Talking crap…

Sitting at home during a pandemic felt disconnecting and immobilising. So I thought I'd try something for a change.

For some time I’ve been thinking about running a brainstorming session with architects to explore the nature of practice. What they liked about practice, what annoyed them, as well as starting to look at new outcomes to the annoyances or changes they’d like to see. When I first had the idea we could all be in a room together, we’re now in the age of Zoom meetings, which is perhaps more effectively and certainly more inclusive. I had to first overcome the fears and questions in my own head, would anyone be interested, would I look stupid, who am I to do this?

No spoilers here, I went ahead and ran the session of “talking crap and sharing ideas for better architectural practice…” with some success. I thought it was worthwhile to detail my thinking as well as little of what was discussed in our session. All with the intention of developing and iterating the workshop into one that’s inclusive, constructive and meaningful. All feedback is very welcome.

What’s it about?
Here’s how I described it in my invitation…
“In a nutshell… it’s a light-hearted communal chat wrapped in a brainstorm about architectural practice and maybe we’ll come up with some good ideas about making it better for all of us.”
That description feels about right. The first session was a start, it wasn’t overly ambitious and I didn’t know if it would go further than that.

Big picture description…
it’s to start change in the profession, change that makes practice better. What that change is, I don’t know yet, it’s not for me to say. It’s still open, to be formed and informed by the insights and ideas of all. It’s a conversation about how we might make change happen and architectural practice better. All shaped by the minds in the room. It may ultimately expand beyond conversation…

To address the colloquial, “talking crap“…
I was very aware that people may be over Zoom workshops and meetings, especially those mired in earnest or stodgy conversations. I was keen for our space to have some levity, informality and play, as well as to communicate that. I was aiming to cut through the formal emails most might receive. More importantly, I wanted to acknowledge that sometime we need to talk a lot of crap before we come up with the good ideas and that’s OK. We need to have a lot of bad ideas to have a good one and not only that we’re giving you permission to have bad ideas.

We need to start somewhere with this work and if we wait until we have a perfect idea about how to proceed, we’ll likely never start. I acknowledged it might not work. It was an experiment. First test, step, iteration. Learning what works, what doesn’t and how to build it better the next time. Targeting a constructive session and accepting there may be bits that go wrong. As long as it wasn’t a crashing failure, I knew there would be a way forward that could be improved, in part through what other people want, their support and feedback. Informed by how the experiment went.

I’ll provide a summary of the session below, it’s fascinating what came up. What I learnt (or had confirmed) is that there’s very much a diversity of priorities, ideas and issues for everyone. It’s contingent upon the type of practice, the type of work and perhaps the latest pain point. In order to consolidate into a constructive process, I’m considering a process whereby we start to discuss the problems the profession faces in practice as well as the opportunities that might be available. I see problem and opportunities as two parallel and not necessarily connected paths. Before coming up with solutions we must first agree on what the problem is we’re trying to address. We sometimes leap to solutions far too fast. This is where we start, what is the problem we are trying to solve for architectural practice?

I’m open to being wrong. Heading in another direction. I have questions for anyone that would like to provide feedback. What do I need to rethink? What can’t I see? How might I make it better? Please join us.

There’s a form to sign up for the talking crap… email list with news and events HERE.

our first time talking crap…

It’s impossible to provide a detailed summary of the discussion had in the room. Nor do I want to overly colour future conversations, by biasing thinking towards that conversation and moment in space. I offered four questions to be answered and prompt discussion. I’ve listed the unadorned answers below. It turns out that over one hour 4 questions is too many. You’ll see that we ran out of time and we had less answers and more conversation as we progressed through the questions.

What people said:

The lockdowns are obviously a very difficult time and one where various forms of interaction have been lost, the most acutely felt of which is the time we spend together ‘talking crap’ as Michael says. So it’s a brave thing for Michael to set up a forum where people gather and, paradoxically, make new connections and have new conversations.
Gerard Reinmuth: Principal & Director at Terroir

If you’re interested in making a positive change to the profession of Architecture and seeking an outlet to do that Michael’s forum… is a great place to share your ideas (and a small dose of grievances) about bringing about positive change to the profession of Architecture. We all have a part to play towards building better perception and reality around architectural practice, and this forum presents and opportunity to build towards that. This feels like it could be the beginning of a movement.
Angelo Korsanos: Director, Redshift Architecture & Art

The questions we discussed:

What do you love about architectural practice?

  • the beautiful resolution of solutions
  • diversity of work in a day in practice
  • the challenges and problem solving
  • working on things that matter
  • positive impact on people’s lives and context
  • wonderful relationships with clients
  • the potential for being in the middle of bigger problems
  • working with people that are proud of their work
  • working outside of comfort zone and challenging all involved – the one off experience
  • the hope and anticipation that drives you each day
  • the excitement of seeing something take shape
  • the diversity of the subject matter
  • the joy of designing buildings
  • creating. seing things being built. creating something out of nothing

What annoys you about architectural practice?

  • working on things that don’t matter. Architectural practice is rarely at the centre of the thigns that matter.
  • the inability to find the time to dwell on the the things that are important to spend time thinking about. Like the lessons we can learn.
  • the complicated regulatory system.
  • the people that don’t care as much as you do about the project if at all.
  • Architectural practice is becoming increasingly process driven in a way that does not necessarily value add. Layers of process and legislation that are often aimed at ‘lifting the bar’ but inadvertently pulling the bar down on quality and innovation.
  • the process of practice is too limiting in regard to time to think.
  • the attitude that the love of the job is payment enough
  • that everyone else doesn’t value the profession as much as the profession thinks it should be valued, or indeed it should be.
  • the lack of delineation between architects and building designers/draftspeople
  • low level cultural recognition
  • the marginalisation of the professions responsibilities and agency in the built environment
  • the coupling of architecture to capital – and its ruthless efficiency – marginalising those things we love about the job
  • the builder being listened to at the cost of the project. (other voices being louder than the architects)
  • having to deliver projects with people that don’t have the technical capabilities and having to manage a very broad process.
  • Office politics.
  • Managing business – keeping head above water in terms of business management and all the tasks.
  • frustration is throughout the profession – BDP Legislation, Planning Portal…
  • The current lack of more uplifting presentations

What are some solutions and/or things you would like to see change in architectural practice?

  • more architects. more “stuff” designd by architects. to improve the profile of the profession too. more architects doing more
  • Expanding the skills of architects across more areas, so it’s less rarefied.
  • the overwhelming requirements of legislation, codes, etc. and the challenges that represents to small practice versus larger practice.
  • the pigeonholing of smaller practices into singular typologies.
  • support systems for small practice to enable broader work.
  • expanding outside of the current marginalisation the services that architects offer.
  • the profession taking on the responsibility for the work we do and taking back responsibility, opportunities and ability to oversee more of the project in terms of control.

What if we 10x these ideas? Thinking bigger. What if we expanded these ideas for change into something audacious?

  • market the profession. CPD in service of the profession.
  • challenging the truth of the nature of practice in Australia. turning to political service to create change
  • using politics to build profile and status
  • architects finding ways of serving beyond the limits of their practice.
  • “National Service” for architects that is mandatory to go off in service of the community.

Open to ideas and questions for next time.

All feedback welcome.

If you’re interested in joining us…

There’s a form to sign up for the talking crap… email list with news and events HERE.

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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