ACA - SA State of the Profession Survey Report

7 April 2016

The ACA – SA State of the Architectural Profession survey provides the crucial research on the size, shape and characteristics of architectural practice in SA – the first study of its kind in Australia.

This important project provides a crucial snapshot of architectural practice in South Australia at the end of 2015. It reveals new data about the nature and size of architectural practices and structural change underway within the profession. It provides an important baseline for ongoing regular surveys to track changes in the status of the profession and emerging changes in the nature of practice. Such work is vital in providing hard evidence to develop strategies and support interventions to maintain the relevance, viability and influence of the architecture profession as a key shaper of the built environment.

South Australian architectural practices responded to the survey in high numbers. This strong response indicates a willingness on the part of the architectural community to engage with questions about the current state of the profession and to strategise for its possible futures. What becomes clear in comments made by many respondents is that the profession as a whole would benefit from a greater sense of combined action. This report is a beginning of that process of collective work.  

While many of the practices recorded a great number of challenges facing the profession, respondents also saw solutions and opportunities within these challenges. Although South Australia is one of the smaller states in the nation, many of the challenges and solutions would likely not markedly differ across the country. This survey was conceived as a pilot study and ACA – SA recommends that a similar survey be carried out regularly at a national level.

The survey results were launched on April 7 at an Architectural Practice Board SA event to welcome newly registered architects. Speaking at the event John Held, ACA – SA President, spoke of the importance of valuing the work of architects, and reiterated that this needs to start with the profession itself.

It’s often said that “Architects have their head in the clouds” – that they are only interested in design, that they can be impractical, and stubborn, and are not good at business. Much of the data shows low salaries, low proportions of graduates becoming registered, fee shrinkage, increased risk, and a competitive race to the bottom derive from those views within our profession.

Without compromising our design skills, we MUST become better at the business of architecture. We are the only group who can work in the fog of uncertainty at the start of the project, make sense of the chaos and bring order. And, going by our survey, we are often the only ones who were there at the start who are there at the end. So, as new professionals, work collaboratively to right some of the mistakes of your predecessors, aspire to run good, passionate AND compassionate practices, think of new ways to make a difference, and enjoy this most wonderful profession. 

Key survey findings 

  • Procurement of architectural services remains largely traditional, with 82% of respondents (80 practices) doing providing full service for an average of 60% of their work (assessed by income). Nonetheless many comments indicate an ongoing move away from full service, with full service work concentrated in particular sectors such as education and single residential work.  
  • Procurement of buildings via traditional tender is still the most popular strategy, with Design and Construct followed by Managing Contractor being the next most popular procurement options.
  • Larger practices are more likely to be involved in Design and Construct and Managing Contractor than sole practitioners and small practices (2–5 people).
  • A significant number of practices describe themselves as multidisciplinary, but this work is mostly being conducted by those with architectural training, and only a very small proportion of staff members are involved in non-traditional architectural services.
  • The majority of South Australian practices are based in South Australia only with small numbers operating interstate or affiliated with interstate practices and even smaller numbers operating overseas.
  • Collaboration between practices is common, with smaller practices typically working with other South Australian practices and larger practices tending to work with interstate or overseas practices.
  • The establishment of new practices appears to peak during economic recessions.
  • A significant number of practices undertake unpaid work, predominantly as speculative work for either existing clients or potential new clients. Pro bono work accounts for approximately 35% of the unpaid work. Larger practices are more likely to undertake unpaid work.
  • Nett fee income levels appear low, particularly for sole practitioners and small practices.
  • Residential work is a major component of the work of sole practitioners and small practices, while commercial and institutional work is the predominant source of larger practice’s work.
  • Gender stereotypes continue to be played out in South Australian practice with very few women at Director level, men dominating employment numbers in all levels of practice and a surprisingly low level of women graduates employed. Interior Design is the only professional area where there appear to be significantly more women than men, which is also replicated with administrative staff. 
  • Traditional work practices dominate the profession, with the majority of people employed as full-time and only very low numbers in a part-time capacity or with flexible hours. These work practices may in part explain the low participation of women working in architectural practices.
  • Fee shrinkage is the greatest challenge facing the profession, closely followed by greater risk architects are expected to bear and competition from other sectors.

In addition to the hard data collected the survey attracted significant discursive responses. These provide a useful insight into the profession and identify areas for future action. Themes that emerged include:

  • While sole practitioners and small practice are the dominant forms of practice in South Australia, they do not feel that their needs are well met by existing professional organisations.
  • The profession needs to address fee shrinkage caused by a competitive ‘race to the bottom’.
  • Low fees are undermining an ability for staff to be well paid and for the profession to attract the ‘best and the brightest’.
  • BIM and 3D documentation are seen as an opportunity for the profession to regain a leadership role.
  • The importance of design must be promoted for architects to have continuing relevance. 

The knowledge gained through this survey is complemented by two further reports: Architects in SA – a view from the APBSA data, and Architects in SA – a view from the census, both undertaken by Gill Matthewson on behalf of the ACA – SA.  

Download the full reports here

The State of the South Australian Architecture Profession: Survey results and report

Architects in SA – a view from the census  

Architects in SA – a view from the APBSA data

About the research project

The ACA – SA State of the Profession Survey was conducted by the SA Branch of the Association of Consulting Architects in November 2015. It was undertaken as part of the State of the Profession research project, led by John Held and Susan Phillips and funded by a grant from the Architectural Practice Board of South Australia.

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