We’re not award-winning architects (and that’s okay!)

Rebecca Caldwell , 10 June 2024

Building Maytree Studios from the ground up meant delivering really modest projects and finding joy in their execution, even if they were not of a scale or standard to reach awards or publication. Rebecca Caldwell reveals that her practice is not award-winning (yet!), but other measures of success are more meaningful for her clients.

We’re not award-winning architects. Seriously. We’re not. We’ve entered a few competitions, made a couple of shortlists, but haven’t brought home one of the big prizes (yet).

I know, I know. You might be wondering, “How can such a talented, wildly good-looking bunch not have won any awards?” Well, the short answer is we’ve barely entered any!

While entering awards can help a design business raise its profile within the profession, and among future prospective clients, it just isn’t high on our radar. That’s for one important reason – it’s not how we (or our clients) measure our success!

And we know this to be true because at the start of every project, we ask our clients to list their top three success measures.  We’re yet to have anyone state that their project being award winning or even published comes anywhere close to their top values.


What we do hear from our clients is that they:

  • Want to enjoy an amazing sense of peace and calm;
  • Would love to capture beautiful views, even if they are just across the local tree canopy;
  • Need and want more storage to tame the chaos of their daily lives;
  • Yearn for more space to grow as a family;
  • Want a home that reflects who they are;

And most importantly of all …

  • Most of our clients (no matter how cashed up) want to stay in the ballpark of their stated manageable budget.

Responding to our clients’ goals and objectives is fundamental to everything we do at Maytree Studios. We are constantly evaluating and recalibrating based on their feedback, to enhance and refine our systems, processes  and outcomes.

So if success were a pie chart, our measures of success would look like this:

  1. Happy Clients: They are listened to, and love the outcome.
  2. Happy Team: We are a happy, productive team working within our paid hours with no Sunday blues.
  3. Sustainability: Our business is sustainable and can give back to our industry and community.
  4. Responsible Design: Our designs respond to current and future climate needs, aiming to be as responsible as possible within our brief or budget.
  5. Growth and Learning: Our architecture challenges us to grow, learn new things, and push boundaries for our clients.
  6. Awards: Nice to have, but not essential.



We are curators

We see our role as curators. Yes, we’re professional and we will provide guidance and leadership for the design of this home – but at the end of the day if a client wants a native Australiana-splashback*, we’ll find a way to curate that as beautifully as we can. Sometimes this means the outcome won’t quite hit the mark for publication or award. We take our role to challenge and guide client decisions seriously, but at the end of the day we’re humble enough to put our own ego aside to curate – and celebrate – a client’s own special taste (read: ‘quirks’).

We value practicality

We consider a project unsuccessful if, after all that love and care, the client has nowhere to put their ironing board, mop bucket or robovac. The functionality of a home goes hand in hand with the beauty. We take pride in designing hard-working homes for all the messy bits of real life – not just the perfect finished image.

We’re going to be savvy with money

Because a client’s budget matters to us, we will push ourselves to be as clever as we can be to achieve something that we love designing and our client loves living in – for the money that’s on the table. We aren’t going to paint someone into a corner with an amazing design they can’t afford. We will help our clients find the ‘hero’ in the project worth fighting for, and let them know what they can relax about.

Awards are great, but in five years’ time, when a client is still sending us updates of their family and home ageing happily together, that’s the best praise we can possibly receive (and we know that makes us feel warm and fuzzy, because it happens. All the time!).


Architecture awards are a funny old-fashioned pursuit in that they used to fufil a very important purpose. Back in the olden days (we’re talking before the year 2000!), architects in many states were prohibited from advertising their services. So they entered their projects into awards programs and tried to get them published in glossy magazines to showcase their best work, and it was a valid way to connect with new clients without flouting the advertising ban.

Now, though, we have many more marketing methods at our disposal. Many of our clients find us on Instagram and we know that referral and word-of-mouth is still our largest source of new clients. So awards no longer serve the same function that they used to.

We think they also fail to assess or articulate the factors that define a great project from our clients’ perspective. We mean considerations related to process.


  • How long did the design take?
  • Did they enjoy it?
  • Was the design anywhere near their original budget and, if not, were they informed of adjustments early enough to adapt?
  • Was the build peaceful?
  • How much did they spend on variations during the build?

For us, the process is super important. We don’t want beautiful photos that don’t have a great client experience behind them. Success for us is a smooth process, one that clients and the builder enjoy, and everyone walks away satisfied with the outcome.

Our process means we can inform our clients about how the decisions they are making – either to add new spaces or rooms or to upgrade to more expensive finishes – will impact their bottom line.

We know from hard-won experience that this is win-win for both architect and client, because our clients usually get about 80–90% of their needs and wants met, without breaking the bank, and our team aren’t stressed out trying to rein in unrealistic expectations. (And 50% of our pie chart was dedicated to happy clients and happy team, remember?)

Unpaid labour

Awards don’t account for time or, more accurately, how much labour went into creating that design.

It takes a long time to create something beautiful and innovative – but that time has to be paid for. At some point, there has to be a ‘pens down’ moment. We could keep designing and refining until we reach our definition of perfect, but our clients have a budget. So, who does the extra work? Often, it’s the graduates and students who are probably already underpaid.

We think there’s a simple fix for this entrenched and outdated culture: any award entry should require a statutory declaration stating no unpaid overtime went into the project.

This would show what was done within the financial constraints of our clients’ budgets and what was done on unpaid labor. It would help stop glorifying the age-old story of architects sacrificing their time and wellbeing (and that of their families) on the altar of design.

Does this mean design has to be compromised? We don’t think so. But to achieve it, we have to be clever with our decision-making, communication and systems so our time can be spent where it has the biggest impact for clients.

Wrapping up

Awards are rad. It’s fun to get a pat on the back from your peers and some external validation that you’re doing a great job. It’s really nice as a team to get recognition for hard work and attention to detail, and they make you feel good about what you’ve achieved. Heck, even our clients enjoy basking in the warm afterglow of being shortlisted in a prestigious awards program.

So, do we want to produce award-winning work? Absolutely. Will we ever put winning an award ahead of valuing our clients and their experience, both of working with us and their enjoyment of their home? Never.

That’s why we’re quite comfortable letting you know we’re not award-winning architects. Yet.


Rebecca Caldwell is a Director of Brisbane-based Maytree Studios, an employee-owned studio that combines ethics and social responsibility with the forward-thinking sensibilities of contemporary architecture.

Rebecca is leading the Business of Small Practice (BoSP) series in Brisbane for the ACA, with the inaugural Queensland BoSP scheduled for Friday 14 June.