← Previous · All Episodes · Next →
Nielsen Jenkins Episode 65

Nielsen Jenkins

· 01:06:13


Lachlan Morgan, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Thanks, Dave. Nice to see you, mate.

We always start off with a little bit of a background on the studio.

We probably should have planned out who is going to do this beforehand.

But let's just let's just go for it.

Who's going to give the best sort of here's where we came from and our sort of story as a practice.

We had a sort of courtship actually.

I sort of danced around commitment for a while.

No, but it was quite interesting because when I met Lach,

he was working for Kevin O'Brien architects and I was waiting for form architecture, Paul Hudson.

In adjacent offices that I knew that Lach was pretty handy with furniture and stuff.

And so I had actually designed a really wacky table for a friend of mine's apartment fit out

and started talking to Lach about it.

And then for some advice, I ended up building it, sort of being commissioned to build it for that project.

And so from that, we just became mates and then traveled for a little while and then came back.

And I had some projects that I ran under Lach's license and I paid him to help on those projects with me.

And he had some projects that I contracted to him on and they were both architectural projects

and building projects at that point in time and furniture projects and cabinetry projects.

So we sort of did a bunch of those things together.

And then I got a small project that ended up being the Torinda Pavilion.

And we did that together and then we put out the tender and we ended up putting in the tender.

Because we sort of saw it as an opportunity to, it was a really sort of undiluted project that we really liked

and we saw it as an opportunity, a tiny budget.

So we had an opportunity to stay with the project for longer and get the sort of detail

and thought into the project that we thought it deserved.

And that ended up being a pretty good call because it was a really tough process being the builder as well as the architect.

But a really excellent process because Lach has a building license.

He retrospectively got it from building projects with Jamie Russell, James Russell in Brisbane.

But then he also took a year off to design and build his parents house after uni.

So I think that was a pretty huge learning curve and a pretty huge sort of jump into trust together.

Like our agreement at the start was basically he had a much higher hourly rate than I did because he had all the tools and he knew what he was doing.

I was basically the laborer.

But we sort of agreed to split profit or split pain as well.

And I think that's sort of where we sort of established all the trust.

And I think from there it's, for the next few years we sort of did a bunch of projects and we were sort of all over the place.

We were sort of designing, we were building some of them we designed and then we got contracted back to the builder just to do the cabinetry.

Yeah, quite an interesting sort of role in.

And during that process I think we started getting busy from a design point of view as well.

And so that started becoming a bit untenable, working physically like that and then also drawing all night.

So, yeah, yeah.

Yeah, so the architecture became more and more and less in building.

And lock them from your perspective, you know, being kind of in both worlds, the architecture world and the building world.

Like what was your sort of, I guess, point of view starting this new practice or kind of beginning to work on these projects together in terms of how you were going to, you know, like which kind of camp you sort of saw yourself in?

Or was it just like this idea of being kind of continuing to do the building stuff and the architecture stuff going forward into the future?

I think that's changed over the years.

I just love sort of making stuff and it just stemmed from an interest while working for Jamie Russell and Kevin Bryan, actually.

And I was really intrigued by the process of design and then making and then how making affected the design, you know, in retrospect.

And this sort of continuous sort of cyclical process where you learn from one project and then not do it again and then detail it a different way.

So I was always interested in that.

I still still very much am.

I would love to idea that we could build more, but it just, it just became one of the things we did realize through that process was, you know, we'd be on site.

And then moms didn't have a client meeting.

I don't have a client meeting with literally washing or having a shower under a hose on site getting changed into sort of architecture gear and then going off to meetings and then coming back and we were just like, this is, this is sort of not ideal.

And then as we got more and more projects, it sort of just became quite hard.

But we're still, we're still very, I think today we're very much influenced by how buildings are assembled and we love the conversation of builders about economies and how we can do things smarter and easier and still achieve really good results design wise, but also to not kill builders and make things that aren't sort of buildable.

So I do feel like we try to foster a culture in the office where everyone has a understanding of assembly to a degree.

So I don't know if we're going to build any more projects, maybe we will fit the office or something like that, but I don't think it's something that we're actively pursuing as a sort of joint thing anymore.

But it must still have some, you know, some effects that kind of carry over over long term into your process and stuff. You've got this like mindset of building things and this sort of interest and knowledge about that.

But I think there must be also other ways that it makes the practice stronger.

I mean, you talking to you guys the other day, you're telling me about how you still, you still do get pretty hands on in different aspects of the project, whether that's like landscape or furniture or whatever.

So you're still out there getting out of your architecture gear and putting on the builder gear every now and then, right?

No, definitely. I think we'll continue to do small pieces. It's just what we can, the ability we can do.

We have this funny thing in the office of somehow doing landscape projects in the middle of summer.

And every time we do a landscape project, we say, why do we do it in the middle of summer?

Like instead of in the cooler months of June to July.

But I think now it's just we take on that work in a more manageable way.

I think the thing that made us stop doing it is that it's really a full time job to be, you know, in charge of a building site.

