Tonight’s Perth Sampling

Well tonight’s PS talk was one of the best I reckon I have seen so far. A really good group of young, energetic, enthusiastic and inspirational speakers. I really really enjoyed it. Here’s my quick run down for those that missed out (your bad!)

Carly Barrett from Hassell spoke of her adventures OS on the Dulux Study Tour. Sounded like an amazing trip. I really enjoyed her insights on the different working models of practices, and the way architecture is inter-related to the community as a whole. Plus a beautiful vid of Utzon’s grand piano in an amazing ethereal-looking space (can’t remember the name of the chapel – can anyone help me out?)

Next up was Jenny Officer reflecting on her Emerging Architects Prize. I don’t think I can really do her talk justice in this little post. Loved loved loved her preso, so straight talking, honest, with some really good points about how long you should be considered emerging, how long you need to wait to get on the governments’ approved panels, and how you prove yourself. Really well said. I liked the comment “architecture is really not that risky”. Too right. Why is there the assumption that smaller / newer practices are less able to manage budgets and time than bigger / more established firms? *cough* The Arena *cough* Carly noted in the question time that in I think she said Barcelona, ALL public works go to competition, and Jennie added that most overseas design competitions end up with a built outcome. How fantastic to open the mind to ideas and allow creativity to be a deciding factor, without fear.

Next up was Beth George, current tutor at Curtin, co-creator of Spacemarket and architect. She presented some mapping analysis of the City of Perth and some potential frameworks for analysis, finally explaining the functions of Spacemarket in utilising underutilised spaces in the Perth and Freo city centres, and how this can invigorate our urban centres.

And finally the thorn amongst the roses Andrew Murray talking about editing The Weather Ring and The Architect. So impressive. I have to admit I have been quite the fan of The Weather Ring, I loved the down-to-earth nature and the organic format. And then to see this … well … young’un who just matter-of-fact declared, “this is the sort of thing I want to read about so I thought other people might like to too.” And so he and Claire Wohlnick just started a publication. I love it. Amidst all the moaning about the institute and calls for discourse and better connection between architects and the wider community, these guys have just done it. No big deal, just wrote some articles, asked friends, printed, stapled and hand-delivered it around the place. I found this so inspirational, especially as it is all voluntary (all the copies of TWR I have, I have not paid for, will have to change that!) Imagine if some of the big firms in town donated to this kind of cause. How much could get produced for the cost of donating my office’s monthly drinks budget? Although I guess the small-scale, independent nature of the publication is one of its great bonuses. But the idea that a small start-up like this can impact on our architectural community makes me wonder what could be achieved if we all ‘just did it’. So amazing, was totally impressed with Andrew’s dedication and altruistic attitude. Excited to see where The Architect will go under his editorial guidance.

Anyway, that’s my quick comment, hope u all had a good night!

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12 thoughts on “Tonight’s Perth Sampling

  1. I think last night’s advocating architecture presentaion was really motivating. In particular Andrew Murray’s talk and Nigel Shaws comments reflecting an energy of lets just get out there and do it.

    Jenny Officer’s What If’s were also a highlight… What if we could transform the city? What if we could change the nature of project procurement? What if we could really be a creative city?

    Its really exciting to see the Perth architectural community engaged and active. There is so much passion for architecture in this city. My own experience suggests it may be diffused by the inevitable frustration of practicing here. However last night illustrates that there is a growing momentum to focus that passion.

    Personally I regret that I didn’t better communicate the value of the tour to the audience. To be honest I am still grappling with how to distil it in a meaningful way myself (collectively the tour group has accumulated 40gigs of reference images + movies). One thing that is clear to me is that it will have a lasting legacy on Australian architecture > knowledge is often both a priviledge and a right. I hope to better share the knowledge that I have gained thru the tour in the future.

    This blog is an excellent contribution + I hope more people embrace any form of media and give architecture (and landscape and interiors) the voice it deserves. Nike Time!!!

    PS. bagsvaerd church
    PPS. this is an excellent precedent if anyone is interested http://www.rrr.org.au/presenter/simon-knott/

  2. I’ll probably cop some stick for this comment – but here it goes.

    I think the emerging practices are all fantastic as well. The diversity of work and thoughts being delivered at present are a welcome change from almost 3 decades of architectural decline in my view. There’s definitely a changing of the guard of sorts.

