Architects are busy handling tons of work all day long. Every day, they are involved in meetings, site visits, management of clients and contractors, paperwork, etc., and they find little time to design buildings. Hence they need to be more productive than any other professional. The article addresses the problems of productivity faced by architects and lists down the tips to overcome these problems and be more productive.

The Productivity of Creativity

Architects consistently try to challenge the status quo in the spaces that they create. Therefore the idea of ‘productivity’ often contrasts with an architectural practice, as with other creative processes. The word ‘productive’ is often associated with quantity over quality. Productivity is known as the maximum amount of work done in a minimum time. Architecture, like all professions, is bound by deadlines. But, when architects aim to be productive with their deadlines, they enter the perpetual cycle of needing to catch up; the work they do becomes uninspired, unproductive, and just a plain CRAP. 

The lack of productivity [of creativity] in architectural firms is due to ineffective work patterns such as recreating a detail that already exists, redoing a work due to miscommunication, correcting mistakes in the site due to inadequate quality of work (drawings), etc. Framing a system eliminates these ineffective patterns and allows for greater productivity. The socio-technical architects term these patterns as operational issues and frame an Operational improvement Charette to solve the unproductivity of creativity. The Charette classifies tasks as routine, non-routine, Engineering type, and craft tasks.

How can Architects be more productive? - Sheet1
Operational improvement Charette_©Rena Klein
  1. Routine tasks (direct and standardized): Tasks that are similar and recur every time. These can be standardized so that they can be done by anyone.

          Example: Details of a stair or a door remain the same in every project.

  1. Engineering type tasks (delegate): Tasks that vary every time but are analyzable. These can be formulated and be assigned to a specific professional (an engineer).

        Example: The size of a beam varies in every project, but loading conditions and material strength remain the same. 

  1. Craft tasks (coach): Tasks that get better and better every time but the process remains the same. Architects can be trained to be more productive towards crafts tasks.

Example: Software skills like Autocad can be used efficiently as we practice, but the process remains the same.

  1. Non-routine tasks (individualize): Tasks that are creative and improved through experience. As we become productive and learn to save time on every other task, we shall spend more time on creative design problems.

Example: The design of facades takes time and seeks creativity.

Long Hours Culture

‘Long hours culture’ has become intertwined with the image of the architects. Many architects often take pride in putting in late nights every day. It starts from design studios that are firmly entrenched in the idea that being an architect involves personal sacrifice, and that long hours are required to produce good work – ‘you do it because you love it’. And it is often extended in practice. It has now become the most followed culture in architecture. Contrary to the perception that long hours increase productivity, it can quickly breed dissatisfaction leading to a decrease in productivity. It results in poor decision-making, reduced creativity, and poor management in practice. Working for longer hours over or above the negotiated fee is a trap for not only employees but also employers. 

How can Architects be more productive? - Sheet2
Long hours culture_©Gettyimages

Architectural practice should value productivity, and it should be valued based on efficiency and produced outcomes. There is the psychological benefit to working up to the last minute – we believe that we may not have regrets as nothing more can be done. But working long hours can be draining, both physically and mentally. It does not mean architects should not work extra hours, but working long hours for the sake of it is counterproductive and self-destructive. 

Financial Productivity and Management

Design, Meet, Deliver, Repeat– is often the process in the practice of architecture. We do not include management of the firm/team as a part of the practice, which is the major cause of being unproductive. The 2015 Management for Design Business Conditions Survey results showed that many architectural practices don’t have a clear understanding of what productivity means. Nor do they understand the most effective ways of achieving it.

A sharp eye on the budget, planning, and coordination is very crucial for a productive practice. Reducing costs is considered to increase productivity in terms of finance; but it is not true. Financial productivity is doing more with less or the same resources. It is the direct result of profitability. Firms should consider the billable and non-billable hours alongside the actual client billing to measure productivity. Association of Consulting Architects, Australia, lists out the most vital strategies to increase financial productivity. Those are:

  1. More accountability for performance. It is necessary to set our team up for success. We need to define the objectives and hold our team accountable for the results.
  2. Implement improved management systems. Providing a framework and guidelines for the firm is important to manage the design process of the projects. Discussions and meetings with the team to gain perspectives and design expertise will further improve the management process.
  3. Improve utilization of resources. Ensure to provide adequate financial and technical resources throughout the project. It is more important to achieve profitability with fewer resources, through proper utilization.
  4. Implementing an organized work culture and eliminating inefficient work patterns also play a pivotal role in financial productivity and management.  

Design of Workspace

As designers of space, architects are familiar with the impact of workspaces on productivity. Good design streamlines workflow improves efficiency and encourages collaboration. Apart from proper lighting and bringing nature inside (that became mandatory in today’s work environment) the design of workspaces should also respond to the culture and needs of the firm/team. More and more research proves that happy people stay productive. Promoting fun and socialization in the workspace is essential for the happiness of the workers. Informal spaces that promote collaboration and fun become key to boosting productivity. Hence, for an architect Top of the Document Designing his/her workspace is as critical as designing buildings. 

How can Architects be more productive? - Sheet3
Wieden+Kennedy Headquaters_©Bruce Damonte
Good, Fast, Cheap diagram_©Firm Architects

Productivity is confused with being fast, cheap, or perfect. There is also a misconception that productivity always depends on the workers or employees who do the work and their skills. But productivity is not only about workers, but also many other external factors stated above. And, architects, as masters of many skills, should strive to be more productive. 

References:

  1. Davison, D., 2019. How do you measure the productivity of creativity? | PlanIT Impact. [online] PlanIT Impact. Available at: <https://www.planitimpact.com/productivity-of-creativity/>
  2. Hubbard, B., 2017. Why Working Long Hours Won’t Make You A “Better” Architect. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/878806/why-working-long-hours-wont-make-you-a-better-architect>
  3.  Klein, R., 2016. How to Improve Productivity with Design Thinking | ACA – Association of Consulting Architects Australia. [online] ACA – Association of Consulting Architects Australia. Available at: <https://aca.org.au/how-to-improve-productivity-with-design-thinking/>
  4. Lomholt, I., Welch, A., Lomholt, I. and Lomholt, I., 2021. Improve Productivity Through Workplace Design – e-architect. [online] e-architect. Available at: <https://www.e-architect.com/articles/improve-productivity-through-workplace-design>
  5. Luxton, E., 2016. Does working fewer hours make you more productive?. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/does-working-fewer-hours-make-you-more-productive/>
  6. Peake, R., 2016. Measuring Productivity | ACA – Association of Consulting Architects Australia. [online] ACA – Association of Consulting Architects Australia. Available at: <https://aca.org.au/measuring-productivity/>
  7. Designingbuildings.co.uk. 2019. What is productivity, and how do you measure it?. [online] Available at: <https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/What_is_productivity,_and_how_do_you_measure_it%3F>
  8. Archiparlour.org. 2014. [online] Available at: <https://archiparlour.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Guide2-LongHours.pdf>
  9. Firm architects. 2019. The 10 office design rules. — Firm architects. [online] Available at: <https://www.firmarchitects.com/2019/03/the-10-office-design-rules/>
Author

Guruprasath believes in a conscious approach towards architecture, which fulfills the intentions of the people towards the built spaces and vice-versa. He is more interested in understanding architecture, which made him incline towards writing on architecture. He also enjoys reading and writing other stuff.

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