A question of architects’ wellbeing

An AI generated image of an architect with their head spinning
Now it’s been proven* that architects are struggling with wellbeing, I’ve further questions and thoughts.

* The proof is in the research undertaken through Monash University: The Wellbeing of Architects.

Preface

I recently attended the The Wellbeing of Architects [education + practice –] symposium. It was a revelation, of insight (good and bad), inspiration and new strategies. This is not a review, but a provocation, as inspired by the Symposium’s similar prompt to it’s speakers. The provocation is framed as a series of questions, both questions posed by speakers there and questions that came to mind in the course of the symposium. I’ve made a start at answers with a view to provoking further consideration.

Introduction

Anecdotes are not data, but anecdotally the profession has been languishing for some time. Now the research has been undertaken we better understand what this looks like and what the contributory factors are. Identifying and understanding the specific problem is the first step in beginning to come up with solutions to the problem. The fact, however, is mental wellbeing is a problem with many fronts to address and no easy answers.

Sometimes when it comes to designing solutions, we need to ask more questions before we leap into coming up with answers and solutions.

What is an equivalent industry or organisation that’s already addressing the problem of wellbeing?

Architects have a tendency to talk amongst themselves and see their challenges as unique to the profession. They subsequently have a tendency to try to resolve their problems by themselves.

I hate to be the one to break it to them, but architects are not unique.

Architects might not need to reinvent the wheel. Instead the profession should look outside itself to find solutions to some of the problems they face. This might be large organisations that have addressed wellbeing in their own workplace. There may be other professions or industries that can also show the way.

Who might architects learn from?

I don’t know the answer to this as yet, but it’s a line of research I’m currently considering.

Noting too that these will not necessarily help to address systemic problems impacting the profession’s wellbeing, but beyond its control.

What does this look like?

Wellbeing in the profession is a cultural issue.

If we were to address the culture, rather than wellbeing specifically, we open ourselves up to finding answers elsewhere. And we can look for something similar to point us to possible solutions.

What are the successful strategies and methodologies in changing culture architects can steal?

How can we be the care we yearn for?

This juicy question was posed by Narelle Lemon (Edith Cowan University).

I love this question so much. It’s been teasing my thoughts since.

Modelling and role modelling were discussed in many discussions. And that’s a beautiful place to start to be the care we yearn for.

How might architects be better role models for wellbeing?

What’s your relationship with risk?

Another juicy question posed by Narelle Lemon.

Change feels risky and it holds us back

I’ve previously written about risk, Risky is Better, not in relation to wellbeing but the principles are applicable.

What risks aren’t you taking?

How are we building belonging and relationships?

My notes on attribution were a little sketchy on this one but I’m pretty sure this was posed by Alex Brown (Monash University).

It’s fair to say some of the problems in the profession start in belonging and relationships. The problem is belonging drives poor practice and the profession is driven by bad relationships. Bad relationships with power imbalances. Coercive and controlling relationships within and without the profession (especially with some clients). And bad relationships with the work.

The “how” is the all important part of the question.

Where’s the accountability? How is accountability maintained?

Architects speak well. Website pages filled with values and purpose statements. For every practice that upholds these statements and ensures their accountability to them, I’m sure we all know countless others who hide them in the bottom draw when push comes to shove.

Many practices say they’re accountable to each other, to employees, to their teams, or similar. I’m always curious about how that works. What’s the reality?

Accountability is key to living up to practice values and maintaining a good culture.

What does accountability look like?

What is the agency of architects?

A question raised in a number of different forms by a few people.

Too often architects, especially more junior ones feel like they have no agency. It’s not true. There’s degrees of agency. A more useful question might be to ask,

How can architects take their agency?

Here’s some previous thoughts: Taking your agency to make change

Are architects so habituated to the problems that they’re no longer recognised?

I’m often struck by the acceptance of “their lot” by many architects. Finding work arounds or work throughs.

I’m a fan of Tony Faddell’s observations that we need to get better at noticing problems. We need to first notice the problem before we can even begin. Clearly the Symposium was filled with people that had noticed. Unfortunately, as observed by Justine Clark (Parlour), the problem lies with people outside of that room.

Even when problems aren’t being noticed there’s a useful question to ask,

What can be done better?

Would architecture look different in the way its practiced if the name wasn’t protected?

This was an amazing question asked by Jonathan Robberts (Monash University).

A weighty hush fell on the room as it hung like a lead airship.

It’s worth pondering how architects might be being held back by their preconceptions of practice and status quo anxieties. Time spent defending old territories rather than discovering new ones. And it’s not just about a name, or is it?

What is the role of recognition and status?

What’s the ‘wellbeing score’ for the project being delivered?

I loved this question from Brian Clohessy (BVN), about making the invisible visible when entering projects in architectural awards.

Awards are problematic. We don’t need to go down that rabbit hole.

Getting a great piece of architecture built takes an extraordinary effort. All architects know that, but at what cost? How much sweat equity went into its realisation? What if we were able to rate the impact of delivery, acknowledging that it might have been at the cost of wellbeing.

How might a ‘wellbeing score’ change the culture?

Is the architecture profession failing at our professional duties?

Why does the architecture profession find itself in a wellbeing crisis if it were acting professionally and ethically?


AI image generated in Canva

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach, helping the professional culture of the architecture profession. I believe the best way to do this is support leadership development.

I’ve worked in architecture for almost 30 years, and 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 help practices work on their leadership team and strategies. Supporting practices to become more open, fluid, and adaptable. Realising the collective energy, passion, and capabilities of their people.

Interested in hearing I can help? Let’s chat about the leadership development of you or your team.
Book a Call

Note on republishing

You’re welcome to share and republish all posts on Unmeasured under the Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Creative Commons licence. It requires that Michael Lewarne is attributed, you link back to this website, and you permit sharing of the content under the same licence.

Love this post? Subscribe to my useletter

NOT a newsletter with stuff about me and what I’m up to. It’s filled with stuff for you to use.

It’s an email, focussed on your future, not my past.

Recent Posts

Traffic control.

Lollipop leaders

The best leaders don’t hold a lollipop. They’re not controllers. They don’t wield power. And they know there are more than two options.