Happy 6th birthday

Happy birthday; Panfilocastaldi; 6; Six

Today Panfilocastaldi turns 6, meaning I have survived another full year of blogging. As I have on each prior anniversary, I’m going to take this opportunity to reflect on the scope and focus of my writing. Why do I write? What do I write? Who is it for?

As I review the content I’ve published this year, what strikes me most is the stark contrast between my first year of writing and my most recent:

2011

  • My early articles spanned a wide range of topics, covering 17 different categories from food to theatre and many things in between.
  • I wrote prolifically, publishing an article on average every 3 days.
  • Though frequent, my articles were short. My very first piece, on the 2009 Mies van der Rohe Award, needed just 365 words.

2016

  • My articles this year focus almost exclusively on architecture practice, with all but one so categorised.
  • I write sporadically now, publishing an article on average every 21 days.
  • Though infrequent, my articles are long. My most recent piece, on the incremental tasks fee method, needed 1,119 words and was in fact the last in a series of 5 articles of similar length all exploring the architectural fee.
2011; 2016; Blogging; Infographic; Data; Word count
Word count comparison

Why the contrast? Well, I suspect that the changing nature of my writing is the result of the changing nature of my life.

When I started Panfilocastaldi, I was living in Milan (in a street called Via Panfilo Castaldi for those of you who didn’t know) and travelling a lot. Even when I returned to Melbourne soon after, I was still doing and seeing a lot of different things. Indeed, the inspiration for this blog came from a desire to continue living the traveller’s lifestyle: it encouraged me to seek things to write about, so I attended festivals and lectures and exhibitions, then wrote about them, then sought more things.

Today, I live in Melbourne, run a thriving architecture studio with my wife, and spend the majority of my spare time being a dad to my two young children. My daily experiences have narrowed considerably, and thus so has my writing. To be fair to myself (and parenthood in general), I do still get out and do things, I just can’t seem to find the space in my life to write about them.

2011; 2016; Blogging; Infographic; Data; Categories
Categories comparison – refer to sidebar menu for expansions

I often reflect on the carefree and exuberant time I spent in Milan. I even yearn for it on occasion. There was an oasis-like quality to my time there that reminds me of Ann Patchett’s sublime Bel Canto. It was a vivid experience insulated from the tough job of growing up and working out how to contribute to the world.

But returning home and having kids have done a wonderful thing to my perspective. My early writing was personal and mostly self-indulgent. I wrote broadly but shallowly, and primarily to amuse myself. Did anyone really need to know what I thought of kitchen utensils or nuclear fallout in Japan? In contrast, now that my time is so much more limited, my writing has become narrow but deep, and I like to think useful.

I still write for myself, as a sort of catharsis that helps me process the challenges of growing our architecture business. But I also write for all the other young architects going through the same challenges I am, and the many wonderful people thinking about engaging them to build something.

My earliest article on architecture practice (in early 2012) was fittingly about reinventing the wheel, and appeared amidst other articles on urbanism, product design and photography. Gradually, these other subjects have fallen away, and the intersection of architectural culture, practice and business has emerged as my (almost) sole focus.

This slow transition has helped me find my voice, one underpinned by the expertise I’ve gathered from founding, growing and improving Mihaly Slocombe for the past six years. Architecture practice has become my focus because it’s what I know and care about. It has also helped me understand two important things about the world:

Sharing is better than hoarding

There aren’t many architects in Australia, and of course far fewer architecture practices. In contrast, there is an ever-growing cackle of rival occupations eating away at our authority, territory and opportunities for creativity. Individually we sink, together we swim. This is why I share the things I share, some of which are quite private insights about our business. Whatever wisdom I’ve earned I feel the need to contribute to the profession.

Data is everything

Data about time spent on things, resources divided between things, money earned from things. I’m certainly not the first person to realise that knowledge of the underlying truths of our architecture practice helps us make the right decisions about its future. I may be the first to collect data about these truths so passionately. For me, data is just another way of saying the science of business.

2016; Blogging; Posts; Graphic design; Logos

Where does all this position Panfilocastaldi within the bigger picture? At the cutting edge I hope.

