Not Just a Matter of Good Design

Michael Lewarne , 26 February 2019

As architects, we should be selling our ability to realise a well-constructed, quality, safe building rather than focusing solely on design, argues Michael Lewarne.

1 - Not Just Good Design

The hero shot says it all.

We design impressive buildings, Nuff Said, right?

Architects deceive.

Too many architects describe their job as designing buildings, with their emphasis on designing. With the description followed by a monologue on the quality of their design work and the importance of design. All true. However, if you were to ask an architect how their tasks for the week break down, I’d hazard a guess that actual design time was well less than 50% of their time. It’s certainly true for me. That’s not to say we’re sitting on our hands, drinking single origin dark roast piccolos or flicking through the latest glossy architectural publication fresh out of the plastic wrap. There’s plenty of important work we do for our clients that doesn’t include design.

Here’s the thing. It’s crazy hard taking that hero shot, because it’s crazy hard actually getting a building designed and built well in the first place. That photo is an infinitesimally small and inadequate representation of what it took to get the building to completion. So why is it that this is the story, literally and metaphorically, that architects persist in telling? The story of how beautiful the building is, how extraordinary the design, and how important all that is? It’s an important part of the story but it’s only a part of it. The question that interests me is: Is that the story that clients want to hear?

As an architect, what if instead of solely trying to sell the quality of our buildings and the importance of good design, we sell what we do in realising a building and how we do it? Not only that, but also how incredibly hard it is to do well and how good we are at doing it? We are generalists, we have a broad skillset, we should own that, and declare that. How might we better sell this skillset? These are capabilities that can build a more assured and emotional connection to the profession of architecture. How then might we do that in such a way that resonates?

In light of the recent building failures, the Grenfell, Lacrosse and Neo200 fires, as well as the Opal tower construction problems, what if architects were to describe their job in terms of what we really do when realising buildings? In terms that build an emotional connection to the profession.

“We work hard to keep our clients safe.”

Safe in the process, the quality of design, the construction, the materials and so on.
Safe in the change about to be effected.

We are highly skilled and across all aspects of a building project from conception to completion. We don’t just design buildings. In that way we are able to keep our clients safe.

Architects, it’s not just a matter of good design. It goes beyond the hero shot. The story is that the value of an architect is that we are extremely good at realising buildings and we’re across all aspects of this realisation process.

Michael Lewarne is Director at Redshift Architecture & Art, the Vice-President of the NSW/ACT Committee of the ACA, and a Coach in Seth Godin’s altMBA. He also recently launched Ed Shift, a community assisting people to lead and do their best work.

This article was first published on the Redshift Architecture & Art website and Medium.