Welcome to Future Talks by RTF, where we delve into conversations with the visionaries and creators of exceptional designs. In this edition, we have the privilege of introducing Liam, a talented architect with a remarkable journey that has taken him from the vibrant city of Sydney, Australia, to the forefront of architectural innovation.

Liam’s passion for architecture ignited at a young age, just 12 years old, driven by an insatiable curiosity about the intricacies of buildings and machinery. This fervor for understanding how things come together led him on a remarkable educational journey that saw him study at the prestigious University of Technology Sydney (UTS). At UTS, Liam’s dedication and talent not only earned him a Bachelor of Design in Architecture but also saw him take on the role of a teacher, imparting his knowledge to undergraduate students.

However, what truly makes Liam’s story fascinating is the serendipitous meeting with Jeffrey Baikie during his time at UTS. Their mutual admiration for each other’s work and a shared commitment to finding the perfect design solutions led to the establishment of Baikie Corr Architecture. This architectural firm, based in Sydney, specializes in transforming existing structures into personalized homes, tailored to the unique needs of their owners. Their portfolio extends to complex heritage sites, further showcasing their passion for crafting spaces that people truly desire to be in.

Now, at the age of 30, Liam’s personal and professional life is flourishing. He resides in North Sydney with his wife, Amy, and their shared workspace at home has allowed them to relish valuable quality time together. The driving force behind Baikie Corr Architecture remains Liam’s partnership with Jeffrey Baikie, a friendship that was nurtured during their university years. Their journey reflects an unwavering commitment to delivering not just design but also a profound understanding and sense of ownership for their clients throughout the design and construction process. 

Join us as we explore Liam’s remarkable story and delve into the principles that underpin Baikie Corr Architecture’s groundbreaking work.

RTF: Hi Liam, we are so glad to have you as a guest on Future Talks 2.0. Thanks for joining us. So, what led you to pursue a career in architecture and design?

Liam: I became an architect because I think I have always has an interest in that type of problem solving. I have always I loved physically testing things my hands, and as a kid I knew that I was much better at thinking in 3 dimensions compared to other people. I would build star wars spaceships out of lego and k’nex, and I loved learning about material science and chemistry. People knew that if something was broken, I’m the guy who could fix it.

That is what my career in architecture has predominantly involved – solving complex problems, and working out the best way for people to use space. Those are the things I am good at, and being an architect lets me use those skills to help people.

RTF: How would you describe your overall design philosophy or approach to architecture and design?

Liam: My approach is very practical. I am very skeptical of a certain type of architecture that looks amazing but is uncomfortable to live in (even if it makes for a nice photo or wins you an award). I also strongly believe that good design should be available to everyone, not just the wealthy, and so many of my architectural projects have highly considered designs that use very basic finishes. If you look at our portfolio of work you will see plenty of simple framed houses with painted walls, but the common thread to everything we produce is ensuring the initial plan for organizing a space has been refined to be exactly what is needed for our clients specific needs. I always explain our approach to our clients by saying “it is easy to move a line on a piece of paper, but it is very hard to move a wall once it has already been built”.

RTF: Do you have a singular design process that you follow or does the approach vary and change based on every project?

Liam: Our design approach is generally the same for each project: we start by considering the existing context along with the client’s brief, we work through options for how we can most efficiently meet the brief without compromising the good things that are already there at the site, and then we zoom in slowly from 1:200 plans right down to 1:1 details for how materials come together. We always try to involve and educate our clients along the way because at the end of the day it is their response to our project that is how we measure success or failure – if we didn’t meet their brief, for us that isn’t a successful project.

RTF: How do you approach getting your projects featured in publications? Do you manage the communications and PR in-house or have this task outsourced to a PR & communications agency? Which approach do you think is better and why?

Liam: Very few of our projects have been featured in publications, and we have a relatively light digital footprint, so our focus for publications has been to do a really great job with fewer projects. Most of our new projects come from word-of-mouth references from previous clients, so we have never done any type of advertising. We have had some projects in magazines and when that has happened we have managed the communications ourselves in-house.

