Like many well-established industries, the field of architecture has certainly seen its share of disruption over the last twenty years. But while much attention is given to the impact of emerging technologies and critical shifts in client demand, perhaps the most significant change defining architecture in the 21st century is the evolution of the architectural practice itself.
A big part of that evolution is the growing demand among architecture firms for knowledge and expertise that lie outside of the field of architecture. Firms of all sizes are increasingly tapping professionals who can fill high-level “supportive” roles in areas such as business management, marketing, and strategic development.
The Evolution of an Architecture Firm
It used to be when people needed an architect, they had a handful of practices to choose from. Each practice came with its own reputation and style, and the scope of their responsibility rarely strayed from the boundaries of architectural design. Clients also understood that architects, like most skilled professionals, put a premium on their expertise, experience, and ability.
How much have things changed!
These days, those looking for an architect often have to sift through dozens of practices offering a dizzying array of additional services, such as engineering, construction, and design. There is also a growing split between the bigger firms that compete for projects by slashing fees versus smaller, niche-oriented firms that place a premium on their specialised expertise.
Instead of waiting for clients to walk in the door, most firms nowadays have to go out to win new work, and they also must spend significant resources marketing their services, all while supporting a web of projects, teams and tools that continue to grow in complexity. This puts pressure on senior leadership to manage their practices effectively. To remain competitive they must ensure that physical and human resources are being allocated in the places where they are needed the most.
In order to execute this growth and development and still make a profit, firms are starting to create and fill an increasing number of positions in business, technology, human resources, and financial management. These positions are generally going to professionals familiar with architecture, yet aren’t practicing architects.
Who is Filling These Non-Architect Positions?
Senior architecture positions for non-architecture roles generally attract two types of professionals:
The first, and primary group, are those who start out their careers in architecture as a design professional, but later get additional business training. Typically, these people have a degree in architecture or something comparable as well as on-job experience.
Somewhere along the way, however, they discover that they don’t enjoy their work or they want to advance their architecture careers by changing the scenery a bit. These professionals often end up going back to school for an MBA before going on to accept a senior non-technical managerial position such as Operations Director, Business Manager, Data strategist, or Marketing Specialist. Though it’s not an iron-clad rule, this mostly happens in bigger firms.
With a lot of smaller firms, however, there is a bit more flexibility over who they hire. When they are in need of outside expertise, sometimes practices will hire professionals with a limited design background, whose sole purpose is to keep a diligent eye on operations, marketing, spending or strategic development. These are areas that busy principals don’t have the time to focus on themselves.
Whatever the case, as the architecture industry continues to evolve and redefine itself, architecture firms are beginning to follow suit. Part of that evolution includes the realisation that an architecture practice is a business after all, and they need the people who will help them do business, not just architecture, the right way.