Questioning architectural practice?

If you're not taking the time to ask hard questions of your practice and answering them, you're probably not advancing your practice.

One of the hard unspoken and neglected parts of architectural practice is challenging the way we do things and the assumptions that accompany this disregard. This happens for a number of reasons. It might be that if the practice is going well there may be no need to challenge your practice. Practice success may be due to luck, hiding unchallenged thinking, or indeed you might have a well honed practice. The thing is, how do you know whether your practice is lucky or well designed unless you ask questions and identify areas that might need to be rethought? Is your practice lucky or well designed? What happens if the luck runs out?

This is not an easy thing to do. We often don’t ask questions because we may not like the answers. When we don’t ask the hard questions we’re able to hide from the answers that scare us. We might end up unearthing the elephants that are holding us back or that are hard to address. We make the excuse that we don’t have the time to answer those questions right now, when really what we mean is we don’t want to face the hard work that we might need to do in order to address the scary answers.

If this talk of questions sounds familiar, I wrote about it previously in The Power of Questions. I listed a number of constructive questions in that post that might be a good place to start and for this post I’d like to move beyond the questions.

I’m more curious about the conditions that created the potential challenges in the first place. It might be that the challenges are endemic to the profession and have been embedded through a lack of questioning over time. Deep seated assumptions unchallenged on behalf of the profession. The challenge and hard part here then is to stand out, to lead change in the profession and that takes courage.

“The world is changed not by the self-regarding, but by men and women prepared to make fools of themselves.”

P.D. James

Let’s consider fees for example. I’ll be simplifying, because it’s complex, but my point is it’s worth rethinking how much (and how) architects charge. Architects are often drawn into competing on fees. I’m not talking about the extreme and problematic undercutting and undercharging that happens. I interested here in how architects tend towards matching what others charge. As an extreme example of rethinking this, what if you were to double your fees? It might mean you lose more jobs but the ones you win shows you have clients that value you, they give you more time to do your job well and allow you to work free of resentment of income and the lesser projects.

Other areas you might need to question and rethink might be tied to areas specifics to the skills within your practice. Are there opportunities you’re missing because you’re not rethinking what you do? This might relate to work that may not be “assumed” to be the domain of architects but you could undertake and do very successfully. It might also be that you’re not being specific enough about the work that you do. Architects love doing all sort of projects and a variety of typologies. The risk here is that you won’t be recognised as especially skilled in any one area in particular. Sometime it’s better to consider what your smallest viable market is and really hone down the type of work you do to become the recognised expert in a niche market.

My article The Reframing of Architectural Practice was a thought experiment on the dangers of not rethinking practice and some ways to start to reconsider how you might proceed in practice.

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”

Jerzy Gregorek

This is hard work. Work that can be uncomfortable and confronting to take on. Asking the hard questions of your practice. It’s often best to get help in doing this work. Someone that is removed from your practice that is able to ask the questions dispassionately and reflect back what they see and hear. You don’t have to do this work alone. Find a coach. I’m here to support.

What are you working on in your architectural practice? How are you rethinking it?

Image by Albie Patacsil 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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