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The Perfect Day as an Architect | EP8

In this episode we explain the highs & lows of running an architectural practice and how you can learn to craft the perfect working day as a designer!

We go through the creation of our practice, Studio RBA, the ups & downs of running a practice and how we’ve developed the perfect working day to suit our own ambitions, lifestyle and desires as designers.

Head to our studio website: https://www.studiorba.co.uk/

Podcast write-up

Table of Contents

In this podcast transcript, architects Adam and Jack discuss the origins of Studio RBA and their motivations for starting their own practice. Their journey began in university, with a distant dream of owning their own practice, gradually growing closer to reality over the years. Reflecting on their experience, they admit they may not have been fully prepared but emphasise the importance of transparency with their employers when taking on side projects.

The turning point came when they secured a client whose projects continued to grow. Adam and Jacks readiness to take on this challenge was influenced by the maturity of their current projects. For Adam, it was an opportune time, whereas Jack was juggling multiple ongoing projects at his current practice.

Their initial motivation was not necessarily to start a practice but to explore more creative and smaller-scale projects, such as residential and interior design. The catalyst for their journey was a complex hypothetical project in Park Gate that allowed them creative freedom and the opportunity to make design decisions independently.

Throughout their conversation, they acknowledge that not everyone should start a practice, as working in established firms can offer valuable experience and career prospects. However, their desire for creative freedom, control over projects, and the ability to maintain privacy during the design process led them to establish Studio RBA.

Building a Successful Architectural Practice: From Risk to Growth

Jack, Adam and Kenny discuss their journey from working in established firms to founding their own practice. The conversation touches upon various key points in their journey, starting with the decision to showcase their design skills outside of regular working hours. This effort helped them gain confidence and build rapport with as directors. They emphasise the importance of taking opportunities to demonstrate design skills, especially in junior roles.

The discussion then shifts to the pivotal moment when they won a large-scale commission with a prospective new client, leading to the decision to start their own practice. The architects acknowledge the inherent risks and the loss of job security associated with entrepreneurship. They stress the importance of financial preparedness, recommending having savings equivalent to several months of living expenses to mitigate uncertainties.

Year one of their practice is described as a period of intense dedication, with the founders working out of a spare bedroom, keeping overheads low, and taking on paid interns from local universities to assist with the workload. They discuss the challenges of balancing work and family life, particularly as they progressed in their careers.

They also touch upon their commitment to maintaining an enjoyable and stress-free work environment, with music and camaraderie playing a significant role in reducing the work pressure. They emphasise the need to stay frugal while building a business, emphasising that cost-cutting should not come at the expense of fair treatment of interns or employees.

They offer valuable insight into the architects’ journey, from risk-taking to successful practice, with an emphasis on financial preparedness, dedication, and the importance of fostering a positive work atmosphere. 

Strategic Growth and Cost Management in Early-Stage Architectural Practice

Jack, Adam and Kenny discuss their journey of establishing an architectural practice while emphasising strategies to control costs and sustain growth. They reflect on their unique approach, aiming to bootstrap their business initially, ensuring financial stability before fully committing. Family support and collaborative efforts, played a significant role in cost containment.

Comparing their journey to that of a civil engineering company, they highlight the diversity in funding strategies. Their deliberate decision to avoid early financial burden and instead build from their earnings underscored their commitment to self-sufficiency. A pivotal moment was the addition of a full-time staff member due to increased workload, signalling their shift toward a more structured approach.

An opportunity to work out of a vacant building space was instrumental in accommodating their expanding team. Their dedication to being the “friendly architect” led to success and collaborations with established consultants. Their commitment to quality, politeness, and meticulous documentation proved key in shaping their reputation.

They shed light on the balance between controlled growth and cost management in the early stages of an architectural practice, emphasising the value of strategic decisions and a client-focused approach.

Navigating Challenges and Successes: A Three-Year Journey of an Architecture Firm

Jack, Adam and Kenny reflect on their architectural firm’s journey over three years. At the outset, they experienced success, driven by external factors and a large client base. However, as their overheads grew, they faced challenges in year three, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, the firm swiftly adapted to remote work due to a sophisticated server setup and a flexible work culture. They thrived while other industries struggled. They note how they eventually experienced delayed effects, such as delays in projects, supply chain disruptions, and declining market confidence.

Over the three years, the firm navigated growth, adaptability, and challenges, maintaining a strong team culture and seeking opportunities in a changing landscape.

Navigating Challenges and Adapting Strategies: A Case Study of Business Resilience

Jack, Kenny and Adam reflect on the challenges they have faced by a company over a specific time frame. Adam references a prosperous period marked by Pro Evolution soccer tournaments and a thriving work environment but moves on to discuss the economic shifts in the subsequent three years that led to financial difficulties. Two major clients went bankrupt, resulting in a substantial loss of revenue.

To combat this financial crisis, the company’s directors took decisive action, including reducing team size and cutting their own salaries. Expert advice was sought from various sources, including solicitors, accountants, and HR professionals. Licensing agreements were also revised as part of cost-cutting measures.

The podcast highlights the company’s commitment to transparency with its employees and the difficult decisions made during this challenging period. Employees were encouraged to explore other job opportunities with the directors acknowledging the impact on their livelihoods.

The article underscores the complexities of managing a business during economic downturns and emphasises the importance of adaptability and resilience. It also touches on the changing definition of success, from staff numbers to profitability and overall job satisfaction. Despite the hardships faced, the company persevered and adapted its strategies to remain competitive.

The podcast sheds light on the resilience and adaptability of a business facing economic challenges. It highlights the importance of seeking expert advice and making tough decisions to ensure the company’s survival and continued growth.

Creating the Perfect Day: A Journey of Restructuring an Architectural Practice

Jack, Adam and Kenny then reflect on their journey of restructuring their architectural practice. Initially, they followed a traditional model with architects handling different stages of a project. However, they realised the importance of continuity and creativity. The turning point came during a reflective Christmas break when they pondered their measure of success. They decided to pivot their business, focusing on project architects and client-facing roles, ultimately creating a more enjoyable work environment.

The discussion highlights the shift from a forced decision to a period of reflection, leading to a more equal and collaborative studio of project runners. They emphasise the importance of trust, curiosity, and happiness in curating the perfect day as architects. While addressing challenges and lessons learned, they stress the significance of aligning work with personal fulfilment and the need to adapt to achieve it.

This narrative underscores the value of re-evaluating work practices and emphasises that a fulfilling career in architecture revolves around striving for the “perfect day.”

Evolving Perspectives on Success and the Birth of ArchAdemia

They then discuss redefining success in the context of building a niche architectural practice. They emphasise the importance of creating a boutique practice and finding joy and freedom in their work, rather than merely focusing on numbers and money. The conversation reveals a shift in their measures of success towards personal satisfaction and creativity.

They touch upon the unexpected development of ArchAdemia, a community for architects. They explain that it emerged organically from their shared passion for creating content and tutorials, which resonated with their audience, resulting in a rapidly growing community of over 400 members.

While time constraints prevent a comprehensive discussion, the speakers express their excitement about the community’s growth and hint at upcoming courses. This journey exemplifies how pursuing one’s passions can lead to unexpected and fulfilling endeavours.

In conclusion, the podcast highlights a shift in the perception of success, from conventional metrics to personal fulfilment, and the unplanned yet successful creation of the ArchAdemia community driven by shared interests and enthusiasm.

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