A new year has arrived, and with it comes the overwhelming sense that we didn't quite achieve everything we wanted to do in 2016, that we've somehow spent another year just following the status quo. With 2017 stretching before us – all those possibilities – now is a great time to reflect upon the year just been and decide on your goals and resolutions for the coming months.
As an architect, you'll probably be ending the year with your head full of ideas and plots and inspirations. So take all these ideas and formulate a plan – what do you want to achieve? Where do you see your firm in 12 months time? How will you achieve your goals?
The following 10 resolutions aren't proper goals, per say, but they should give you some ideas for how you might focus on improving your architectural practice in 2017.
1. I resolve to … push the boundaries of my art
Maybe you feel as if you've always stayed on the "safe" side of architecture. You've delivered projects that meet the brief and satisfy your clients, but that don't present anything new or innovative to the world. Perhaps you're tired of the status quo and are ready to experiment.
It can be difficult to deviate from your usual style, especially when your clients expect a certain style from you.
Here are some ideas to help you break away from the "safe" architectural zone:
- Create some on spec designs and add them to your website. Since these are projects without clients, you can feel free to experiment as much as you like. With a few "avant garde" or "out there" designs in your portfolio, your clients will know to expect something different.
- Change your marketing tactics. Look for ways to appeal to more adventurous clients.
- Go out and visit other buildings, see what other architects are doing. Be inspired.
2. I resolve to … live my promise of sustainability
Don't you just hate people who say they stand for one thing, and do something completely different? Sustainability is a buzzword used often in the architecture and design industry, but it seems few actually understand what it entails.
Consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to environmental issues, and if their architect is claiming to practice sustainable design, they are going to want to see some proof. It's not enough to add some solar panels and say your building is sustainable. Here are four ways to practice what you preach with sustainable design:
- Take a course in sustainability. Sustainable design courses are offered at many universities. Take one so that you understand all the intricacies involved in the design process for sustainable buildings. Add your new qualification to your website.
- Join sustainability lobbying groups. There are plenty of groups in your local community lobbying for better walkability and environmental awareness. Become a voice in your area for a sustainable future.
- Run a sustainable, eco-friendly office. Do away with paper files altogether and design your office space around sustainable principles. (We believe this is vital to the future of business – that's why WorkflowMax is a paper-free system!)
- Use green transportation. If my architect showed up on site at my eco-development in a gas-guzzling SUV, I wouldn't be impressed. If possible, commute via bicycle, foot or public transport.
3. I resolve to … become a curator of the architectural past
Older buildings can seem like nothing more than an open pit into which you toss all your money, time and sanity. But beautiful, important buildings are worth saving and preserving for future generations.
As an architect, you have a vested interest in ensuring the history of your profession is preserved and celebrated, so perhaps 2017 is the year you take an active role in the preservation of old architecture, perhaps by:
- Volunteering at your local building preservation society.
- Offering to help with cataloguing or guiding at a local museum.
- Having certain buildings in your city put on the historic register.
- Creating a historic walking tour for your city's most famous architectural landmarks.
- Spearheading your own building preservation project.
4. I resolve to … learn about new technology
Technology changes faster than we breathe. You only just learn how to use a new device, and it becomes obsolete. Because of this, many architects prefer to cover their eyes with their hands and scream, "if I can't see it, it doesn't exist!" Are you trying to avoid technology? Do you believe computer devices make life harder, not easier? Perhaps 2017 is the year you finally become tech-savvy.
There are some many amazing tools for architects on the market now, from the range of tablets allowing completely intuitive drawing through to pens that send your sketches direct to your iPhone. From software that helps you organise inspiration boards to packages like WorkflowMax, that will run your entire business for you, there's plenty for an architect to get excited about!
What tools will you be embracing in 2017?
5. I resolve to … raise my rates
Another year begins. Another year of grocery bills, mortgage payments, and worrying if it's all going to work out OK. As a business owner, you might be struggling to pay the bills and make ends meet. Rather than throwing in the towel altogether, perhaps it's time you considered raising your rates.
Every architect should assess his/her rates structure at least once a year. Inflation devalues your profits, and rising rents, utilities and materials costs erode your margin. Also, as you gain more skills and experience, you become more desirable and can therefore command a higher rate. You need to offer a competitive rate, of course, but you also need to set a rate that allows you to put food on the table.
Raising rates can seem scary, but if you're exceptional at what you do, old and new clients alike won't bat an eyelid at the new price. Here are five quick tips on raising rates in 2017:
- Raise rates for new clients only to get into the swing of using the new prices.
