Chi Melhem advises to do your research and find a practice that aligns with your values and the work you want to do.

Chi Melhem

Chi Melhem is a Director of Tzannes Architects and Implementation Leader of the Architects Champions of Change Group.

Economic downturns & lessons learned

There was a definite shift in the role of the architect as a result of the GFC. Fees were cut to win projects, and as a result scope was reduced. The unrealistic time frames from the various stimulus packages also meant practices were not delivering the same level of service to their clients, either as a result of the financial pressure and/or the unreasonable briefs. The design architect vs the executive architect became much more defined following the GFC and the division of skills in the profession has resulted in a wider schism of those who design and those who document. Architecture is much more holistic than this.

As a profession, we need to be cognisant of the changes to the industry post-COVID and ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes of the GFC. When the next round of stimulus packages are inevitably provided, we need to ensure we don’t undercut fees and services to win work. It needs to be a collective agreement in the profession.

Opportunities for the profession

COVID-19 has highlighted the benefits of why face to face interactions are so important, but it has also demonstrated that it is possible to work flexibly. The opportunities moving forward is for the profession to understand how to balance the benefits of remote working and integrate this into the ‘new normal’ when we return to the office.

More importantly, the leadership of practices have all been forced to work flexibly and experience how it can be possible. This hopefully will help provide a platform for more practices to understand that it is possible for leadership positions to be performed under flexible working arrangements. Adopting flexible working and remote working will make it easier for primary carers to manage their time and potentially increase/spread their work availability, which hopefully will improve opportunities for women to be considered for more leadership positions.

COVID-19 has also highlighted the importance of mental health; opportunities to have this integrated into workplace management as standard practice will contribute to improved workplace culture (as long as leadership are responsive and committed).

The profession & your future

We are in a difficult economic time at the moment; however, persevere and try not to compromise in the first instance. Start with creating an A, B and C list. For your “A” list, think about what your first choices should be. Entering the profession is more than just finding a practice that produces buildings; it’s finding a practice that aligns with who you want to become as an architect and whose practice values align with the type of architecture you want to produce as well as the type of people you want to work with. On top of this, good workplace culture is an incredibly important environment to ensure skills are grown, opportunities are provided and your time and contribution is both acknowledged, respected and remunerated accordingly. Do your research and talk to your peers. Look to leaders of the practices you are interested in; the culture, values and talent of a practice is embodied in their leaders. There are many good practices out there; you just need to find the one that aligns with you.

If your “A” list doesn’t eventuate, what are your second choices in the “B” list that might not tick all of your preferences, but may still provide you with the parts of the experience you need to start your career?

The “C” list is not necessarily a last resort, but rather an alternate strategy that may involve stepping into a different industry. For example, construction and project management can still provide you with a diverse experience that can only enhance and broaden your  skill set when you are able to return to architecture.

In all of the above steps, just keep in mind that architecture is a long game and a diverse profession. There are many pathways, so focus on finding the opportunities and don’t compromise on your values (ie, do not work for free or below award rates!).

Gaining employment
  • Working through your studies will give you great exposure to the profession and help to grow your skills and understanding of architecture to complement your academic experience.
  • Revit skills are highly valued.
  • Seek employment that aligns with the type of architecture you want to practice.
  • Research the firms you are interested in working for and understand what they are looking for and why they will want you to join them.
  • Put together a clear, well designed and focused CV and portfolio, which is tailored to the firm in which you are seeking employment.
  • Find your point of difference, align it with the job position you are seeking, and communicate that in your CV and portfolio.
  • Speak to a good recruiter to broaden your search and help refine your interview skills.
  • Find a good mentor.
  • Participate in industry events; you never know who you might meet and what you could learn.
Working in aligned fields & building skills

Architecture is a broad and diverse profession, which engages with many other industries to strengthen the richness of the spaces and places we create. Working in aligned industries provides you with great insight and experience, which will only enhance your skills when and if you decide to return to the profession. Think of it as a strategic sidestep that still allows you to be connected to architecture. You may find new opportunities present themselves and your interests may change as your exposure to the profession grows.