You can't sort of just tap in and out of it.

So the things that we do now are more, you know, if we see an opportunity to do something in a project that means that it's financially doable for a client,

we'd much prefer to make, you know, an example being a furniture piece.

We're about to shoot a project next week with Tom where Locke built the, you know, we can deliver it because we just charge hourly rates and the client buys all the materials directly.

And we're just doing it as a one office, not our business model.

We can deliver it for a way it's cheaper price.

And for us, it's if it's a critical piece in the arrangement of a plan or arrangement of a project,

then we'd much rather see it happen and get paid something for it.

Sure, we're not going to shoot lights out with what we make on it, but it's the project gets realised in the way that we imagine it.

And that's where we sort of find a lot of value these days.

Like maybe it's a key dining table or a built-in seat or a couch, Locke's got really good doing couches.

So he can sort of do a couch for, you know, a fraction of the cost that you do in a, to buy one.

And it's sort of specific to that project and those people.

It's a really great thing to be able to do.

And I think, I think that sort of to tie into the landscape conversation is, I know this is a bizarre reference,

but on that jewellux trip we went to Norman Foster's campus there in London.

But one of the things that I was really struck with was how they had internalised engineers, sound people, videographers,

illustrators, animators, you know, under their own banner.

And yet it's a money-making machine.

But I imagine that that's actually like the other side of it, if you look at it positively,

is that they get control over all these parts, you know, like, and so they get the best engineers who give,

they don't have, they're not putting heads with the engineers because the engineers are working with the same exact same dollars there.

They are the engineers, yeah.

Exactly, you know.

And so what we did with the landscape was that we were really frustrated early on with getting to the end of the project

and the client's paying 500 bucks for land for it.

Law on was not being not doing it.

And we'd imagine this really landscape oriented scheme and a courtyard or something.

And so what we did there is that we just, we brought on, at that point, John O'Kapinski,

who ducked my year of architecture and had gone back to the landscape.

Just as a casual person, we took all the risk out of it for him.

And then clients would just pay him an hourly rate that we just literally passed on to not make any margin on.

And he would just do it in whatever time it took.

And then he would source all the plants.

We would have a commercial account with a nursery and then clients would just buy that themselves.

And instead of us making 30% on the plants, the clients just get it directly and we get 30% more plants.

Like we were stoked with this as an outcome.

We got paid an hourly rate.

And then our projects ended up looking like the way we want them to.

And in fact, like looking way better.

Because we had this extra whole layer of design that we were participating in and we'd love.

And we'd learn from them all the time and it's one of our favourite parts.

And so then now there's a huge part of that design that happens on site.

So we just, we charge the client for it as a separate feed of the architecture.

It's like tiny hourly rates, but at least it sort of covers us to be there.

That design part, you know, cool it and have a fuzzy expense, cool it, whatever you want.

But it's actually like we end up with a project that we feel and it realises the sort of vision

of the whole thing in a way that is really, really rewarding, I think.

Yeah, it's like win-win, right?

It's like good for the client and for you guys from a marketing standpoint.

Sounds like that helps you to get a really high kind of rate of projects that actually get built the way you want them to be.

Like, I think a lot of practices in the early days really, really struggle to see the work kind of realised properly

because of those budgetary kind of constraints where we're not going to, you know,

we'll come back to the landscape in five years or whatever, like these elements that you end up just not doing

and then the project just doesn't come together in this like really beautiful way.

But, you know, that makes, that totally makes sense.

If you can make it more achievable for the client to do it, then you guys will end up getting a high percentage of your projects to that point, right?

What we did as well from a design point of view was put the landscape into the concept designs as an integral part of the scheme.

And we weren't saying that the building was it, but the whole idea was about the building and the landscape together.

And so that the concept of, like from literally the first meeting, we were discussing what type of landscapes would be where on the site and what edges were

and what sort of, you know, planting we imagined at all low, you know, we didn't get into exactly the plant ties, but we'd always imagine where rocks were or where.

So the clients sort of got quite invested into the landscape from the very early days.

So it was very hard for them to then pull out of the landscape because it was almost part of the plan or part of the building as a component of the design.

And then we were constantly talking about that landscape.

And so we didn't get left at the end where it was like, okay, we'll just turf everything, you know, even if we've grown out of money, we still had some money in there to put into some.

But also it's prioritising what we see as the most important thing.

So the building and its relationship to the side and to the external stuff, particularly in Queensland, you know, we're sort of so lucky up here.

But for us, we'd much rather save money on the tiles or the taps or the light fittings than save money on this other thing, which is what the building is all about.

You know, someone comes into a project and the first thing I notice is the tap and we've made a pretty ordinary building, you know, that's our thing of course that stuff is important.

And of course it brings value. And of course, if it's wrong, it's wrong.

But we'd much rather be smart about that stuff and have the landscape as an integral part of the scheme.

And that's often really difficult with residential projects because that's the stuff that they can see in a shop.