This approach has worked for us because our focus is on making every project great. The result of that is we know that all of our clients will refer us to friends and family, and we don’t have to constantly be chasing new work or sorting through leads that don’t eventuate into new projects.

I also think that many publications focus on projects that look amazing but in truth are terrible for the environment, or cost way more than the client was wanting to spend, or in truth is riddled with leaky roofs – we don’t focus on publications as much because most of the value that we contribute can’t be communicated easily in magazines, you really have to walk inside one of our projects to experience how we have considered light, acoustics, materials, and the relationship between spaces. I think it is important to recognise what role publications play in your strategy, and then make sure all your efforts are aimed at achieving this goal.

RTF: Can you share any challenges you’ve encountered in the process of getting your work published and how you overcame them? Are there any lessons you’ve learned over the years that have significantly improved your success in this area?

Liam: For getting work published I think the key is to be picky on what projects you want to get published, and work out why it is that you want to get them published. There is a lot of time (and therefore money) that goes into compiling a competition entry or a magazine profile, so you want to make sure that you focus on putting out there a good example of the types of projects that you want to be working on. If all you put out there is that you do apartments, the only work that you will end up doing is apartments.

It does feel good to have the profession recognise your work, but often that is in tension with running a successful business as an architect. I have had my work shown on ArchDaily, the Local Project, and was part of an exhibition in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, but none of those things have resulted in any real changes to the type or number of projects I have in my practice. My experience is that the key to getting working published is to only put out there the very best work you are doing, and then remember that getting thousands of likes on instagram might feel great but doesn’t actually change whether the project is good or whether it was profitable to you as an architectural business.

RTF: How do you measure the impact of having your work featured in publications, both professionally and personally?

Liam: Professionally I think the main difference we experience is having legitimacy. When people entrust me with millions of their dollars and ask me to design them something that they are going to live in, I have found it really useful to be able to point to the publications I have been featured in to give assurance to my clients that we will deliver an amazing project. Having our work featured means we can legitimately say that Baikie Corr Architecture is doing amazing architectural work.

When it comes to the personal impact it can be great to have your work shown to thousands of people in magazines and online, but for us the main thing that is motivating is not getting a great photo so we can get a project in a magazine, it is more about making sure our clients specific needs are met. Sometimes you get lucky and those two things align (it just so happens that the client really wants to go with an option that will result in an amazing photo for you to advertise with at completion) but even if a project never gets photographed I prefer to know that we made a difference by being involved.

RTF: What advice would you give emerging architects looking to increase their chances of publishing their work? Are there any specific resources or platforms that you would recommend for architects seeking publication opportunities?

Liam: Focus specifically on the projects you have done that you want to be known for. When people google your name they will see it connected to whatever it is that you put out there, so make sure it is something you are truly proud of.

If we needed to get our work out there we would probably turn to apps like Bowerbird. This type of platform can give you space to collate the photos and copywriting into a single package for people involved with magazines etc. to look through and select from. We are experts in building, so leave the publication stuff to the people who know how to adapt your content to their needs.

I also think that entering competitions is a great way to contribute to the industry in a way that is significant and will get your name featured on bigger architectural sites. The results of these competitions is often written about in the magazines you want to get your name into so this can be an easy way to be featured without winning a multi-million dollar commission.

RTF: Which project of yours has been the most rewarding for you in terms of learning and/or exposure?

Liam: Our first ever project was to design and document a house renovation in Sydney. Our client was a friend of my now wife, and this client worked for a non-for-profit organisation with her husband working as a barrister. They explained to us that most of their money was being funnelled into the altruistic work that they were involved in, supporting an orphanage in south america, or in fighting against modern slavery – but with a growing family they needed to increase the size of their house quickly. This presented a big challenge for time and for budget.

From the moment we started the project we were working with the owners to reduce costs. We were redrawing windows because we found a cheap second hand casement online, we were changing the floor finish because a renovators auction had extremely cheap timber floor boards for sale, and we were going to site to work with the builder on how to change the size of the main sliding doors because a cheaper casement had been made available. The finished build cost $1800 a square metre including a second storey addition, and even though in the Sydney market this is very cheap this house is a beautiful example of simple and refined architectural quality that perfectly meets the needs of a young family. This is how we started Baikie Corr Architecture, and it has informed every decision we have made since.

