Downturns can provide opportunities for critical reflection for individuals, practices and the profession as a whole, says Ben Green.
Ben Green is a Director of Tzannes Architects and a member of the Architects Champion of Change group.
Economic downturns & lessons learned
One of the biggest lessons I learned through the GFC was the fact that we can lead complex and large-scale projects while working flexibly and part time when you work collaboratively with a great team. I was working as a project architect on the design of two large apartment buildings and public spaces when the GFC hit. Our practice reduced costs by reducing our employment hours. Our team for the project was very well structured in terms of skills and cover for the project and we were able to successfully deliver the project in these circumstances. The client and builder were also very accepting of our availability and way of working. The additional free time was also quite nice, so I kept these hours for some years after it was required by the practice. This time also helped transform the thinking of our practice and we have had a number of our senior team working part time on major projects since then.
Opportunities for the profession
One of the benefits of the downturn in work in comparison to the previous years of practice is to have time for critical reflection on what we have done in the past. This reflection needs to take place across the full spectrum of practice, from the design of the smallest projects to the delivery of cities, how we confront the main issues of our society, from the climate emergency to social equity, and also our profession, from how we teach and mentor our architects, to our employment conditions and our business practices.
The profession & your future
It’s a very challenging time but students and graduates should try to see this as an opportunity to get diverse experiences any way they can. Work opportunities may not be what they anticipated in type or scale of practice, type or even place of work, but they should take these opportunities where they are and make the most of them. I’m often surprised by the opportunity to take thinking from one field or area of expertise into another and this being a platform for innovation. Diverse working experience is a great way to build this knowledge. As work is less stable at the moment, it may also be an opportunity to work for a number of different practices in a short time, which is a great way of understanding what type of architect you would like to be.
Finally, it is also an opportunity to work in related fields and learn about architecture from other perspectives. I know a number of people who worked for builders during previous recessions and this was very positive for their development.
On a more cautionary note though, it is important that they value their skills and time and not succumb to predatory work practices that may seek to take advantage of the current employment climate. They must make themselves aware of the Award and their rights, and not accept less than this.
Be open minded to opportunity. It’s likely you won’t practice in the way you had imagined and that is not a bad thing. An open-minded, inquiring nature is very appealing to employers, as this curiosity can underpin your growth as an architect and your value to a practice.
Approach everyone but also try to keep your optimism as many firms may not have an opportunity for you. That doesn’t reflect a critique of you, just a recognition of the current context.
Working in aligned fields, further study & building skills
Definitely pursue these opportunities. The practice of architecture is very broad and there are opportunities to continue to develop architectural skills and understanding by working in the full breadth of architectural endeavour, whether it is education and research, government, for client-side organisations or in construction companies.
Another opportunity can be to work for yourself and start your own practice. Ensure you set up your business appropriately and be mindful of your skills and experience by assembling skilled teams to assist you in delivering your projects. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others in the profession for assistance and advice. Many good practices have started this way and during economic downturns.