That's the stuff they can touch and feel. That's the stuff that they've seen at their mates' places, all of that stuff.

So I think it's a lot in the language that we use to communicate the scheme as Locke said early on.

And I think it's a lot in how we display the schemes in the models and everything during the whole course of the project or the design process.

Yeah, interesting.

Oftentimes I'll have architects on that have this like extra capability and interior design and it's really integrated into the studio where, you know, they're not just sort of doing the architecture stuff, but they're also going down to the level of like selecting.

Furniture, artwork, kitchen utensils, like down to every little level of detail for the client.

And then when you see like the end result of the project or in my case, I'm looking at the photography and it's just so well integrated and everything's just so carefully considered and everything.

I always love hearing that because it's such a value add, I guess, on the typical business to do that extra level or that more holistic sort of process.

But I hear that a lot with design, but I think you guys are the first to come on the show and talk about like landscape being that thing for you where it's not just kind of selecting furniture objects and things and artwork, but it's going outside the building or whatever looking at landscape.

And it's interesting how unique that is given that landscape is such an important theme that architects in Australia talk about, but I actually see how it's become part of your business model where it's been like baked into the cake in this kind of quite unique way

that I don't hear a lot of other architects like talking about.

Yeah, I think it's just kind of who we are too at the moment everyone's sort of really engaging with the photography of architecture and a lot of that I think is driven the way that architecture is shot is a lot of it is driven by who's advertising in the magazines or the blogs or whatever.

Because those and usually other people who I don't know, taps and lights and tiles and interesting theory pushing products.

But you start looking at like old architects. I can't really think of there's one market kitchen that I know what it looks like.

There's old, you know, like scenes and projects that they're not photographing the kitchen.

You know, they're photographing openings and the light and the volumes and all those sort of things.

It's pretty fascinating because they only hadn't sort of, you know.

I hadn't really thought about that. That's interesting to think that maybe there's a little bit of like influencer marketing going on.

Probably, you know, there's more maybe going on behind the scenes, the influence that like the product suppliers and designers maybe have on the market than it.

I'm not saying it in a critical way because that, you know, like it's the only way for those things to survive is to have a dual business model.

That stuff just isn't as high on our radar.

So we don't live in monastic houses.

We live in noisy, messy, low-key houses.

And it's always so funny to me when you go around to a client's house and they say,

I'm so sorry about all the mess.

And it's just like, what do you think happens in our houses?

It's like the photography of architecture is very different to how it's lived.

And it's really important to us that our houses feel comfortable to live in.

They don't feel uptight or opulent.

When you're thinking about photography, is there anything like intentional going on there where you're thinking about,

oh, we want to sort of depict the project in a particular way to kind of like communicate maybe that idea of it isn't, you know, this monastic kind of crazy existence.

Like, it's a real house.

These are real people, this sort of stuff.

Is there anything that you guys kind of thought about?

Maybe not consciously, but maybe subconsciously that influences your decisions, like getting Tom Ross to shoot your stuff.

He's from, he's a Melbourne based photographer, typically, right?

So it's kind of like a, it's an interesting choice to sort of branch out, get Tom to shoot your stuff.

I'm sure there's a story there.

But I'm just interested in your sort of philosophy around photography and the kind of style that you guys have gone for for your project.

Because it suits them so well.

Just kind of curious about your sort of decision making that process maybe.

Personally, for me, we, when we talk to people like Tom Ross or Shantanu or Alicia Taylor and any of those guys, we're really interested in those key ideas that we started out with.

And so they have to be captured.

I often feel like we'd like to not edit the context of how the building sit in that.

Like, we really like to try and make sure that, I don't know, I do remember years ago going to a couple of projects.

I didn't even remember what they were, but they were photographs so sort of tight that when I was there, the experience was completely different to what I imagined the photographs to be like.

And so I always thought that I was trying to not do that.

I've tried to capture our projects so that if people went there, they weren't going to sort of think,

oh, wow, they really cut that block of apartments out or they cut that busy road out or the street signs or the solar panels of next door.

Like, you know, every architect, of course, moderates the vision or the sort of exposure of a project.

But at the same time, I don't think you want to sort of mislead people or anyone into believing what it is.

And then when you go there, you're like, this is completely not what we have sold in a way in photography.

And it was always just interesting sometimes when you go to projects and they're not what the magazines have shown.

Yeah, I think it was also for us.

It's that sort of honesty in the photography.

But also, I think that we do strip the projects quite a lot in the actual photographing of them just so then to try and bring the ideas to the forefront.

So it's not a lifestyle shoot.

Like, there was a couple of times with different people, not people that we sort of usually use where it was just heading towards a lifestyle shoot.

It was just feeling really wrong and it was not, you know, like, you can imply occupation without necessarily putting someone in a white, flowy, linen shirt or something in every photo.

And I think it's that thing, like, I think Tom did a great job with Mount Koota, for instance, where you can see how you can imagine how it's occupied.

But the emphasis is on the openings and the connection to the landscape and those sort of things.

