President’s Comment – April 2024

15 April 2024

Last week I learnt that two architects who I know had taken jobs as project managers. This is now common. Then I realised that nearly all of my own projects have an architect as the project manager or client-side representative. This is not what we signed up for at the start of our study!

As far as I’m aware, there’s no definitive statistics on what proportion of architects are working as project managers, design managers or client representatives. Why do they do it?

There are multiple reasons why builders and clients might want to hire architects to do something that is often not labelled as ‘true architecture’. Architects have a different skillset better suited to complex projects. Project management is more than lowest cost and quickest program achieved by shouting at everyone. Guiding a project, particularly where builders are involved early in the design phase, is a complex task. It’s something that architects should be good at.

The cost of project management is also often somehow hidden in the overall construction cost of a project. Architects’ fees are often scrutinised in detail and pushed down and down on the assumption that it looks like a lot of money for a few lines on paper. Builder’s costs, on the other hand, are what they are, with the project management fees hidden in preliminaries. So, higher salaries commensurate with pay structures in the construction industry are easier to justify.

Why would an architect move to project management? The most common reason, anecdotally, is better money. How we have allowed salaries of promising young talent to not keep up with comparable occupations is a failure of the profession generally. But there must be other reasons. Lack of fulfilment, not being able to see a clear career path, and the responsibilities and worries that come with seniority as an architect must contribute to the decision. Finding out more about why people make the shift could be a way to be more self aware of the failings of our practices and our profession.

In recent years, the ACA has been a partner on a major research project: The Wellbeing of Architects: culture, identity + practice. The project is almost complete and will culminate in a two-day symposium to be held in Melbourne on 8–9 May. The first day will focus on architectural education, the second day on architectural practice. The timing is designed to align with the Australian Institute of Architects national conference, which is held straight afterwards, also in Melbourne, on May 10–11.

I’m hoping the research and the discussions at the Wellbeing of Architects symposium will inform how we need to improve our profession. Is it a bad thing to have trained architects as your client representatives and project managers? No, if they use their talents well. But if they’ve moved because they are tired of the lack of opportunities, poor culture or lack of work/life balance, we need to do better.

Come to the symposium if you can. Your practice and your profession might be a better place for it.