    But. And this is a big but. I do however think that there should be some honesty about how the current batch of young practices are emerging. The reality is a large slice of them are funded through the university system. Most teach and the primary income is derived from tax-payer funding. So they are quasi-practices in my view. Granted it’s a ligitimate form of practise and has been around for some time, but let’s not look too emphatically at it as a model that can be sustained long term. Jennie’s comment about architecture not being that risky is a half-truth in my view. The reality is there is little business risk in quasi-practice models, with cashflow underpinned courtesy of the tax-payer.

    The real test for emerging practices is to nurture emerging markets that value and support the work produced and to do it in a full time gig. This often means that for every one transitional ‘key’ project, you do four not so cool projects that keep your business afloat. I honestly hope all of the current batch hang around for the long term – but there have been so many examples that have not sustained themselves for the long haul.

    Time to ’emerge’ from the university coat-tails perhaps? CODA recognized this, so too did IPH. Personally I’d like to see more mainstream uptake of young architects and their work, and less fear amongst young architects of academic scrutiny/retribution for the broader diveristy of work that is produced through such models. Architectural practise needs to be profitable to survive and not all projects need to win awards, if it ultimately leads to a larger uptake of architectural commissions overall – and that is also a very ‘straight talking, honest’ view.

    • I just read this thread, and felt obliged to make a comment – Andrew mentioned our firm, so it gave me an excuse to weigh in!

      I think the whole “tax-payer” funded / quasi-practice comment is a complete red-herring, and does no service to an intelligent discussion on practising architecture in Perth. I see no logic in labelling ‘practice’ one does whilst teaching at a university versus ‘practice’ one does whilst also designing “tuscan houses” as different, if in fact they are defined as “supporting” the legitimate practice of ‘Architecture’. Both of these positions are completely absurd. In my opinion, you are either a good architect, or an average one (and yes it is also possible to be a pretty bad one too…)

      Emma’s full time teaching, and my part time graphic design work supported early CODA projects, that is for sure – and without this cash flow we could not have survived. The money we earned from our other jobs did support us, but I think the real question is here is about the decisions ‘emerging’ practitioners have to make every day – “what kind of practice / practitioner do we want to be?” We decided from the outset that we wanted to do work that demonstrated what great architectural thinking could do, that was enjoyable and we felt made a positive difference to Perth. We also decided we didn’t want to do dross to support this ideal. We decided that great work can take the form of built projects, speculations, teaching, writing and more. It was a simple decision to make, but requires constant effort to remain committed to this ideal.

      We still make decisions every day about the kinds of clients we want to work with, and the kinds of projects we want to work on. Those decisions certainly get harder the more staff we have on board, but our logic for client/project selection has not changed since we founded CODA over a decade ago. We feel the responsibility of employing staff acutely. We aim to do great work always, and not feel like we need to do “bread and butter” to cover our costs. It is a very strange concept to have a practice based upon two types of architectural output – one for making money, and one for Architecture (with a capital A)

      As for CODA having “emerged from the coat-tails of the university” – I find this kind of commentary patronising, ill-informed and just plain weird. Seriously, Andrew, why don’t we have a whinge about how some architects were educated in private schools, and therefore get the better clients than public school students, and bring it all out in the open…jeez… The universities should, in my opinion, do MORE, not less to support practising academics. This happens at RMIT incredibly effectively, and I would applaud any moves by Curtin or UWA to have full time professorial roles for practitioners who can demonstrate great teaching outcomes and delivery of great projects. The idea that teaching can support you whilst you build up a practice, then if the “pendulum swings” you can drop teaching is strange. We continue to teach as part of the way we have decided to practice architecture. For us (and I suspect many practitioners) teaching is inextricably linked to practice as a way to develop our own skill and approach to projects.

      I am disappointed not to have been at the PS11 talk as I have a genuine respect for the speakers on the night. I would urge them to do whatever it takes to keep their practices developing, testing and working harder to make better and better architecture – although knowing a few of them I am fairly confident they are making their own way pretty well without my feeble encouragements!

      Thanks for the blog….

      Kieran Wong RAIA
      DIRECTOR

      CODA

      • You’ll note an apology Kieran to Officer Woods. If that extends to you and IPH as well then so be it.

        As for the uni day stuff – well that’s just a bit of tounge-in-cheek myth making at your end – it never existed – I think back in those days there was a mantra at uni of sorts – you either went along with it, or and I admit I was one of them, you didn’t.

        I believe that one was created by a somewhat “parodied architect” at one of the reviews. When the myth making happens you’re stuck with it a tad – until you leave uni that is and get on with life.

        How is it that then finds it’s way to this blog on this topic – I don’t think I brought it up?