Architects love to talk about design. We share ideas via print and online media, within awards programmes and in exhibitions, during workshops and conferences. We gobble up every photo, diagram and sketch like a fat kid does a bucket of fried chicken.

But we don’t love talking about business. At university, I learned about the history and theory of architecture, about construction, detailing and sustainability, about design principles, communication and execution. I did not however learn about business. I remain incredulous that all that I know about client acquisition, marketing strategies, future planning, workflow management and income generation I’ve learned on the job by trial and error.

No wonder the profession is in crisis.

So anyway, this is my voice. I talk about these things because by and large very few others are. I have set about in my own small way to inject questions of money and productivity and marketing into our broader discussion. It’s my hope that this injection steers the conversation somewhat towards pastures more open-minded about the political economy of design.

All time; Blogging; Infographic; Data; Tags
All time use of business-related tags

I was chuffed recently to make it onto a list of important Australian architecture blogs, but a bit disappointed that the author used adjectives like pragmatic and everyday to describe my content. Yes, the articles I write are about the everyday, but I believe they are the things that facilitate the momentous. The crisis of the architecture profession is fuelled I think by a resistance to business. But design and business aren’t mutually exclusive, indeed they are tidally locked. Each can’t and shouldn’t exist without the other. Good business facilitates good design, and vice versa.

The origins of this blog may have been frivolous, indistinguishable from the hundreds of millions of other blogs floating around the internet, but I’m pleased they’ve led somewhere productive. This voice that I’ve found and am continuing to find has become a new source of inspiration, one that has evolved well beyond the original purpose of Panfilocastaldi.

So what next?

For me and my time-limited life, one of the attractive qualities of blogging is how incremental it is. The idea of sitting down to write a 200,000 word book scares the shit out of me, but taken together, that’s about how many words I’ve written across my 310 Panfilocastaldi articles over these past six years. One article at a time isn’t so scary.

Despite this, I think I would like to write a book. Something that gathers together the various threads I’ve explored on this blog into a cohesive, narrative-driven resource for the architecture profession. I have a few ideas about the what and the how, but I’ll keep them under wraps for now for fear of putting a mozz on myself.

A question for you though, dear readers: would you buy and then read a book I’ve written? Would it be useful to you in your daily lives? What do you think it should be about?

I think I’ll leave it there. Thank you for your support this year. Who knows what 2017 will bring, and whether I’ll ever find the pathway to putting together an entire book. For now, Panfilocastaldi continues to be a labour of love, self-sustaining because it’s enjoyable for its own sake. If you promise to keep reading, I’ll promise to keep typing.

Yours sincerely,
Warwick Mihaly.


Image sources:

  1. Happy 6th birthday, author’s own image.
  2. 2016 vs 2011 word count comparison, author’s own image.
  3. 2016 vs 2011 categories comparison, author’s own image.
  4. Article montage, author’s own image.
  5. All time tags, author’s own image.

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.

Happy 5th birthday

Panfilocastaldi, Happy birthday, Anniversary, Blogging

Today, Panfilocastaldi turns 5. I have survived another full year of blogging. Over the years, my focus has gradually shifted and sharpened, away from art, photography and the environment, and towards the culture, practice and business of architecture. I’m proud of the content I produce, and the way it has struck a chord amongst the Australian architecture profession.

This year, I published on average one post every nine days, helped along somewhat by my August series of daily lessons for design students. I’ve had articles co-published in Parlour, Architecture & Design and Interns Australia. My favourites of the past 12 months:

Once again, I’ve synthesised this year’s key statistics into a series of infographics:

Blogging, Statistics, Blogging categories, Architecture, Architecture Practice, Lessons

Blogging, Statistics, Months

Blogging, Statistics, Australia, United States of America, United Kingdom

Blogging, Statistics, Months

And some highlights in plain English:

