The operation of architecture practices in Australia is being transformed in beneficial ways as a result of the COVID pandemic and associated restrictions, leaders in the profession say.
In an online State of the Industry: Architecture webinar hosted by Melbourne University, Hamish Lyon, Director of Architecture and Design at NH Architecture; Amelia Borg, Director, Sibling Architecture; and John Denton, former Victorian Government Architect and Founding Director of Denton Corker Marshall, outlined several ways in which architecture practice has been altered for the better as a result of the pandemic.
Speaking of his own firm, Lyon says the pandemic has brought change in two areas.
First, it has helped to bridge the gap between younger and older architects.
Prior to the pandemic, Lyon says technology had been something which older members of his studio would leave to the younger generation.
Since COVID, however, older staff have needed to upskill with platforms such as Instagram, Zoom and Teams.
That has enabled younger architects to help define the new common ground and has aided in levelling out a previous demographic divide within the firm.
Beyond this, the pandemic has reduced the importance of location when dealing with clients or other external stakeholders.
In his own case, Lyon last year personally travelled to both Oslo and Copenhagen as part of work which NH is involved in collaboration with Norway’s Snøhetta and with Denmark’s 3XM Architects.
Since the pandemic, however, his firm has become ‘match-fit’ in instead using online communication.
As this has happened, the fact that the collaborating firms have been in Copenhagen or Oslo has become less significant.
“We just had a presentation this morning on a project from Copenhagen with a client,” Lyon said.
“It didn’t really matter which bedroom they are in – they were in their houses wherever they are in the world.”
Going forward, Lyon says the pandemic may alter how his firm operates.
Rather than travel 40 minutes from their office at the top of Flinders Lane near Collins Place in the eastern part of the Melbourne CBD to have a meeting with engineers in the Docklands, staff will more than likely collaborate using remote means.
Overall, Lyon said the transition for his firm had been beneficial.
“COVID has put us into a virtual digital world,” he said.
“There are challenges, but it has been a positive learning experience.”
Denton agrees, but says the move to online collaboration had already taken hold prior to COVID and has simply accelerated since the pandemic began.
In his own firm’s case, Denton said Denton Corker Marshall decided ten years ago not to open an office in China not withstanding that his office had significant work in that country.
Instead, they set up a Chinese office in Melbourne staffed by around fifteen Mandarin speakers from which documents, drawings and phone calls left the office in Chinese. Given China’s size and that his firm had work spread across many parts of the country, being in Melbourne was no less advantageous compared with being in Shanghai or Beijing.
Borg offers a different viewpoint.
Speaking of Sibling Architecture, she said online collaboration had been second nature prior to COVID and that not much had changed.
In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, Borg says her firm eased back on online activity as much of the online space was filled with anxiety.
Now, however, Sibling Architecture has become more active in this space again and is sharing information about its projects on web sites and a hunger for online content.
Comments from aforementioned commentators come as architects around the country have faced challenges since COVID began.
Of more than 400 participants who took part in the most recent edition of the Pulse survey conducted by the Association of Consulting Architects, almost eight in ten have experienced project cancellations since the pandemic began whilst two thirds (65.3 percent) had experienced a decline in revenue of either greater than or equivalent to 30 percent.