EKD Architects

Mike Sneyd , 22 August 2023

Keen to find a space to explore, get his hands dirty and maintain strong involvement in community, Mike Sneyd headed for Kununurra, where he set up as a sole trader in 2019. Today, his bush practice has grown from strength to strength, with two locations (Kununurra and Broome) and a small but growing team.

Name of firm: EKD Architects
Location: Kimberley, WA; Kununurra (HQ) & Broome
Size: 4–6 (seasonal fluctuations)

EKD Architects respectfully acknowledges the Elders and Traditional Owners in those regions, towns and cities where our staff operate (Kununurra, Wyndham, Halls Creek, Broome and Perth). Specifically we wish to recognise the Miriwoong, Gajerrong, Gija, Balanggarra, Yurriyangem Taam, Gooring, Malarngowem, Koonjie Elvire, Purnululu, Ngarrawanji, Uunguu, Wilinggin, Gajirrabeng, Gooniyandi Kija, Walmajarri Kwini, Jaru, Tjurabalan groups, Yawuru and Whadjuk Nyoongar people. We wish to acknowledge the strength of their continuing culture and offer our respects to Elders past and present.

Binarritha-yarr, gawooleng thoon jawaleng ngenayi-ngarnang Miriwoon-tha. Yirradayin dawanga-woorr

When was the practice established and what were its early ambitions? How has the practice evolved over time?

The practice started as me (sole trader) in Kununurra in the Kimberley in 2019, and for a bush practice it has grown rapidly as people have seen the value in “on the ground experience”. I guess there was a need for non-FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) architects and we filled it.

With my erratic personally, I never fitted into big corporate offices. I wanted to create a space where I fitted in, we could get our hands dirty, explore and do the right thing by the community.

In evolving from a one-man band in the study area of our home, we have built our own office and have developed our own industrial complex, allowing for some crazy concepts, ideas and test cases to show our clients and push the limits of what we do. This has also allowed us over time to become selective of our clients and the places we work.

What is the practice philosophy?

Semi-socialists with a capitalist conflict.

I would love to just run around the bush helping people and pushing the limits of architecture. The reality is, we all need to pay the bills. We use the funds from some government projects to help offset the costs of running a practice in the bush, training, promoting architecture in the country, and reducing the services cost of working for not-for-profits.

We also realise performance is linked to balance; work is a conduit to recreation. While I’m still working on (struggling with) my own work/life balance, I know it’s not healthy for your life to be 100% about work. I encourage everyone to pursue hobbies – whether it be Matt hanging out with the family or Toni pursuing her aspirations to be a rodeo bull-rider.

Can you tell us about a key project or business initiative that provided a turning point in the life of the practice?

I think most practices strike gold the moment they get awarded their first substantive job. It’s about how we have leveraged that – and our location. While we have massive overheads in our two locations, it has definitely been to our advantage in providing value to our clients at both the design and contract administrative phase.

What have been the biggest challenges and successes in recent years?

Staff, staff and more staff.

Most practices struggle to recruit and retain staff at the best of times. Add in a remote location, flooding, road closures, food shortages, housing costs, no childcare places and it’s a hard sell to move bush.

Does your regional location provide additional obstacles to overcome?

I guess the business opportunities balance out the challenges; however, our overheads are about triple what they would be if we were working in the city.

A few objectives and causes our practice has been pushing are:

  • The Construction training fund (CTF) – all people working on the projects should have access to these funds. We generate and “come up with” the projects, yet we are left by the wayside in helping the next generation train and grow the architectural industry. If one of my Graduates was a plumbers’ apprentice, we would be getting an extra $40k to place them in a remote location, yet they are counted on the site equal employment registers (go figure??)
  • Regional loading on fees – we are still a long way to reaching equality between the city and the bush. It costs more to deliver, train and operate here. All other industries place a regional loading, yet consultants don’t. This means it’s difficult to be competitive. That’s until clients factor in the disbursement costs (if they do).
  • Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service NDIS Centre
  • Purnululu Community School
  • Purnululu Community School

How did the COVID years affect practice in the regions?

Most regional businesses have thrived because of COVID. It’s forced people to find their own backyard. The timing of it was optimal as it allowed me to catch my breath and prepare for growth. It also showed the importance of local.

In amongst that, it was awesome to see people returning to remote communities and rediscovering home.

If there is another world event like the one we saw recently, I think the safest place is as far away from population centres as possible.

What are the biggest issues involved in running the practice in 2023?

Staff, staff and staff.

The competition from the south is increasing as the industry slows down, but there are also opportunities for more collaboration.

How has technology impacted on how you conduct business?

COVID has allowed us to actually have a seat at the table; before we were unseen to the city-based stakeholders and I struggled with CPD and networking. Tech has allowed us to operate better through Zoom Calls, Starlink, BIM and the like. It all helps us be better.

How do you market your practice?

We don’t. A yarn and a handshake goes a long way.

  • Balangarra – Site of the Home Valley Station cultural centre
  • Parry Creek Farm tourist resort

What are the ambitions for the practice?

We are fore-planning to upgrade our operations in Broome, pushing and developing the Kimberley and northern vernacular by putting our money where our mouth is.

We are actively trying to get more people from low SES and remote backgrounds into architecture. We visit schools and communities and talk about what architects do. We try to employ locally and work with clients who offer local job pathways.

Where do you see the business in the next five years?

Even though the firm is currently my “baby”, I don’t want to have total control, I want the next generation of local and First Nations people to step up and take over.

I see us evolving it to a collective of multiple practices in a variety of locations, delivering projects locally with a network support of regional practices.

If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?

Find a financially stable partner to support you or bulk buy two-minute noodles in preparation.

If you had advice for architects considering a sea/treechange, what would it be?

Do it for the right reasons. Embrace the challenges and become a community member.

How long have you been a member of the ACA?

Three years

What do you see are the main benefits of involvement?

The note packs and advice are tailored to running a small practice. It’s great to have the HR support.

What future initiatives would you like to see the ACA pursue?

I think advocating to make sure we don’t have a race to the bottom with fees as we approach hard economic times.

Also, ensuring we can get a slice of the training funds that are given to construction workers.