Repurposing Architecting Skills: Sine qua non

Sine qua non is the eighth in the series unpacking how architects might use their intrinsic architectural skills to not just to make architecture but to do better in their practice of architecture.

Sine qua non: is an indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient. It was originally a Latin legal term for “[a condition] without which it could not be”, or “but for…” or “without which [there is] nothing”.


As an architect I lamented (tongue in cheek) about the four dirty ‘c’-words: Clients, Codes, Consultants and Councils. They generally led to the often onerous ‘c’-words: Conditions, Constraints and Caution. My tongue firmly in cheek as their imposition as both a blessing and a curse. Architects tend to do their best work under considerable constraint, working harder to come up with more remarkable solutions. I am reminded of Harry Seidler’s Capita Centre, one of his few buildings on a very constrained site and arguably one of his best as a result. Constraints are good.

Constraints and ‘c’-words, however, are not the point. Instead, acknowledging that the ability to integrate and assimilate disparate and often competing requirements is a remarkable skill. It first takes a level of skill to seek out all requirements and doing the research as previously discussed (Memory and Research). The ultimate skill is to then reconcile all requirements into a design, additionally with “commodity, firmness, delight” as a value add. Such skill is the most under-acknowledged and rated in architectural practice.

It takes considerable skill to reconcile a vast array of requirements into a solution that the client is happy with, is buildable, meets all codes, has aesthetic value, and so on. That is remarkable.

What else might be done with this skill? A reconsideration of the set-up of architectural practice, for example, through the collection and reconciliation of advice and information from consultants such as a business advisor, accountant, lawyer, software engineer, marketer, copywriter, and a workplace psychologist (just for good measure), not to mention gathering precedent and critical analysis too. Of course that’s overkill and you’d never do that, right? You can if you’ve got large budget, or simply you’re willing to take the time to research specialist knowledge that you’re unable to afford from a consultant. It’s simply a choice. Most architectural practices are established in an ad hoc way and as cheaply as possible, only to be modified and restitched at a later date.

It may be fanciful to imagine redesigning a practice entirely in this way, but it’s not fanciful to more widely utilise design reconciliation skills. A more manageable approach is to consider the components of practice. Reconsidering and redesigning office processes for example: marketing, finance, design, administration, and so on. It’s not necessary to do things the way they’ve always been done, there are many areas of work that could be researched and reconciled within a modified practice structure. Buildings are rarely the same, should practice processes and principles?

Design reconciliation is a skill applicable to so much more than the redesign of practice and the execution of a building design. It is worthy of consideration as what other billable projects might be possible if this was to be offered as a standalone service and core skill of architectural practice.

Now that you see this as a skill, what will you choose to do with it?

Previous posts in the Repurposing Architecting Skills series

Designing PossibilityFail and IterateMemory and Research, Critical Thinking, Design as Improvisation, Assimilation of the Design Brief, Design as Decision Making

Do you need support in better utilising your skills in architectural practice? Please feel free to drop me a line. I’m here to support you in building a better practice, forging better human and professional skills, and developing architectural leadership.

Picture by Ming-Cheng Wu on Pexels [cropped]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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