2017 UQ Architecture lecture series: Maytree Studios & Atelier Chen Hung

The running of a small practice faces many challenges. To make a success of the business requires some innovative ways of finding projects and working in different ways to get that start in the industry. This lecture invites two young Brisbane practices, Maytree Studios and Atelier Chen Hung, to give the audience insight into the way they work and run their office and how they address the challenges. Working on projects of a small scale both practices are client focused and passionate about achieving well designed outcomes satisfying their clients briefs as well as architectonically. The engagement with client and the project during the whole process is critical to achieving satisfying outcomes.

The choice for young architects to start their own practice comes from a conscious work/life balance decision. Many start out practicing in larger firms to gain industry experience and knowledge but dissatisfaction for some in the roles given to them working in big practices, instead of quitting the industry, find they need to go out on their own to enjoy working in architecture. Most small practices tend to gain experience on small scale projects at first, these found through personal contacts, either family or friends, such as residential and extensions and small interior work. When starting out working collaboratively enables small practices to gain experience and exposure to larger scale projects and budgets which trying to do on their own would not be possible. By which time they have made contacts or published enough work to market themselves to win future work. Successful outcomes are important for gaining repeat work and recommendations to new clients.

Both practices demonstrate a disciplined and pragmatic way of working, there is an understanding of budgets and other constraints that are reflected in the architectural outcomes. The disciplined way of working is also demonstrated by the emphasis they make on presenting the clarity of their working process with their clients which seem key to the successful running of their business. They discuss a passion for engagement in all aspects of the design process and show a great level of involvement but also a good level of understanding of the value of their projects so they know when to step back. Clearly setting out the terms of the contract with the client, both understanding the output expected and an agreed approach to the design helps do away with any ambiguity that leads to problems on a project.

Finding new and interesting work is always a challenge for every architectural practice no matter the size, big or small. As a young practice this challenge of finding new work is greater, your pool of resources to find work is limited until you have built up a reputation and client base. Gaining new work is what enables the business to grow, and a successful business can rely on satisfied clients to help bring repeat work or new clients through referrals. As a small practice working closely with your client to navigate them through the design process so they better understand your processes as well as enabling you to obtain a clear brief is a sure way of achieving successful design outcomes.