We sort of made a bit of a call on that to not put people in it much at all and I think it was really effective.

And I think that's kind of where we're at is we will strip it a lot to try and foreground the ideas, I think, rather than making it sort of to lifestyle.

And I think that's good because it sort of brings a clarity to the images because 99% of people will only engage with the project through 8 images or 10 images.

And it's so you've got to be really, those are so critical. It's the last stage of documentation we sort of see it as.

And so Chantemastaric used to take our photos as well and he lives in Ireland now.

And so that was a real problem during COVID.

And then Tom had been shooting clear school post stuff and public realm lab stuff, who they're both mates of mine.

And we really liked particularly his photos of poor coaches stuff because he wasn't sort of shy away from darkness.

So often people are overcooking it and making it too.

And also I think in Melbourne all the photos in Melbourne are sort of going sort of more and more desaturated, which is the most magnificent photographs.

But in Melbourne you sort of can do that I think because it's the predominant light condition is sort of this more overcast thing.

And we want to show that the building works in the daytime.

You know, we have like really heavy contrast.

We want to show that. We want to show that depth in our projects.

I've showed and darkness and that's what we loved about his photos of poor coaches stuff was, you know, in particularly in a leafy context.

We really loved that he was getting the contrast really nicely.

I think like darker moodier images is like I think I've probably probably had this thought a few times on the podcast recently.

But I think that's kind of the way it's heading is towards like more of that darker moodier, more kind of emotional feeling sort of imagery and a little bit less super over saturated, flat kind of very super minimal overcast.

Whereas some architects have said sort of almost like bushfire smoke kind of look to everything where it's very just sort of smoky and undefined.

And yeah, I don't know, maybe things are heading in that way and I think people are kind of getting into that.

But I think that totally relates to your work because I think like, you know, I'm in Perth.

You guys are in Queensland.

There is a sort of harsh and maybe a bit of a harshness to the environment and maybe the home, you know, has more of this kind of feeling of like shelter and retreat and you kind of want to get out of the sun and you know, it's kind of nice to have this sort of feeling of like.

Okay, it's like a kind of darker cooler kind of karma place.

And I think like photography that aligns with that feeling that you're trying to create and even just that difference between Melbourne and Queensland, I think is just absolutely spot on.

But yeah, it's interesting.

I think like as a brand right because I could imagine that you guys would be in this.

This will be a tough question, but a straight a problem that comes up a strategy sort of decision that you have to make quite often, I think, is a residential practice is.

Do we see ourselves as kind of the studio for the everyday person where we're thinking about sort of affordability and, you know, that normal people should be engaging with architects and all that sort of stuff?

And maybe seeing the other side as being this kind of like elite kind of out of touch architect, right, who's kind of, you know, never showing people in photos and it's about magazines and awards and stuff.

And there's these sort of these two sides, I think that sometimes tend to establish or these two sort of sets of values.

And, you know, speaking to you guys, I kind of get the sense that you may be on the middle of those two where it's like we do get the photos without the people because it brings out the ideas and it's a more kind of intellectual in that way.

Whereas at the same time, we're thinking about affordability, trying to like get more going in these projects, trying to really like roll up our sleeves to try and make more happen.

That sort of economy theme, you know, goes on.

So that's just me listening to it as the marketing guide.

But am I getting warmer there that maybe there's this idea of like, where do we sort of sit as a studio from a brand standpoint?

I have an upbringing from a rural sort of background and farm buildings and Morgan has a family property on an island, like a tin shed sort of very remote building.

It's in South Queensland, but we both are attracted to, you know, almost like a modernist or brutalism or, you know, the sort of honesty of buildings and how they sit.

And we were always intrigued and we still are intrigued by that.

And I think it's ingrained in us that everything has to be there for a reason.

Everything has to have a purpose.

Everything has to have, you know, there has to be a value to what we're adding in terms of not just the design, but, you know, if it's important that that opening is 10 meters or 20 meters and that set of bills is costing 60,000 dollars, that has to be something

that the building or the design or the landscape gets from that and the clients get from that, from that key idea.

So I think we as a practice like putting value on elements of the building, but we now starting to get into through COVID and labor and builder shortages and trades going up and materials going up.

But, you know, it's actually for us quite interesting in that we were sort of doing a lot of that stuff before this happened or it was something that we were interested in.

And so now it's actually giving us more of an opportunity to express materials and express how things are put together, but also to we have a really great relationship with a couple of builders that we use repeatedly.

And we, and we like that relationship and then the buildings are better, the trust is better, the designs are sort of realized by when I'm fighting with the builders either.

And so it sort of delivers this very calm building approach when we're on site with clients as well that, and maybe this is a bit sidetracked, but that together sort of allows us to put the buildings together, I think, in that sort of, I wouldn't say it's an economic away, like I think economic

economic. I think we've always been interested in the economics together. Yeah, and, but for us, we always loved the cost cutting phase.

I mean, I know architects always win the cost cutting phase, but for us, it was this time where we took out all the nonsense and the decoration and it gave us an excuse to do it, which we sort of wanted to do from the start.

