Bryant Alsop Architects13 August 2018
For Bryant Alsop, success comes from building strong relationships – with consultants, builders and suppliers as well as valued employees.
When was the practice established and what were its early ambitions? How has the practice evolved over time?
Sarah Bryant established the practice in Hawthorn, Melbourne in 2008 and Richard Bryant joined in 2012. Key to this move was a) having enough work and b) having other people in the practice! Our focus is on residential and education projects that are unique to our clients and their site, something that hasn’t changed dramatically in the subsequent decade. Our early ambitions were relatively simple – do good work for good clients, and try to strike a positive work-life balance, something that has become easier over the years.
What is the practice philosophy?
Listen, listen, listen! And to create a happy, harmonious and creative workplace where our team of eight want to come to work each day.
Can you tell us about a key project or business initiative that provided a turning point in the life of the practice?
All practices have multiple turning points across their lifespan, from your first employee to getting published to winning that ‘must-have’ project. Our first significant touchstone was our Beechworth house – we went out on a limb with the design, taking it well beyond our original brief. It was a strategy that paid off and won us our first new house, which has directly led to a number of other projects over the years.
What are some of the key business lessons you have learned?
Trust your initial instinct with projects and clients; if they start off being difficult or compromised, they never get resurrected. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t be afraid to make difficult phone calls when needed, particularly on the topic of money.
We continue to develop our relationship with a core team of consultants, builders and suppliers, who excel in their own arenas and through our association with this larger team continue to develop our own craft. We want to work with people who are fantastic at their jobs and love what they do!
What have been the biggest challenges and successes in recent years?
Each year brings a new wave of hurdles. Last year, for example. we had 12 projects under construction at the one time, which meant at least one site meeting every day! Whilst success can take on many guises, we’re fortunate to be running a practice that remains profitable, we have a great team around us, and are able to continue to work on projects we love.
What are the biggest issues involved in running the practice in 2018?
For us one of the major challenges is balancing cash-flow. Our education projects, in particular, can have a 3–4 month delay between payments, in which time you've still had to pay staff and consultants. Improving the efficiency of our work practices and keeping an eye on developing future projects remain key focuses for our business. On a daily basis, we need to remain in close contact with clients, when it’s easy to become consumed by project delivery and work production. It's also important to develop and coach staff as their skills develop.
How has technology impacted on how you conduct business?
The ability to remotely access files when on a rural property has made site management and client presentations more streamlined. We have also moved the office across to Revit, which has been a huge investment in time as much as money. We do, however, see a long-term benefit in the way we deliver our projects down the track.
Harvest has been a very useful tool to track time and costs and review current work as well as forecasting fees and workflow across future projects. Using specialised apps across various aspects of the business rather than a singular platform is how we see changes in technology being integrated into our practice.
How do you market your practice?
The key electronic platforms are our website and our Instagram account, although most of our work continues to come primarily through personal referrals. Architeam has also been a great conduit for clients looking to connect with the right architect for their project. In the education sector, it's a mix of continued dialogue with the people responsible for delivering the projects and ensuring that you do your work well.
What are the ambitions for the practice?
To continue to evolve and do work that continues to bring together new ideas and respond to the needs and aspirations of our clients. We also want to create a strong, vibrant and positive working environment for our team who are central to our continued successes.
We are looking to pursue larger, more complex projects either in our own right or in association with another practice. We are also establishing strategic alliances with specialist contractors to strengthen areas of our business where the additional expertise will help foster new opportunities.
Where do you see the business in the next five years?
Given the vagaries of clients, authorities and the economic environment, running an architecture practice is a fluid process at best. We are positive about the next five years and see the practice continuing to grow in size and confidence and doing larger, more varied work.
Continued involvement in industry bodies – whether through committees such as the ACA or the AIA MPF, or through opportunities such as awards juries – will remain important for the professional development of our practice. We also see our core group of staff continuing to develop their skills and leadership as they take on new and expanded roles and responsibilities.
If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?
Be brave and don’t shy away from the challenges that will arise. Above all, keep communication channels open and make sure you find enjoyment in what you’re doing!
Photos: Rhiannon Slatter (Ivanhoe stair and Kismet Park Primary School), Jack Lovel (Glen Isla) and Bryant Alsop (Gundowring).