        We run a successful practice Kieran in different markets to yours – we just don’t share your view of the world “architecturally speaking” . A bit like politics. We don’t do Tuscan but I’d take my hat off to someone who did a good one. Nothing wrong with that – a bit like Murcutt’s bespoke shed metaphor. Take something ordinary and re-invent it. Call it whatever you like name wise, and if there’s an acceptance in the public arena then great.

        I then re-detailed in my next post that not all practices are run the same and not all emerging one’s need to. It’s a different view – again something that seems at odds with a singular mindset. Emerging architects shouldn’t feel they have to remain closeted for their professional life due to some university thingy. I mean RMIT is great, but that’s VIC not Perth, why would we want to replicate that here? That’s a bit of an antipodean cringe.

        As for the common cause for good architecture versus average (or bad architecture) – that seems to be the right of the observer, I don’t think it’s our role to make that judgement – there are some pretty good examples of stuff us archi’s love that the public loathe. Besides give everything we’re doing 20-30 years and the value is realised then not in the present.

        Gee blogging is exhausting – but yes am glad this has generated debate – all good things come from healthy debate with opposing and differing opinions…..it’s what makes the world tick.

  3. We’re moved to respond to Andrew’s comments which he claims are straight talking and honest. We’re disappointed that he purports to know how our practice operates, presents his imagination of it as a ‘reality’, and in doing so questions our honesty. A quick phone call to check facts might have been useful prior to posting.
    We cannot speak for the way other practices operate, but for the record, here’s how ours works. Officer Woods is not funded through the University system. One of our employees, Jennie Officer, has a half time position at UWA. When Jennie is employed educating students, she is not working in practice at Officer Woods. Jennie’s individual teaching at UWA is a personal part-time second job, just like any second job undertaken by a part time worker. It is certainly not a cash-cow for Officer Woods; our cashflow is not ‘underpinned courtesy of the tax payer’, and to suggest so undermines both Jennie’s integrity in teaching and Officer Woods’ commitment to and success in practice.
    Officer Woods operate during full business hours, five days a week and our directors often work additional hours. We aim to sustain our practice long term and have completed a broad diversity of work. Officer Woods pays all staff, including all students, award wages or above, is fully insured and a registered Australian Corporation.
    We do not identify ‘key transitional’ projects and ‘bread and butter’ ones to keep our practice afloat. We invest the same amount of energy and thinking into each and encourage our peers to scrutinise all of our work. Our wide engagement with architecture and commitment to workplace flexibility leads to sound architectural outcomes, which in turn leads to commissions. We are baffled and insulted by being branded as a quasi-practice model with a primary income derived from tax payer funding.

    • Thanks for your comments Officer Woods. Agreed, perhaps you should check facts first Andrew, although at least it’s a good start for discussion. It seems a lot of successful firms have involvement with the unis. Perhaps this leads to better architecture as there is a separate focus to work, work, work all day. But as OW says, most of the people I know who work at uni and practice, are at uni in their own time. It’s a lot of time to be focussed on architecture, and yet seems to improve the practice, rather than ‘tire’ it, which I find interesting. It’s also a good way to ‘give back’ to the unis and allow students to learn from real practitioners rather than lecturers who may not have professionally practiced for years. I know I would have much preferred this when I was at uni. What do others think? Do you work and tutor / lecture? What are the benefits to your practice?

  4. Well I did say I’d cop some stick for it. It’s an observation more than anything as it seems that most of the new practices seem to emerge favouring the uni-affiliated model as the only option. I did qualify this with saying it was a legitimate form of practice though. I also said that the work was fanatasic at the outset as well – Officer Woods included. Not sure where the staff and company entity stuff came from ………….

    As for offending the practice it wasn’t intentional, so I offer an apology on that front. Perhaps quasi-practice was a bit strong a term? It’s what we used as a term when we started out – it shouldn’t be seen as derogatory. We didn’t teach, but we did other things like contract work for larger firms. The term is not hugely important though. I should have clarified it with saying when you start out you often have no clients and no income, so teaching is often one of the only options – right at the start the income therefore is more weighted on the uni side than the commission side – at that point the uni is helping establish practice and they allow this under their employment terms – not sure why that should offend by highlighting that? So the tax-payer does cover that model to an extent. Eventually that pendalum swings and you no longer need to teach.