But, you know, so we take things back and things were analyzed sort of from a bang from a buck point of view.

And if they weren't essential to the conceptual sort of logic of the project, then we'd strip them and the projects get better for every single time.

They get better for that for that process.

And so what I think COVID has done is actually brought that process forward more and we sort of bring the builders into that process earlier and trusted builders and really great builders.

And they're really, really a part of the team in working that design up, you know, and it's always analyzed for the bang for the buck and stuff.

I think as an answer to your question though, before, I think you're right, we wrestle with that a little bit.

We want to be an affordable service and an affordable firm and we love working on small budget projects.

And in fact, we are working really hard to try and work out a way to do it that's viable for the business.

And at the moment, that's just doing hourly rates. And we then, and so the client has to have this big amount of trust in us to actually just draw what we think we need to do like we're building to happen.

And we were really stoked last year to get a common commendation at National Woods for that little Karaman Waters project because that was a 360 grand project contract.

I think, and our fee was less than 36 grand for the whole project.

And that was her family friend of ours.

But she had this huge trust in us and we were able to just cull all the drawings that we didn't think were absolutely critical for the idea.

And then we spent a lot, we got a good builder and we spent a lot of time on site.

And so that's what we're doing.

We're doing another one for a similar project.

And it's for Andrew Lynch, who's a professor at University of Sydney.

But it's, they're really great projects and really essential and really like it's all about the idea and the strength of the idea.

And the idea has to be stronger than the tap or the grout line in those projects, you know.

So it's, that for us is like really liberating.

I know, we, and I think sometimes they're more transformative than, you know, the multi-million dollar projects.

And of course, we're doing big projects as well and we love doing them.

But we always want to be working on both and we've got to find a way to do it that is sustainable, you know, for the practice.

But I think then in the way that you portray the architecture to your question, it's about, it's about the ideas.

It's not dumbing it down for the every person.

Like even if they've got a small budget, you want to attract the people with a small budget, but are keen on the ideas.

Because then you can have a, then it can be helpful and you can get a good project.

I think that's, that's the key thing that we're finding.

No, I think that makes sense.

There's some, I mean, there's just so many studios that have, you know, maybe we'll be looking at $500,000 projects or budgets coming in the door or whatever.

And they will be talking to, you know, marketing people like me and saying, I really want to be doing kind of $1.5 million projects.

Because then I can really do kind of like award-winning quality work because there'll be money for this and this and the other thing.

And then it's, you know, really interesting to see when studios that can do those really big, you know, multi-million dollar projects, but then they can also go and smash it at a $350,000 project.

And it's like, you know, there's no excuses.

Yeah, you have to be clever with the project team as well.

Like, you know, the builders definitely, you know, has to have buy in at the very early stage.

But, you know, asking the builder as well, what drawings do you need? What ones don't you need?

Where can we put our value and where do you don't need it?

We're still very much learning how to do all of this.

Like, it's not, I don't think we've solved any problems in the last 10 years or whatever.

Like, I don't think we're any closer to solving what we are or where we're at anyway.

And I really like the notion of that as well moving forward.

We feel really proud about the fact that that project in particular was awarded by,

that's our first national recognition in the Institute Awards.

But it's like most practices have this trajectory where the work just keeps getting more expensive and more complex.


And people associate that with making more money and sure like a bigger project.

Usually you do make more money.

But if that client's wrong as well, or if that client's not interested in the ideas,

then you spend all your time trying to bang your head against the brick wall trying to get a great project to happen.

And it doesn't turn out to be a profitable project anyway.

If we charge proper hourly rates and we do it for, we just charge them what it takes us,

then we can do it unusually.

If we're honest and self-critical about what we're drawing,

I really enjoyed the chat that you had with Chris Gilbert about that.

You can just move into the next market, the next bracket of client and have an enormous impact

and expose yourself to an enormous market of potential clients and have something really liberating and fun about that too.

Like you're engaging with these buildings that are really basic and the ideas have to be strong and fast and robust.

And it's a really nice thing to pay.

So the bracket you're talking about is the bracket down.

You're talking about the bracket down in budget is the one where it opens up a whole new order possibility.

I think so, yeah.

Not up.

It's nice to be playing.

I mean, we're in a very privileged position where we are doing expensive projects as well.

So that probably finances a bit of the other, but they're still really important projects to us.

That's interesting.

Maybe it is a bit of a mix of the two, right?

Like you kind of have the biggest stuff and then the small stuff can be,

I want to say like a loss leader because I don't think it would be,

but it's like you have to be a bit more careful with it.

It's probably not going to be as profitable of a project, but there's other benefits to it.

There's other reasons that you want to be working on it, but I kind of get what you're saying.

Do you do hourly rates for all of your stuff or is it just those projects where you think,

OK, the budget, we're going to have to be really careful with this.

And then that's the way you'll structure your fees.

Or how do you kind of go about it?

