Aileen Sage Architects
For Sydney-based Aileen Sage, early collaborations with artists, academics, innovators, larger architectural practices and other consultants have opened up a diversity of projects and opportunities.
When was the practice established and what were its early ambitions? How has the practice evolved over time?
When we established our practice in 2013, we wanted to start a small practice with an even balance of single residential and small public/community/commercial work. While our work and time balance reflected this ambition in the early years, the financial balance was uneven and extremely challenging.
Six years on, we feel we are now benefitting from the hard work and thinking we invested in those early years, and the financial balance across all of our projects – which are highly diverse – is more even and sustainable.
What is the practice philosophy?
To challenge the status quo and the norms in our field that are too often overlooked or too easily accepted.
The Pool, part of the Australian Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. Photo: Brett Boardman.
Can you tell us about a key project or business initiative that provided a turning point in the life of the practice?
There is not so much a single project, but rather a series of projects that have progressively led us to where we find ourselves currently. At first, they were competition or speculative projects where we made the conscious decision to invest our time to experiment – collaborating with people in varied fields such as artists, academics and innovators who we admired or found we had a particular synergy with. They have also been opportunities to collaborate with other larger architectural practices and with landscape architects, engineers and urbanists on larger scale projects within the public realm.
With each of these projects we have built on these relationships and the lessons we learned have now become the foundations of many of the projects we are working on currently – which are either now under construction, prototyping or detailed design and documentation phases.
The Cascades Female Factory Museum entry was a collaboration with Jean Rice Heritage Architect + Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.
What are some of the most important business management lessons you have learned?
It seems obvious to us now, but I think the most important business management lesson we have learned to date is to consider, as comprehensively as possible, the financial sustainability of how we run our business, and to forward plan for the inevitable ebbs and flows of time and work demands across all of our projects.
What have been the biggest challenges and successes in recent years?
Maintaining financial viability of the office which we have realised is key to our ability to deliver design excellence across all our projects.
What are the biggest issues involved in running the practice in 2019?
Time and staff management – getting the right people, working on the right projects with the time and budget allowances to suit our ambitions and the demands and expectations of our clients.
How has technology impacted on how you conduct business?
Time and bookkeeping programs such as Harvest and Xero have significantly improved our ability to better understand our own business and manage it more efficiently.
How do you market your practice?
Industry publications (both online and print media) and giving talks or lectures to a broad range of audiences including to the general public, within our industry, or to specific companies or institutions that have taken an interest in our work.
Word of mouth is still our best source of new projects.
Paddington Courtyard House. Photo: Tom Ferguson.
What are the ambitions for the practice?
To steadily build the capacity and experience of our office to deliver larger scale projects.
Where do you see the business in the next five years?
Delivering larger scale projects – but still across a diverse range of project types.
If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?
Be patient – the best opportunities and outcomes generally take a very long time.
How long have you been a member of the ACA?
A bit over a year.
What do you see are the main benefits of membership?
Access to a variety of contracts, such as client and sub consultancy agreements, professional support and advice.
What future initiatives would you like to see the ACA pursue?
Advocacy for the profession.
Portrait (top): Brett Boardman.