Action Reaction

A Question of Practice, the revamped version of Talking Crap met for the first time this year with a discussion around clients and the origins of practice.

Preface: this is not a summary of the conversation that the group had, but my take-aways and further thoughts provoked by the discussion.

The architecture profession has many spaces to discuss the day to day of practice. Spaces for sharing stories and experiences. Discussing how practice might be improved through solving the problems and challenges faced on a daily basis in practice. The focus is on problem solving and outcomes. They’re incredibly generous spaces filled with architects with experience giving back to the profession. Helping less experienced practitioners navigate the challenges of practice. They include the Practice Forum run by members of the Australian Institute of Architects, local architects networks in NSW, podcasts such as In Detail, and so on. These are brilliant spaces and important for the profession. I’m a huge fan as they provide a wonderful resource and they’re a testament to the profession.

A Question of Practice is not intended to be one of those spaces.

A Question of Practice steps back from the coal face of practice to try to gain a broader perspective. A perspective that asks questions rather than discuss problems and solutions. It explores insights from outside of architecture practice. Instead of accepting an architect’s lot it pursues “We can if…” thinking. It’s a forum that instead of drilling down into detail or solutions it continues by saying “Yes and…”. It’s still getting this balance and format right. It’s a learning process and that is very much the philosophy of this space. What might we learn by trying something different?

Here’s what I learnt at our most recent session…

Dealing with clients is a constant struggle. It’s regularly on architect’s minds. Whether that is finding them, losing them or dealing with difficult behaviour. They’re constantly surprising, in both good and bad ways. Architects regularly seek a reasonable analogy for some small insight in how to best to deal with them, win them or develop the profession more broadly. There’s nothing really new in this but what I learnt is that it’s a reactive environment. Yet if architects are listening, they can learn a lot about their work, how to do it better and the perception of their work. Sometimes this is a revelation, “you don’t charge enough”. Sometimes it might come as a shock to learn the view is not always so complimentary of architects. It suggested to me that architects don’t seek feedback as often as they should.

There’s much to be learnt about practice from outside of the profession. Architects draw widely from the world to inspire their designs, less so their practices. When architects become clients there’s opportunity for new perspectives and insights. Fresh eyes and recognition of what they do and what more they could be doing. Those that had been clients better recognised the value of what they give their clients, especially in the initial brief development stages. Curious how architects might seek out these opportunities to experience services from a client’s perspective.

There are significant insights into practice from the tech and business world and architects need to be looking and listening for them. Whether it’s rethinking the design process and workflows, or how to write a business plan. It seems there’s a valuable posture in the tech world of questioning how they work, trying something new and iterating. My challenge to the profession wis to seek this out more. To recognise nothing is fixed and that there is much to be learnt beyond the architectural space.

Some further questions that came out of my learning…

If architects accept that they’re in part responsible for the challenges they face with clients, what might they try doing differently?

How might architects adopt a more experimental mindset? One that seeks to try things out and escapes a more fixed mindset about their work.

Acknowledgment: thanks to Steve Kennedy, Warwick Mihaly, Phillip Arnold, Sam Rigoli and Tom Rivard for their contributions to the conversation.

To receive updates and invites to future A Question of Practice sessions, you can subscribe 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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