Keen to share a number of initiatives the practice has implemented, Steve McKeag, Technē’s Architecture and Interior Design Director was generous enough to take a moment and give an insight into his world. These initiatives, he believes, can improve culture across the sector.
“Mentorship is key to making this new culture a reality,” says McKeag. It’s also the ‘active practice of leadership and communication’.
“Across the industry, we’re beginning to see inspiring outcomes that are the result of intelligent collaboration, of multiple architects and designers, pooling their talents, rather than as the expression of a single architect’s ‘genius’. Such collaboration begins early with mentorship,” McKeag says.
Rather than having a top-down working structure, Steve mentions taking a collaborative approach towards projects, in a reversal to the old-fashioned model.
“When they establish a new project, Technē founding directors Nick [Travers] and Justin [Northrop] might outline the core challenges along with the client’s needs, but from there we open it up so that whoever comes up with the best concept is given the opportunity to develop that in collaboration with the project leaders. It is design-led, not top-down.”
Technē Architecture and Interior Design promote project exposure and knowledge building, making sure that wherever possible junior staff can join meetings with clients and contractors.
“We give everyone as much exposure as possible to the different facets of the decision-making process. It’s part of learning on the job,” McKeag says.
Design reviews are held on Fridays to present an opportunity for studio members to express their interest in joining a project team, or simply to share relevant experience in a bid to enhance collaboration and successful project outcomes.
Pinboards showing works in progress run the length of the Technē work area, another initiative designed to encourage the organic sharing of insights and experience as staff move throughout the day.
“Opening up a project to studio-wide feedback has the advantage of inviting a fresh perspective. Brainstorming outside the project’s known constraints can generate new ideas, which the team can then tailor within the boundaries of the brief or the client’s expectations,” Steve McKeag mentions.
“Architecture’s move over the past few decades to computer-based design has also had consequences for studio culture and mentoring. It helps to be conscious of these changes to ensure a sense of collaboration and human connection isn’t lost,” McKeag voices on the matter.
Architecture in the past involved hand drawing and thus incorporated collaboration between junior and senior staff. A benefit of this was the formation of design across a project lifecycle could be readily seen in the physical accumulation of sketches and plans – something that is perhaps not so apparent in the age of 3D modelling. Contrasting this, Technē workshop is a space where physical models and prototypes can be experimented with. McKeag describes it as a point of difference with many other studios, as something they can implement themselves.
“It’s really bringing back some of those tactile processes and focusing on the concepts – then sharing that through conversation and mentoring – rather than concentrating on photo-realistic renders from the outset,” he says.
There are also other tangible benefits for a collaborative studio that nurtures its junior staff. Mentoring benefits both parties, McKeag stresses. Benefits for the mentor and the wider practice have been shown to include a better workplace culture, reflected in both staff morale and reduced turnover.
“If you’re retaining staff, that’s a competitive advantage, because of the flow-on effects of greater corporate knowledge, which in turn leads to innovation,” he points out. Stressing that these skills are important to project communication, something in which senior practitioners can cultivate simply by helping their mentees.
Working collaboratively has been shown to improve career advancement including job satisfaction, promotion and pay increases. Those who receive mentoring are also far more likely to persist with their chosen career.
The Australian Institute of Architects recognises the importance of mentoring, with various state chapters overseeing different schemes. Mentoring has also been shown to help overcome barriers to gender diversity and, alongside a focus on graduates entering the industry, the AIA Victorian Chapter looks for mentors to mature-age women returning to the field after a period away.
“I feel confident our culture of collaboration and openness contributes to the strong diversity we have in the studio, and I believe both contribute directly to the bottom line. Our collaborative culture and our diversity lead to better project outcomes. Those outcomes lead to new work – you could say it’s a virtuous circle.”