- If you don't think your clientele will go for the higher rates, then perhaps you should consider advertising to a different demographic.
- Demonstrate the extra value you add to clients by updating your website to include new projects and qualifications.
- Remind yourself that you are worth the extra fee!
6. I resolve to … get more organised
When I visited the office of the architect who designed our home, I was surprised to see the mountains of paperwork and drawings scattered everywhere. He tossed rolls of sketches and old coffee cups aside to make room at his desk, and his chairs had a faint, musty smell. He apologised for the mess, but assured me it was part of the package of employing an architect.
If your office is anything like this, or you constantly forget appointments or invoice late, then perhaps 2017 is the year you get organised. Here are four areas you can improve on in 2017:
- Project management: A paperless, cloud-based service like WorkflowMax can help you manage every aspect of your project from one device.
- Clear away clutter: Filing cabinets and map drawers can keep paperwork and sketches neat and tidy.
- Hire an Assistant: Get someone in to do all the admin stuff, so you can focus on the creative work.
- Simplify your accounts: Using a cloud-based system like Xero will help you keep up-to-date with your accounts.
7. I resolve to … explore a new style or material
Maybe you're a modernist maven, or you're crazy about traditional country design. Whatever your style, perhaps it's time you stopped being a "one-trick pony". After all, what fun is being an architect in a creative field if you can't experiment a little.
So 2017 is the year you expand, improve and adapt your style to become something new. Perhaps you incorporate elements of other schools into your current process, or you pull in elements you've been excited about for a while but too scared to adopt. Maybe you start using a new material in your buildings and pushing the boundaries of what that material can achieve.
Be bold, be brave, be different!
8. I resolve to … start a personal project
Many architects also dabble in design an a smaller scale, whether it's creating unique office furniture or designing treehouses, your skills can easily be applied to a smaller personal project.
Small personal projects are a great way to flex your creative muscles, learn about new materials or new aspects of the building industry (through fabricating elements yourself) and build and market something on a smaller scale. At the end of the project, you have something fun to share with your community, and you never know what could turn into a lucrative product.
Here are some great ideas for personal projects for architects:
- Designing a composting system that can sit in your kitchen without smelling.
- Build a treehouse pod as a futuristic sleeping quarters.
- Create a full-scale replica dollhouse of one of your favourite designs.
- Build an architecturally designed playhouse for your children or pets.
- Design a piece of furniture that you've always wished exist.
9. I resolve to … read more
Reading widely offers you additional insights into the world or architecture and how buildings and people interact. The more you read, the deeper and wider your understanding of the world, and the more focused and beautiful your designs will be. If you have been neglecting your reading of late, perhaps 2017 is the year you set a goal of reading 30 inspiring books.
And you don't have to limit yourself to architecture books, either. Biographies, history books, scientific studies and even novels can offer unique insights into architectural problems or present you with new ways of looking at the world.
Here are five wonderful books to get you started:
- Edwin Heathcote, Meaning of Home Francis Lincoln, 2012.
- Leonard Koren & Willian Hall, Concrete Phaidon Press, 2012.
- Brian Girling, Lost London in Colour Amberley, 2013.
- Bradley Garrett,Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City Verso, 2013.
- A. Brillembourg, H. Klumpner, ETH Zurich, Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities Lars Muller Publishers, 2012.
10. I resolve to … experience great architecture firsthand
Reading is one thing, but for an architect to truly understand the purpose, thought-process and elements that make up a great building, you have to go out an experience it. This means visiting buildings, walking through them, contemplating them, viewing them from all angles, and observing how people use them.
To be an architect is to facilitate interaction between people and their environment. You must be an explorer, an archaeologist, and a sociologist, in order to understand these complexities. You must touch the walls, walk on the floors, climb the stairs and smell the paint for as many buildings as possible – good buildings and bad – to form the experience and inspiration that you give to your clients.
Here are five ways to experience great architecture in 2017:
- Travel to a centre of ancient historical importance, such as Pompeii, Knossos or Ephesus. Walk among the ruins and explore the way the ancients used space and light and architectural elements to create some of the world's most beautiful and most successful cities.
- Take an architectural tour in your own town. You'll be amazed at what you discover!
- Visit the homes of influential architects and learn about what they live with day-to-day.
- Go on an architectural pilgrimage – visiting influential projects in your chosen field in an around your country.
- Take the time to walk slowly through the buildings you visit everyday, and observe how people use them, how noise travels through them and how light interacts with them.
- Carry a camera with you wherever you go, and record interesting ideas and angles as you walk around.
So, architects - what will you be resolving to do in 2017?