We are now working on a range of projects ranging from a 20m2 glass box addition in a 1880s built farmstead right the way through to a $15million addition to central station in Sydney. At every scale we have learnt to consider what is already in place before we start designing anything, and clearly set your measure of success before you begin.

RTF: In your opinion, what are the most critical skills and knowledge areas that architectural education should emphasize?

Liam: I think so many students focus on what is going to get them employed, which is often learning skills on particular software or how to do really beautiful drawings. The longer I am in practice the more I realise that you can have beautiful drawings that have been completed really quickly by someone who knows all the shortcuts, but the drawings describe something that is just bad architecture that just shouldn’t be built. AI is going to come along in the next 20 years and completely change the way that we communicate architecture (indeed we have already seen this type of revolution when computers have completely become the norm) so the value that architects are going to bring is not going to be producing accurate drawings quickly – our minds, our ability to critically analyse a problem, that is going to be the thing that is valuable to the world. As difficult as it is to educate in a way that emphasises this type of critique, I think architectural education should increasingly become something that teaches future architects how to think effectively.

RTF: Share a piece of advice for young architects wanting to start their own practice. 

Liam: Starting your own practice is very risky and scary, and you need to be ok with that. I started my own projects while still at University and felt challenged every single day, because I was encountering problems that I had never faced before. They only reason I am still practicing now is because I surrounded myself with more experienced people who I could ask questions, and not just in a polite way of checking in, but asking the types of questions that are at times embarrassing and show that you might not have the answer. It is far better to be honest with people about what you can do and admit when you are wrong than it is to constantly pretend – architects have a massive responsibility to not just our clients directly but also to the whole of society to make the places we live better, so you need to feel comfortable saying “I don’t know that, so I’ll go away and find out and get back to you”.

I also think that a key to my success has been that I remember this is a business that needs to be profitable, which means I often have to say no to people when they ask me to do more work than what I have been paid for. In the moment you might be tempted to be generous and help, but it is important to remember that every time you give extra attention to one client you are actually taking time away from another client – it isn’t fair to your clients who are paying good money for you to give your attention elsewhere, and they deserve to have your total focus and commitment.

RTF: How will architecture and design transform in the coming years?

Liam: We can already see the way that AI is going to transform the industry and that is going to be the biggest shift, probably first in the areas of feasibility assessments (see archistar), or with producing amazing renders quickly (see midjourney), or by producing comprehensive documentation sets almost instantly (see Finch). It is going to be increasingly important that you are offering more than just good documentation, because pretty soon computers are going to do that much better and cheaper than any human ever could. I think architects are going to have to focus much more on contributing their design skills, their knowledge of materials, and will probably only be essential on projects that are alterations to existing buildings that computers won’t be able to easily navigate.

I also think that we are seeing a move away from minimalism, and I am looking forward to it. Much of the discussion online is about “millennial grey” now being outdated, and I can see a definite desire in fashion for louder and more complex design ideas. We saw this during the COVID lockdowns and people stuck at home for months getting tired of their minimalistic houses. I suspect that this type of “maximalism” and desire for self expression will begin to inform architecture in the coming years and it will be very interesting to see how architects respond.

RTF: What’s your take on the integration of AI and architecture/design?

Liam: As I’ve said above, it might seem scary, but I think it will force architects to consider precisely what it is that we can do that is valuable to people. Who knows – perhaps in the coming years architects will be freed up from the need to spend 1000s of hours drawings things and instead we can spend our time doing the fun parts of practice, thinking and designing about what is possible? With the change occurring so quickly I don’t think it is easy to plan, and so I expect that many architects will be forced to respond once the landscape has changed beneath them. Increasingly I think it is important for practitioners to be aware of the changes taking place, and with every tool introduced we should be reconsidering our processes and how it is that we communicate our work. Drawing conventions have remained basically the same for a hundred years, but perhaps Artificial Intelligence will offer a chance to reconsider architecture in the 21st century. I hope that architects are able to adapt to this new world, because it would be a terrible shame if we got left behind.


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