Usually, I think at the moment we're doing it up to 500 grand, we would do hourly rates for probably.

We sort of just say that we're going to do it based on the complexity.

But like Archie, actually we do a set concept fee.

That's the same for any scale of project.

So we do it as three grand measure drawings, three grand briefing and diagramming in the 10 grand concept design.

And that's not sketch design, that's concept design.

So that's literally our first time putting it together as a package.

And usually as a model, and usually we spend way too long on it.

But we don't know what it means if we have this concrete thing that we can either choose to document parts of, stage it.

That's sort of the master plan stage.

And I think it's a really similar set up to what they said from memory.

But it gives us a chance to test the working relationship, gives them a chance to do that.

And then from there we sort of work out the best way of delivering the project.

And that fee sort of thing from their changes often, depending on the complexity of it.

Sometimes it's an interior project and we just sort of work out a fee to do that or commercial or whatever.

But it gives us enough fee that we can spend enough time on it to know what it involves.

And then we know that a budget can have ideas about the budget and keep all that stuff in line as well.

Well, so you start off a new project because, yeah, the episode you're referring to is with Chris from Archer.

If anyone wants to go listen to that.

But we're talking about this idea of doing like a fixed fee sort of initial stage of stuff.

And then you kind of go on from there.

So in this case you do like two sort of three grand things and then a ten grand thing.

And then you develop a fee proposal or you put together a fee from that point.

So is it client?

They know what our indicative percentages would be from the start.

Right, OK.

So they would have a rough idea of what maybe that overall kind of fee is going to look like based on their budget.

And but this would be that first element where and then after that it would be more precise.

You would give them a more exact kind of a proposal from that point.



That's great.

And does the sort of the structure of those initial blocks and the cost for those?

Does that change or adjust at all based on sort of budget or project type or size?

Or is that just kind of this is a structured sort of fixed pricing that we do with every new project?

You know, take it or leave it.

That's how we sort of structure things.

Yeah, it is.

And it doesn't change.

Yeah, unless you know for sure that it's going to be hourly rates from the start then and then we would do hourly rates.

Because usually for the stage we wouldn't make much money on if anything because we tend to spend too long on it.

But you know by the end of that stage that it works.

We sort of realized too that we like doing the projects the whole way through.

So we often if it gets to that point and clients can't afford the fees or it's sort of it is where it is.

And they sort of just want to do one stage or not and take from there.

And that like we try to shy away from that a little bit because we inevitably end up doing a stage and then you get phone calls for the next six months when the builders or the engineer or someone's, you know, you sort of then become this point of call when things don't go right on site.

So we've tried to not do that either.

And we I think like 95% of the project.

I don't know if we have a project that we don't do the full scope, including contract administration and site management like it in the small ones.

The small ones are probably more so we need to do more of that and less drawing.

So to speak so that those things can be delivered with the builder and the conversations that they're with people we trust on site.

And I think to the other thing I'd like to add is that the small projects are great.

Don't get me wrong, but we can't do five of them together like we just don't have the capacity to do.

It's almost like the projects have to fit into the office in terms of where we're at and where we're.

You know, COVID was a very hard time for a lot of people, but it also became really hard to staff at certain stages as well and trying to get momentum.

And so we couldn't control the momentum of some of these projects and some of them were six to eight months over contract, et cetera, et cetera.

And so then to add three or four little ones in there as well, it doesn't help the situation.

So we do like to select the mix of projects within the office so that we can service them properly and do, you know, give people the face time they need with.

Both mugs and I, you know, not just take everything to walks in the door.

We've made a conscious decision about that as well.

Yeah, absolutely.

When you're talking to a new client about that first stage, that fixed fee stage, you know, you're getting this opportunity to kind of work with them and test drive them as a client.

Do you sort of look at it that way?

Like we can be a little bit loose in terms of putting this forward as an option to people because, you know, if we get through this first stage and we're not locked in.

If it turns out that they are a pain in the butt, we can just go, okay, you know, we're not going to go forward with your project.

Or do you still sort of see that initial fixed thing as kind of almost making a commitment to that client and it's like we still need to be pretty careful about who we even do that with because ultimately they're probably going to expect that we're going to continue with their project if it's, if it's all good.

We do a little bit of that, but it would only be if one of us gets alarm bells from someone in those initial conversations.

You know, like we don't get millions of inquiries every day, you know, it's sort of, it's really strange how they come and go and it sort of tends to be.

There's a big flurry that's not associated with anything.

I know.

They come in like waves, don't they?

And then nothing that's just like crickets.

For one thing that we've actually found that's really good is actually is just sort of saying that if you do have the wave is just saying like we have, we'll be able to do your project in six months.

You know, we'll be able to start it in six months.

I'm sorry if that's a thing, but we are servicing a current lot of clients and the implication is that six months down the track, you will treat them in the same way and as long as you honor that when you make a commitment to meet them at that time.

And then we're actually doing a deposit now of one of those three grand stages.

What that means is that you give them all the brief, the briefing documents.