  • 41 new posts, with a maximum of 17 in August of this year.
  • 20 post categories, 7 of which received new articles. My most prolific category this year, Lessons, received 22.
  • 106 new tags, bringing the total to 1,346 and ranging from Stratosphere (1 post) to Australian Institute of Architects (33 posts).
  • 86 new comments, bringing the total to 533.
  • 4,320 new spam comments, bringing the total to 29,616.
  • 39,730 new page views, bringing the total to 180,649.
  • An average of 109 page views per day. Our busiest month this year was August with 6,942 page views or an average of 224 per day.
  • Visitors from 153 different countries, ranging from Belize (1 page view) to Australia (14,333 page views).
  • 12,347 referrals from search engines, comprising thousands of unique terms. Lots of Some great practice-related long tail search terms this year included disadvantages of negotiated tendering process and design brief for construction a house.
  • 5,861 referrals from 128 other websites, with a maximum of 3,112 from Facebook. This smashed Twitter for social media referrals, which only provided 479.
  • 175 blog followers, increasing our count by 40 over this time last year, with a further 22 comment followers and 739 Twitter followers.

Thank you for your support this year. Who knows what 2016 will bring, or how Panfilocastaldi will evolve? For now, it continues to be a labour of love, self-sustaining because it is enjoyable for its own sake. If you promise to keep reading, I’ll promise to keep typing.

Yours sincerely,
Warwick Mihaly

Community

This is the 9th instalment in a series of 10 articles where we attempt to categorise chronologically and thematically the list of things you will need to start your architecture practice, and furnish it with the glimpses of insight we’ve accrued during the first three years of our architecture practice, Mihaly Slocombe.

9. Community

membership

When: Later
Importance: Moderate
Cost: Varies
Difficulty: Varies

Almost every aspect of your architecture practice, from the quality of your designs, to your marketing strategies, to your financial management, can benefit from your involvement in the right communities. By this we do not only mean the people who live next door, but your cultural and professional communities too. In other words, other architects, designers and the institutions that support them: collectively these people are a ready-made source of advice, assistance and feedback.

The types of communities in which you might take part can be roughly divided into five categories: design, business, marketing, culture and tribal. To make the most use of these, be prepared to juggle the full breadth of media the world has to offer, from online forums and social media, to international awards programmes and local lecture series. You will need to spend plenty of time in front of your computer screen, but just as much time getting out to actually meet people.

You will know you have chosen the right communities when you find they keep overlapping. The truth in this was neatly displayed when we attended the Presentations to Juries a month or so ago: shuffling from room to room with us were people whom we follow on Twitter, with whom we share blog discussions, attend lectures and seminars, present at design talks, studied and worked.

Design communities are those that allow you to present your design work and review the work of others. If all that happens once a project is presented is a round of applause, you are not participating in a design community. Reciprocity is essential to the success of these communities, as is the willingness of their participants to be critical about one another’s ideas. Given architects’ reluctance to subject themselves to negative criticism, even constructively offered, they are very hard to come by. We suggest you start one yourself, perhaps with friends from university whose journeys into architecture practice parallel your own. Every couple of weeks we catch up with one or two friends over lunch to discuss design and practice in a loose but longstanding arrangement affectionately referred to as the Round Table. We entered the Flinders Street Station Design Competition together and, we must confess, could do better in heeding our own advice by presenting our work to one another more often. Design communities cost whatever you’re having for lunch.

Business communities are those that help you get better at any of the myriad skills and processes you need to keep your architecture practice afloat, from big picture things like time management and fee negotiation, to detail things like filing systems and contact lists. We take part in the Australian Institute of Architects‘ Small Practice Forum, a group of 30 or so architects that meets every two months to discuss subjects like marketing, fees, office manuals and, most recently, cloud computing. The Institute also runs plenty of continuing professional development events that are well worth attending: the oddly named but business-savvy Blue Turtle Management and Consulting (BTMC) have presented a few such events, one of which we discussed here. The cost of Institute membership varies and is generally hefty (we pay around $1,000 a year), however we feel its value is priceless.