    I guess my point is that the model in the public forum that is evident in so many new practices is the same. Perhaps because its cool? I’m more suggesting that there needs to be more support for other models and views. Not all of us produce sub-standard work because we choose not to have an affiliation with a uni. I don’t agree that all the succesful work comes from firms involved with uni’s either – not true – that’s a bit dimissive don’t you think? It also depends on the audience and who’s viewpoint you take – the client, the market or just other architects? I think that you’ll find that HIA or REIWA members have far more peer support than the broader sprectrum of AIA members.

    For example why is it that if a young architect chooses to start out designing two-storey Tuscan homes or Hamptons style homes in order to have their own firm and hopefully improve that type of housing – then gets dismissed by our profession for doing so? Is the public really that wrong when the uptake of that type of work is about 95% compared to our market portion? Are we snobs? Are we missing an opportunity to ask why is that by dismissing it outright? There’s a certain smugness in that type of retort.

    If there’s to be a greater uptake of younger architectural practices in the mainstream though I do think that sometimes the whole theory based thing is not the only option. There are some architects practising in my view that have far more succesfull practices by merging things like Architecture and Construction. There are 2 in particular that do this well – John Lewis and Fernando Faugno (through COX) – why not get the Government’s Office to get them to give a talk – just for a different view point? Maybe a singular midset needs to be set aside and we celebrate practice success with no design prejudice?

    Just for the record – other examples of self-start practices are – contract based or JV practices (for example setting up practice and continuing as the design architect for developers or builders), permanent novated practices (to say a home builder) – where the architect gets regular commissions through the builder, model making and other specialised contract work like 3D animation and drafting and even working in real estate and helping home buyers purchase worthy properties. I also think the design-construct practice is on the rise in Perth – partly because Builders are starting to infilltrate the highly architect-coveted single residential market with considerable success.

    • Ok, fair enough, some good points there. Though just want to point out, I didn’t say ALL successful works are done by firms with a uni-affiliation, there’s not that many lecturers / tutors around! I just find it interesting that many who have directors / associates at uni produce such good results when they must have time / energy pressures from having a foot in both camps.

      I like the comment on the snobbishness of architects, was actually just thinking about that today when I heard another architect-designed project home builder ad on the radio on the way to work. Its true, why do we look down on these architects, who are actively spreading the message to the wider community that architecture is affordable and has value?

      So by all accounts it looks like we need some better methods of procurement for (generally commercial and public…) architecture. Matt (below) also makes a good comment about the weighting of tenders towards experienced firms. So where to from here. We all need to support each other as a community – but when it comes down to it when you get a job that you know another firm could do better, would you actively tell the client to go elsewhere? How do we use our collective voice to ensure better architectural outcomes? And what role should the GA, AIA, DIA, industry associations etc play in making sure the architecture is appropriate to the client / brief / site? It is interesting this PS talk was about Advocating Architecture. And those who spoke mentioned how they personally advocated for architecture, but I think the profession as a whole needs better advocates, to speak for us collectively , when the smaller / newer (dare I say emerging anymore?) / less experienced firms may not have the opportuntities and networks to advocate for themselves.

  5. This is actually an interesting one and something that deserves debate.

    I did notice that Andrew did predicate his comments with the fact that the practices he was discussing are fantastic, I therefore didn’t see the offence as much – however my practice was not “in the firing line” so maybe that should be taken with a grain of salt. Posturing and ass covering aside – I do have a few things to add to the mix, based largely, on quite possibly, very similar frustrations that lead Andrew to penning his comments.

    I set up Co-praxis in 2001 – we were very much a “quasi practice” as I was net yet registered and lived in the limbo world of working out how on earth to present the company in those first four to five years. We did some good work in those early, unregistered years – I feel this was borne out when I was able to register the practice in 2006 and then won an Architecture Award for Multi residential housing for a project designed back in ’02 and completed in ’04. One would have thought that now as an “award winning’ and “architectural” practice we would be on our way – not so.

    Because of my “late registration” we were not eligible for any government panels until 2010 – we were accepted into the “small and emerging” panel over 18months ago now – we are yet to receive a single commission – not even a toilet block – despite repeated queries as to why and meetings on the same. We have never been invited by the office of the Government Architect to do work, nor had our name put forward by them either ( to our knowledge). Despite applying for many many tenders we have only won one – and that was in conjunction with a builder for a D&C tender. We feel this is largely as tenders are biased towards larger or more established companies who can demonstrate “experience” and not just quality – read any tender package and you will see this is a dominant criteria (up to 30-35% weighting) – in my mind this is anti competitive, I am not the only firm who has complained about this. You may say that is because we write poor tenders – possibly true. But I would point out that when things become anonymous we have been incredibly successful at being short-listed and winning several anonymous competitions. We have also had some (minor) success at the Architecture Awards

    Given the above, we do feel our credentials are bona-fide and we are not a practice without architectural merit – yet we do not feel support in any way from the BMW, the Government Architect or our university “Old School Tie” effect. Indeed we have, like many small practices, very much struggled for the last couple of years, a struggle that is teetering on the edge of success at the moment due entirely to private commissions.