You can start getting a survey done, you know, usually often that goes really get town planning advice.

It's like there's stuff you can be doing and it sort of sorts out the ones for us.

It's the guys who are in a massive rush that are the problems.

So if they're keen on using us and you've done their research and have talked to other architects and they want to use us, then they tend to be okay with that, you know.

That for us is it has been really great and it means that we can then, and that deposit thing is really good because it means that we can actually forecast when we're going to have work and what work we can pull on and pull in the stuff.

I know that sounds probably a pretty basic thing that most practices do, but we're not that out.

But that's structured around here. It's all a bit loose.

But there's also, I think to Dave in the last couple of years, like, you know, there was a stage where everyone was in a bit of a hurry and.

Yeah, it's been Queensland Brisbane and Queensland property markets.

Like everybody knows it's famous for being a crazy market over the last couple of years, you know.

So how you guys manage that's just crazy.

Well, there was this, you know, we had some clients in it, sort of a bit of a flurry.

And then you sort of say, we can't start anything for three or four months because A, we can't get a survey done where, you know, we can't get an engineer to look at it.

But then all the builders we're talking about to using, they don't have a spot for the next 18 months.

So why are we rushing this?

Like, you know, in fairness, like, you can't get a tender, so you have to use one builder.

And that builder, we know exactly what he's got on the books because he's the same builder that John Elway is a sort of line vote wearing or, you know, so everyone knows what their lineup is.

And so why are we rushing this?

Like, you know, how about we do a better job and give you the level of commitment we've given the other guys?

Yeah, absolutely.

No, I think that makes a lot of sense.

And I think this comes up quite often, this idea of, like, time and clients waiting to start as being quite a good qualifier of who's sort of separating the world.

And I think it's a great way from the chaff because, you know, people that are willing to wait, they've got more commitment.

They've chosen you more specifically, most likely, you know, based on them really liking your work and doing the research.

You're not just, you know, a Anderson architect in the, you know, in the phone book that they've just called up and you're like, you know, they're going, can we start tomorrow?

There's actually some really, like, careful choice there.

And that pops up quite a lot as being something that people don't intentionally just, you know, instill a waiting list when they don't need one.

It usually happens through circumstance being just overwhelmed by inquiries and then not wanting to just get out of control with it.

But then they end up going, oh, it's actually quite a nice way to actually improve the quality of the clients we end up working with in some ways.

So no, it's cool, cool hearing that again.

Yeah, and I think that that fee scale document that I was talking about earlier, how you said whether it was the same for every client, that was also part of it.

We just put it in one place in one document.

So basically an inquiry comes in, we just change the address on the document and send it back to them.

And so it's, you know, we can have that back to them straight away, but it explains more or less how we work without giving away all our IP.

We don't sort of go out, we will go to site and meet them before they've signed that agreement.

But at least they've got an idea about what the fees are.

You don't, you know, we used to spend so long going out and meeting people and then doing it.

You'd be explaining the process every time a million phone calls and stuff.

This was just, literally, this is our first response.

It's just change the address, send that out.

And then that just, that sort of is a big sorting piece as well.

My God, can you guys send me that document later?


But it's just so much better because it's so much time back.

We used to, like, literally be searching through inbox for the last email you sent and you copy that and paste it in there.

But it's, you know, spending so long on all of them.

And I know people, people charge for that initial meeting and stuff.

But I think that's crazy because you're sort of putting a piece of friction, you know, a bit of it is $200 or something.

It's like, if someone else isn't charging that and there is a million good people in Brisbane, you know, like it's, it's, yeah.

And we often are up, you know, that we will go and see a client.

They will be talking to John Milway or Linbow Wayne or Kindle or someone.

And it's, you know, it's great for us now.

We just sort of talk to them.

And if we win the project, it's great.

If we don't win the project, we love following what the other guys are going to do with it anyway that we know they're going to do a good job.

I love it. I love just like getting it out of the way and being upfront about pricing because, you know, a lot of the time when someone's reaching out to you, you feel like it's a project inquiry, like they're ready to get going.

But in reality, they're just doing basically a price check.

They're just curious to know like what you charge and you can't tell the difference as the, as the architect or as the consultant in my case.

Like you go through the whole process, you do the initial meeting, you spend time putting together a custom fee proposal.

You do all of that stuff, at least I don't have to actually physically go anywhere to meet my clients.

I'm in Bloody Perth, but you guys, like you'd actually, in a lot of cases, want to go out to side and all this sort of stuff.

And it is such a time I used to say, I love this idea of going, we're just going to have this little step at the beginning where it's just, this is just indicative pricing so that if we're worlds apart in terms of what your expectations are and what we're going to do this for.

Like, we're done from day one and it cost us, cost each of us two minutes of our time rather than taking up two hours of just, you know, faffing around.

So I really, really like that process.

And I think I'm literally going to put together a document this afternoon based on yours.

I love it.

It's good though, yeah.

No, that totally works.

