Winter Architecture4 May 2019
For emerging practice Winter Architecture, location is no obstacle to team collaboration, with employees located around Australia. Here, Director Jean Graham describes the practice’s origins, ambitions and determination to remain flexible, agile and openminded.
When was the practice established and what were its early ambitions? How has the practice evolved over time?
Winter Architecture was officially launched in July 2016. I had been working as a sole practitioner but felt isolated, particularly after working in big firms where there is always a team involved. Starting out, I wanted to separate myself from the title of the practice and acknowledge the fundamental role a team plays in producing architecture. On reflection, this move was a really positive one. I think it’s really clear in the way that we work now and the work that we produce.
The business grew quicker than expected, and managing that growth was incredibly challenging. Undoubtedly though, the projects are richer from the greater input and collaboration possible with a larger team. Working remotely was something that also unexpectedly evolved over time. When some of our team needed to move interstate, we, of course, wanted to retain our great team and so decided to see their moves as an opportunity. It was challenging, as it is not necessarily common practice in architecture. It was somewhat of an experiment that we think has been quite successful.
What is the practice philosophy?
Winter Architecture is a collaborative architecture practice located in Fitzroy and Torquay. With projects in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania, we work alongside a range of design professionals within our community to provide each of our clients with a unique tailored level of design expertise.
Our design approach employs an acute sensitivity to site conditions and client needs, responding to each site in an amalgamative process, uncovering unique possibilities and site potential. We believe in detailing simplicity into each project, through both design and delivery, and in all aspects of practice. Our team of architects and designers have extensive experience in small to large scale residential and commercial project delivery, offering our clients a diverse team of professionals for each project brief.
Can you tell us about a key project or business initiative that provided a turning point in the life of the practice?
A key turning point was transitioning to an entirely cloud-based business platform. This took about three months to properly come into effect and required the whole team to be onboard. Now that this system is effectively in place, it is an incredibly valuable resource in streamlining operations, centralising all of our information, and enabling the team to work from any location.
Kinley Cricket Club. Photos: Nicole England.
What are some of the most important business management lessons you have learned?
Working remotely brings challenges too, including social isolation. As a business leader, you need to provide options to your staff to facilitate their move too. I've learned that this means arranging share spaces or office exchanges to allow them the opportunity to engage with other people and the local architecture scene. Towards the end of last year, we were able to facilitate a workspace exchange with Phillip Stejskal Architecture in Fremantle, Western Australia. One of our team was moving to Perth, and one of Phil's team was moving to Melbourne, so it was only a matter of transferring desk space.
What have been the biggest challenges and successes in recent years?
Changes in the team are always challenging, whether it be new arrangements or team members leaving. You rely so much on each other as a team – when this changes everyone needs to be onboard in facilitating the changes that come as a result. Of course, great new people and great new projects can often come about from new team members and remaining open to change. I suppose our open-mindedness and agility as a business has led to a number of successful collaborations and interstate work. It’s really hard to say what is right and wrong. Sometimes a decision you perceive as wrong at the time ends up leading to a really positive outcome. The risk is always in the unknown.
Jean Graham. Photo: Sayher Heffernan.
What are the biggest issues involved in running the practice in 2019?
I think currently there is well-known volatility in the economy, which is always a concern for architects and small business. Although this is an issue in architecture when predicting acquiring work and predicting future revenue, we feel that our agility and enthusiasm will continue to enable us to deal with these challenges.
How has technology impacted on how you conduct business?
As our practice operates from a range of locations, we rely on the Google suite cloud-based shared platform and Hangout video conferencing. Technology is a valuable tool for the business. It provides us with a solid, shared and consistent platform for the whole team to operate from, regardless of their location. Although it is a great tool for business, it doesn’t change the way that we design. When dealing with clients, it’s still very much about meeting in person. We still feel the need to resolve things by sketching, opening a book, testing materials or model-making. As architects we value the real, tangible aspects of our world. It’s impossible to explore these through technology alone.
How do you market your practice?
Marketing is something that we have only recently begun to turn our attention to. All of our projects so far have come from referrals from clients and consultants. We strive to engage, as much as possible, with industry events and talks, although we’re probably more generally interested in these rather than utilising them as tools for marketing. We use bowerbird as a tool for general publication and are often directly approached by publications and blogs. I suppose our methods of marketing are something that we’ll continue to explore in future, particularly as more exciting projects are completed.
What are the ambitions for the practice?
We are in the process of registering for the Construction Supply Register. The team has a great deal of collective experience in the education sector, and with our systems well in place, we think that we're well poised to make some really clever contributions to that space. We're continually looking to collaborate, and really value the outcomes and relationships that come from this process, so we'll definitely look to more collaborative ventures, particularly across larger scale works in Australia and perhaps even internationally!
Where do you see the business in the next five years?
Hopefully in the next five years we’ll continue to grow. We want to be more multi-faceted, working on all types of projects as a bigger team. Hopefully, there'll be more than one director, too. Although we may be considered as an emerging practice, we certainly feel as though our systems are established and we're set to launch.
If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?
I'd recommend alleviating some of the financial stress early on by ensuring that you have one year's salary saved for yourself so that you can sustain the cash flow demands that will inevitably arise and focus your attention to building your business. Everyone tells you that it is really hard, and they're absolutely right. It's a long hard road, so buckle up.
Port Melbourne House. Photo: Nicole England.
The Winter Architecture team is pictured in the top image. From left: James Embry, Claire White, Jean Graham, Helen Pallot and Cara Rodrigues (Emily von Moger not pictured). Photo: Sayher Heffernan.