Twitter and Instagram are much better for this), but I can attest to its ability to generate project leads. Our followers come from all over the world and are mostly non-architects, though it’s hard to tell whether any of these connections will lead to fruitful collaborations.

Portfolio: Houzz is essentially a supercharged portfolio website. It’s a way for us to push our work out into a domain populated by millions of people feverishly devouring photos of houses. It also acts a gateway to our own website and a growing number of project enquiries. Most of the project leads we receive from online portals (as discussed here) come via Houzz.

Notoriety: As I uploaded our portfolio onto Houzz long before it officially launched in Australia, we’ve benefited from a huge headstart in having our work seen by more people in more places. Much like Google, the Houzz search algorithms reward popularity with more popularity. As bizarre evidence, this photo of one of our wardrobes has been saved by over 16,000 people, and continues to receive awards each year as the most liked wardrobe photo in Australia.

Procrastination: For anyone interested in building or renovating, Houzz is easily the most addictive source of procrastination in existence.

For students: Unless you have built work in your portfolio, Houzz is not a good way for you to advertise yourself. It’s possible you could connect with potential employers, but again I think Twitter and Instagram are better tools for this.

However, with 9 million photos and counting, a 2014 market valuation upwards of $2b, and their first major tech acquisition late last year, I figure you’re either on the Houzz wagon or getting covered in dust.[2]

Good examples:

These are all practicing architects, all of whose practices appear on the first page of Houzz when I search for professionals in Victoria.

Importance:
4 / 10 for you
10 / 10 for me


Footnotes:

  1. Leading social networks worldwide as of January 2016Statista; January 2016
  2. George Anders; Houzz tops $2 billion valuation, opens million-item marketplace; Forbes; October 2014

Image:

  1. Houzz, logo copyright Houzz. Composition by author.
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LinkedIn for students

In my casual surveys of architecture students from first year to final, I’ve been surprised to discover how few engage professionally with social media. While Facebook is ubiquitous and many have Instagram accounts jammed full of selfies, there is little interest to extend this activity into the professional sphere.

This is the 5th of eight articles exploring the major social media outlets, how I engage with them, and how they might be of interest to students. An archive of the series can be accessed here.

Social media

LinkedIn
Warwick Mihaly
Connections: 382
Joined: April 2011
Total users: 100 million[1]

Purpose: LinkedIn is a virtual resume and professional networking tool. It also functions a little like Facebook, with a rolling feed of content posted by your network.

Community: As a business owner, I don’t get much value out of LinkedIn. I’m unlikely to be on the lookout for a new job opportunity in the near (or distant) future, and my welfare is not supported by an employer. I’m connected to many individuals within my network on other social media outlets also, however LinkedIn is not my preferred portal in which to engage with them.

These days, most of my new connection requests are from building industry suppliers who I imagine want me to specify their products. I have to confess I resent these, but am always happy to connect with the odd architecture student or graduate who sends a request.

Posting: As with Facebook, I rarely post directly to LinkedIn. Panfilocastaldi does so automatically, I occasionally make comments, and I’ve had a few direct messaging conversations. I see my LinkedIn network primarily as another audience for my blog activity, and an intermittent source of news.

Profile: When I first started using LinkedIn, I put in a lot of effort to fill out my profile: education history, past jobs, current projects etc. I think this dedication sprung from an obsessive compulsive desire to complete things, but my profile has become less current as I’ve lost interest in the platform.

For students: Though LinkedIn is best suited to the highly mobile, corporatised tech and finance industries, the same goal of professional networking still applies to architecture.[2] Use it as a companion to your traditional resumé, and connect with architecture studios where you might like to work. As with other social media sites, being active is the most important aim.

As an aside, LinkedIn doesn’t permit stalking in the way Facebook does, as it pops up alerts on your page whenever someone visits. Perhaps you can use this function to get noticed.

Good examples:

  • Petar Petrov. Graduate architect at Bates Smart (also a past student of mine)
  • Luke Bonham. Graduate architect at Metier 3 (also a past student of mine)
  • Kurt Ballener. Architecture student at Melbourne University (also a past student of mine), and always up to something interesting

Importance:
2 / 10 for me
7 / 10 for you


Footnotes:

  1. Leading social networks worldwide as of January 2016Statista; January 2016
  2. Between them, tech and finance represent around 20% of LinkedIn users. By comparison, the entire construction sector only represents 3%, of which I imagine architecture is an even smaller minority. Source: State of LinkedInVincos; 2011.

Image:

  1. LinkedIn, logo copyright LinkedIn. Composition by author.
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