    It does seem to us that the road we have chosen to hoe, is in fact a risky proposition, I believe our ex members of staff, will back us in that. We have ALWAYS strived to make EVERY commission we do have honest forthright architectural investigation and solutions are wrought over and highly developed.

    There are small practices out there who really struggle that have real talent – these practices are not being supported by the Government Architect, they are being hampered by favouritism and the status quo. Some practices seem to be able to break into that circle and in Andrew’s defence it does often seem to be those who have close university affiliations or are actively put forward by the Government Architects office. I know of people who own their own practice who have had to take on part time jobs to pay the bills, both tutoring at uni or as lowly as a “glassy” at the local hotel – I was (not the only) one of them.

    I think the question is, not what is a “real” or “quasi” practice but why on earth do we need to resort to these measures in our profession and our profession alone? Could you imagine a lawyer or doctor having to resort to such measures?

    Thanks Andrew for starting a debate, thanks OW for shedding more light. Maybe we should put away the knives and support each other as a profession – I for one, highly respect both practices, I want to see more of their work, not just in talks but on our streets. I want to see architecture work as a profession because whilst the design side appears to be on a sharp incline with regards to quality of late, the profession itself is still in dire straits.

    phew ( sorry I tend to rant)

    • Oh, and what’s the deal with being on the governments ‘small and emerging’ panel for over eighteen months and it not leading anywhere? Is this normal? Are other firms getting the work or is there just nothing coming out? I find similar with the government’s education panel. Even though we have been on there for probably five years and keep tendering, the major projects keep going to the same old, same old companies. Although I wouldn’t say any firm is not entitled to a project, there has to be some merit in revolving the design ideas through different companies.

  6. Just looking through the other posts – this has generated the most comments – in my mind only a good thing!

    I would like to leave three further thoughts and then sign off (as you’ve all probably heard enough from me)

    working from two Perth Architecture quotes
    “– but when it comes down to it when you get a job that you know another firm could do better, would you actively tell the client to go elsewhere?”
    I feel the point is that here, the tenders are written in a way where perceived experience favours larger firms but we all KNOW (having worked in them) that the smaller tenders get farmed out to young graduates who very often have MUCH less experience than the principals and senior architects in smaller firms who would be on the job. The industry is in no hurry however to educate the project managers and tender officers that architecture is ultimately done by people not corporations

    “what’s the deal with being on the governments ‘small and emerging’ panel for over eighteen months and it not leading anywhere? Is this normal? Are other firms getting the work or is there just nothing coming out?”
    I know I am not the only one, one practice (unamed) resorted to taking their gripes to the minister before they got any work. The Emerging Architects panel is to foster new practices and “train them up” on smaller projects so they can ultimately take on larger work and increase the competition (and hopefully quality) in the “full” panel – I would think this is the GA’s responsibility to ensure this happens – it does not!

    and one from CODA
    “Emma’s full time teaching, and my part time graphic design work supported early CODA projects, that is for sure – and without this cash flow we could not have survived.”
    I know what you are talking about, I made the decision to run my practice a certain way and as a result also had to supplement ( as I mentioned ) through both bar work and teaching at both unis – the bigger question (and I must be misreading it because I though that was the point of the post) is WHY do we need to do that, Architecture is haemorrhaging in terms of fees and job opportunities, it is a tough business to be in and takes constant vigilance to stay true to your principles, some of us therefore find ways to support ourselves through by engaging in the uni system. Others make models, or do 3D renders or dabble in property. Again I go back to doctors and lawyers – they generally donate their time to universities as the unis can’t afford them (in sessional/guest roles), they also do not support themselves from external interests. But its not just those two industries. An ex employee of mine is now a commercial photographer of some note – he regularly demands a fee equivalent to a DA fee for a medium size commercial project for a week’s work – and he is paid it without too much question. I see the debate as ‘why is architecture apparently not robust enough as a profession to allow newcomers to compete on equal playing fields and support itself without the need for external income or support?’

    and now back to earning money to feed my children:-)

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