After 17 years working in Germany, Damien McQuillan moved back to Port Lincoln on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula to set up his own holistic regional architecture practice, which is committed to client-centred decision-making and developing strong relationships with builders and trades. Damien’s landscape designer wife Uta Enneking-McQuillan has since joined the cross-disciplinary practice, now renamed E+MQ Design.
Name of firm: E+MQ Design (Damien McQuillan Architect)
Location: Port Lincoln, South Australia
We respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Barngala and Nauo people, and pay respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
When was the practice established and what were its early ambitions? How has the practice evolved over time?
My practice was established in January 2008. Early ambitions were to provide a holistic architectural service to regional South Australia, specifically the Eyre Peninsula. The practice has now expanded to provide more distinct Interior Design and Landscape Design services. My wife Uta has now joined the practice as a Landscape Designer.
What is the practice philosophy?
To provide a service encompassing Architecture, Interiors and Landscaping as a holistic built environment endeavour.
Can you tell us about a key project or business initiative that provided a turning point in the life of the practice?
My practice was informed by my time in Germany (17 years) where each project involved all aspects of design input from building through to landscaping and furniture/interior design. There was also a strong collaboration with the building trades to achieve the most informed outcomes. This intent on early collaboration with builders and individual trades at the beginning of the design process has become pivotal for myself and my clients to achieve design and budget aspirations.
What are some of the most important business lessons you have learned?
To develop and communicate a clear process of design and documentation delivery to the client, setting out clearly the inputs, expected outcomes and clear demarcation of scope and responsibility from the outset of the relationship.
What have been the biggest challenges and successes in recent years?
Keeping abreast of the increasing administration and continuing professional development requirements for our industry in a time and resource poor situation as a sole practitioner.
Successes have been an expansion of my work stream to include overseas projects.
Does your regional location provide additional obstacles to overcome?
Initially for the professional development side but this has been alleviated through increasing online access. It is, however, a lonely existence with little to no personal or social contact with professional colleagues.
The COVID years have proved very challenging, with many restrictions and additional stresses. Were there any positive changes that you plan to take forward?
As stated above, it has been easier to access and keep abreast of professional development. The exodus of people out of the urban areas towards regional cities has meant an increase in the amount and quality of projects coming across my desk.
What are the biggest issues involved in running the practice in 2023?
Risk management of larger projects as a sole practitioner. I am trying to minimise this risk via collaborations with colleague friends who have specialist knowledge and skills in Adelaide.
Overheads are increasing in insurances, subscriptions and cost of compliance issues.
How has technology impacted on how you conduct business?
It has made it easier to communicate ideas and pursue work from outside my regional setting.
How do you market your practice?
Mainly word of mouth coupled with social media. Also, by establishing close collaborations with the building industry trades in my region.
What are the ambitions for the practice?
To produce good quality work at sustainable fee levels and maintaining good mutual respect within the building trade industry.
Where do you see the business in the next five years?
Hopefully doing less quantity of work but higher quality work at good fee levels
If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?
Get a marketing and /or business qualification under your belt.
If you had advice for architects considering a sea/treechange, what would it be?
Establish good relationships with the building industry in the region and get involved in the community on a voluntary level.
How long have you been a member of the ACA? And a committee member?
I have been a member since October 2019.
What do you see are the main benefits of involvement?
Very relevant PD offering and a more business-orientated approach to tackling architectural issues and practice.
What future initiatives would you like to see the ACA pursue?
Financial incentives/discounts to allow regional practitioners to attend more city-based PD or social events due to additional travel and accommodation expense incurred.