Architects can be creative and talented but they often lack the marketing skills required to sell their ideas. They don’t have to be an expert at sales, but they must have basic skills in this area. With business skills, smaller firms and independent practitioners can directly present their ideas to the client and acquire more clients. The necessity of hiring a marketing agency is eliminated, helping them to save money, being independent and having a greater sense of freedom.
Architect Enoch Bartlett Sears struggled to find a balance between attaining clients and running a profitable architecture firm. Dishearteningly he had to shut down his firm in less than a year since its inauguration. In 2011, he founded the website ‘Business of Architecture,‘ a free marketing guide for architects, to help them sustain and thrive their firms.
Their youtube channel, Business of Architecture, invites architect Chris Williamson to speak on essential business skills for architects. In addition to being a chartered architect, Chris has an MSc in Project Management and believes strongly that the art of architecture requires excellent business skills in order to be realised. Chris is currently the International Vice President of the RIBA responsible for setting a strategy to grow into a global membership institution and to encourage more UK architects to seek work globally.
In this interview, you will learn about essential business skills and how to grow while remaining creative. Williamson shares his story on how his 30-year-old practice started and how his project management degree helped him define his firm’s vision. He shares his opinion on why architects are bad at business and how it affects their practice. Furthermore, he explains his role as the International Vice President at the RIBA ( Royal Institute of British Architects ) and his vision for RIBA.
Chris states that architects are bad at business. We have amazing ideas but often find difficulty in Budget management. He agrees with Norman Foster’s words ‘ There is no reason why business and art can’t go hand in hand. ‘ While working at Michael Hopkins, Chris did a master’s course in project management and property development. He was exposed to property developers and project managers, giving him a third-person perspective of architects.
For an architect, it is important to know how others outside of your field see you. Along with the design, architects should also pay attention to clients’ needs and budget. According to a survey conducted by RIBA, clients are happy with the designs but do not find the same satisfaction when it comes to funds management.
WestonWilliamson+Partners, at the moment, specializes in transport projects. The 100+ strong company with clients across the world started from a small bedroom. In 1985, Chris and his friend Andrew participated in the 40 under 40 exhibition by RIBA. Here they got an opportunity to meet new people who advised them to start a business together. Together they have seen many ups and downs.
WestonWilliamson’s breakthrough project, the London Bridge Jubilee Line Station in the 1990s defined their career path. When they were shortlisted and interviewed, Chris’s master’s in project management helped them to become the finalist and eventually design the railway station.
People are constantly striving to make themselves better, making survival in an already competitive architectural field more difficult. To understand the significance of commerce, architects should learn about the tragedy of famous artists such as Van Gough, who lived a life of poverty but now their paintings are worth millions. Artists today are much more commercially aware than architects. They defend their works and sell them at a reasonable price.
Architects that he admires have a great understanding of business and are able to combine business and art. He does not want to change anything that would disturb the creativity of architectural education but there could be an introduction of business to the architecture curriculum. It will be great if architects and students are able to have a sense of business in their early careers. Some are afraid that focusing on the business of architecture might affect their creativity. For them, Williamson advises that the firm does not need to be monolithic, management and distribution of work are key to good business.
Firms like Norman Foster and Renzo Piano have proved that great business can be managed without compromising creative sense.
Their company hugely dominates the infrastructure and transportation industry, mainly considered as an industry for engineers. Chris opens up on how they have safeguarded their position for years. Their collaborative, family-like work environment is to be credited for this success. It took years of patience to reach the position they are in today.
Architects are indispensable to any construction project, and their expertise is based on the refinement of a variety of skills. Business architects strive to turn business architecture into a glue that connects different aspects of business strategy, design, modelling, solutions and ecosystems. They manage corporate architecture projects and contribute to the overall plan. The interview was very insightful and informative. With all lessons required to sustain a firm, it also tells that good thing come with hard work and patience.
www.youtube.com. (n.d.). 028: Essential Business Skills for Architects with Chris Williamson. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2zqJPLq7RU&t=1705s
Partners, W.W. + (2021). Architectural Practice, Infrastructure &…. [online] WestonWilliamson+Partners. Available at: https://www.westonwilliamson.com/