Marketing communities are immensely abundant, require a huge amount of time to maintain and rarely pave the way for new projects. We say rarely, because every now and then they do, which will render every hour spent previously worthwhile. Houzz is an interesting tool that allows designers to upload photos of their work (1,000,000 so far an counting) to an indexed and searchable database that other people selectively add to ideas albums. It is also a useful way to have clients give you a summary of their tastes and design interests. New Architects is a series of casual design presentations run every couple of months with a strong emphasis on young designers. A website is on its way, however invitation is currently by email list or word of mouth only. Various agencies around the world, including Houses Magazine, Design Institute of Australia and Australian Timber Design Awards here, and World Architecture News and Architectural Review overseas, all hold annual awards programmes for both speculative and built work. There are many, many others. Finally, 70% of Australians own the houses they live in: the more you connect with your neighbours and local community, the more likely you are that you will get work from them. Houzz and New Architects are both free to join, though most awards programmes will cost $200 – $400 per entry.

Cultural communities will not necessarily win you new projects nor allow you the opportunity to present your work to the world at large, but they will increase your appreciation of good design and generally nurture your soul. Melbourne is blessed with a large number of organisations that foster such communities, including the Robin Boyd Foundation (RBF), ParlourMelbourne Open House (MOH) and C + A. Each has its own dedicated focus: modernist architecture for RBF; women in architecture for Parlour; public open days for MOH; and concrete for C + A. All run lecture and seminar programmes, publish journals and offer access to some of Melbourne’s best architecture both past and present. The cost of events varies, from nothing in the case of MOH’s annual open day to $65 for Parlour’s upcoming Transform workshop.

Finally, tribal communities are those you start yourself. They are generally online, often emanate from a blog or Twitter feed, and focus on one issue or interest area. They are not necessarily central to the architecture work you do, but revolve around it or are related to it. There are two important qualities of the tribal community: first, you are its chief; and second, you are its chief because you have been talking about its interest area before anyone else was. To paraphrase Texan artist, Austin Kleon, to whom we have paid tribute here, if everyone is talking about apples while you’re interested in oranges, you should start talking about oranges anyway. Eventually, when the rest of the world catches on to how great oranges are, you will be an established orange guru and natural chief.

Participating in any or all of these communities will grow what we have come to call your cultural capital i.e. the value you have to the culture around you. As your presence in awards programmes, forums, lecture series, blogs and design organisations grows, so too will your cultural capital. This capital will not necessarily win you projects and will certainly not turn you into a starchitect overnight. However, if you enjoy your communities without thought to future stardom, you will find your capital grows of its own accord, a development that we believe can only have a positive impact on your future design career.

To polylogue or not to polylogue

Monologue (n): One person speaking to another person or to many.
Dialogue (n): Two people speaking to one another.
Polylogue (n): One person speaking to many {use – Facebook, Twitter, blogging}.

Fact: 9 out of 10 people believe their thoughts, ideas and opinions are interesting to others – this is one of the fundamental truths that encourages speech. A related impulse is the desire to learn new things, to listen. In combination, the sympathetic desires to speak and to listen facilitate conversation, and by extension, civilisation.

A dialogue incorporates both speaking and listening in a reciprocal relationship that enriches both its participants. Each individual increases his understanding of the other; is in turn understood more deeply; gains the satisfaction of being heard; has his ideas improved upon through analysis; feels the pleasure of being involved in something bigger than himself. The dialogue exists at the intersection of a deeply-engrained web of basic human urges: it is intrinsic to our existence.

The polylogue is much less than the dialogue in many ways – it strips away much of the latter’s enriching characteristics and responds directly to the impulse to speak, to be heard. In this, the polylogue offers something more, something new: the small voice projected large.

Whilst the average civilian has historically had scant opportunity to exploit this base impulse (postcards home and letters to the editor being the rare exceptions), this has all changed with the advent of new online media. Facebook, Twitter and blogging have dispensed with the barriers that traditionally inhibit the polylogger – we carry our smartphones with us everywhere we go and are connected to the internet every minute. The next tweet is just a few easy keystrokes away. In so doing, new media present the ideal environment for the polylogue to blossom.

At its essence, the polylogue may be little more than an impoverished version of the dialogue, a thinned down facsimile of a rich conversational soup. But it pampers its participants, strokes their egos by projecting their identities to the world, loud and clear. It will survive and thrive because it addresses, in fleeting sound bites, the deeply coded needs of 9 out of 10 people.