The Wellbeing of Architects: culture, identity + practice is a comprehensive, three-year research project, bringing together researchers and educators, practices and professional organisations to investigate the wellbeing of people working in and studying architecture.

This Australian Research Council–funded project investigates the wellbeing of people working in and studying architecture, and ultimately will develop tailored resources to contribute to greater wellbeing for these groups. Formally titled Architectural Work Cultures: Professional Identity, Education and Wellbeing, it is generally known by its nickname, The Wellbeing of Architects project. This is the first study to use interdisciplinary, qualitative and quantitative methods to question how workplace cultures and professional identity affect mental wellbeing in architecture – and thus lay the foundations for practical improvements in the future.

The research team

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers at Monash University’s Department of Architecture and Department of Management. Led by Professor Naomi Stead, the research team includes Professor Julie Wolfram Cox, Associate Professor Maryam Gusheh, Associate Professor Brian Cooper, Partner Investigator, Dr Kirsten Orr, the Registrar of the NSW Architects Registration Board, and postdoctoral research fellow, Byron Kinnaird, co-appointed between Monash and the NSWARB. The team also includes Data Analyst Tracey Shea, PhD candidate Jonathan Hines, and Research Assistants Yoana Doleva, Liz Battiston and Qudsia Iftikhar.

The project includes numerous industry-based research partners including regulatory bodies such as the NSW Architects Registration Board, peak industry groups such as the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) and Association of Consulting Architects (ACA), as well as the peak body representing architecture schools – the Association of Australasian Schools of Architecture (AASA). In addition, the project has six practices as research partners – architectural offices committed to improving employee wellbeing in relation to culture and community. They are (in alphabetic order): BVN, DesignInc, Elenberg Fraser, The Fulcrum Agency, Hassell, and SJB.

The research will be undertaken in and with these partners, but will also expand outward to involve the full spectrum of Australian architectural education and practice. With the ambition to cover all stages of the career continuum from the first day of architecture school until the day of retirement, it will also attempt to capture the experiences of workers in small and medium as well as large practice.

The project is conducted in collaboration with Justine Clark, building upon Stead’s earlier and longstanding work with Clark on Parlour. The Parlour project provides a model of research-based advocacy leading to major cultural change in the profession, nationally and internationally, through knowledge-sharing, policy and community-building. It is hoped that this project may have some of the same impact, this time with the focus on work-related wellbeing.

Aims and proposed outcomes

The aim of the research is to determine exactly what effects – both positive and negative – result from work cultures and professional identity in architecture. More than this, it will go beyond knowledge to action in the profession, towards cultural change. The project encompasses a range of research activities including 12 in-depth pilot interviews with key stakeholders; two major surveys of practitioners and students respectively, which have recently been completed and are now being analysed; a series of focus groups (including with sessional and permanent academics, PhD students, recent graduates, and practitioners at every career stage) to deepen and test findings from the surveys; a series of industry forums and discussions throughout the three years; and follow-up surveys with practitioners and students, in the third year of the project, to give a longitudinal aspect.

The project builds upon an earlier literature review on ‘Architects and Mental Health,’ commissioned by the NSW Architects Registration Board under the leadership of then-Registrar Tim Horton in 2016. It also builds upon international research, which argues that aspects of architectural work culture can have a negative effect on the wellbeing of students and practitioners. While there is a strong and widespread perception of similar problems in Australia, there has so far been insufficient applied research to definitively prove that is the case.

Ultimately, the project proposes a series of events, forums, discussions, actions and interventions to improve the work- and study-related wellbeing of architects and architecture students. It will produce two toolkits to assist the profession to support cultural change across educational, workplace and institutional settings. In this way it hopes to produce better outcomes for all members of this unusual and strongly-identified cohort, which stands at the intersection of the creative and construction industries, as both a cultural and technical practice.

More information

For more information, see the special Parlour session on the Wellbeing of Architects practitioner survey initial findings, with presentations from Naomi Stead, Byron Kinnaird and Tracey Shea; and an update on the first practitioner survey results by Naomi Stead.

Also see the regular video updates from Justine Clark, Naomi Stead, Byron Kinnaird and Maryam Gusheh.