Maybe bringing things back a little bit to something we touched on earlier in terms of, I guess, the brand because I think when we're talking about pricing and we're thinking about, you know, structuring.

The way you do that always kind of changes as you move into different parts of the market, you know, so as you kind of maybe go on and the type of clients you're working with changes over time, you're always having to sort of evolve how you do fees and how you approach different things because your clients change.

I guess like, as they've been, you know, we're talking about this idea of as a brand, like where do we sort of sit in the market, but where do you guys kind of feel like you're at the moment?

You mentioned that you've got like this mix of sort of the bigger stuff and then the occasional small thing comes in and sort of fills a gap where you've got capacity for it.

But like, do you guys think long term, like where do you reckon the kind of the core client is going to be?

Like the person that is your kind of typical, like, yeah, that's a Nielsen Jenkins client.

We see them and we're like, yeah, that's the one for us, you know, we would expect them to come to us even if they were chatting to some of the cool architects around here, like what would bring them towards us, I suppose.

I don't know. I'd really love for that person to be really varied.

I know that lots of people have really specific answers to that question, but for us, that person is really a really critical part of what ends up happening.

And I think we actually went through a time period there where we had, we sort of shifted from being just mates, mates approaching us to design something for them because we were the only architects.

And then you, to sort of, once you get a few things published, then people start coming because of the work that they'd seen.

And then we got to a point where we were a little bit frustrated by the work that they'd seen and we felt like we wanted to be doing, you know, and I think that's the sort of landscape step.

But there was this really nice period of time that happened around Keapantara's place and the Woolowan House, where the clients had really, really specific briefing requirements.

Keapath was an artist who worked from home, he had a studio that needed a cada for sort of small shows and stuff like that downstairs.

And then Woolowan Simon and Rage had that they owned restaurants and they had really specific sort of cooking requirements.

It was something that shifted in the way that we were working with. We just had to try and find what that specific thing was in potential clients and we sort of went down a rabbit hole of improving our briefing documents and stuff to try and flesh out what that thing was.

So that was sort of an inherent part of the process and I don't know, I felt like the project shifted up a notch at that point because they were much less generic, just based on how we would imagine ourselves in there.

Of course, there's a bit of that, but it's overlaying that sort of specificity to the work, which I don't know, we found really, really rewarding.

And Toowoomba House as well was around that time and they had really specific sort of requirements for their kids and stuff as well.

So yeah, I don't know, I think that our process is really improved in that time and I would hate that we are only appealing to a certain smaller population of people or more specific because the last thing I do is sort of just keep banging out the same stuff.

I think there's also the big question that we don't haven't really worked out. It is what the next step is.

Like, I don't think we're all as a practice keen to sort of test ourselves in different types of building, different typologies that we would love to do in education building or

with tests that we've tried as sort of some commercial projects that we get very degrees of enjoyment from.

But I think that in any involvement, yeah, but I think that's the next step is sort of, and I think that's a really valuable exercise.

It would be more specific about projects you take once, so then you head into something like that.

And I think it's something that we need to sit down and do as a practice.

That's probably like that next stage that you guys are going to start thinking about a bit more.

Yeah, I was interested, you know, half the time you see precursors who do make that leap and it's just a chance meeting of a chance client or, you know, somewhere who's an advocate and pretty much always.

And I think that our work would be really translatable into a bigger scale theme, you know, because of the process we take when we design a house.

But yeah, we'd love to test our chops at a slightly bigger scale, I think, and I think that's our next big step.

There's always this kind of conversation that comes up about architects.

I talk about it every single episode. I don't know why.

But this idea of like having a style, this sort of, or a signature or like how the extent to which you're kind of repetitive as a studio versus having variety and sort of just like responding to each client.

And I think you made that interesting point about, you know, we like clients to have a bit more variety like it's a bit more gives us a bit more to maybe like work with creatively or at a concept level for a project.

I think and bringing that out in the brief is some really great.

I think that's probably one of the most interesting sort of ways of looking at it because I think sometimes, you know, practices will say, I really like having a great variety of clients.

The reason for that is that they just kind of have a very random mix of clients.

And so they go, I'm pretty, I'm like, kind of, that's what I've got.

So I love it because otherwise, what am I doing?

There's sort of like an acceptance of a random mix of clients, but actually kind of going, you know, there's something that that does for our projects that really, you know, adds to those projects, I think is a good thing.

But that said, you know, with that thing about style and consistency, I find that most studios don't actually like layout.

This is exactly like what we're about as a studio and the type of work we're going to try to do.

What tends to happen as studios get better known over time as their work gets better known is that they just tend to attract more and more people who are kind of similar to each other.

It's like discover weekly.

They don't really do anything.

You know, their clients just end up looking like carbon copies of each other sort of to a degree.

Like the people that walk in the door just end up being a lot more similar to one another.

Because, you know, it's like when you first start a studio and everyone's just coming from word of mouth from your cousin or somebody you went to uni with or whatever, they don't know anything about your work and they're completely random mix of people.

You just don't know what you're going to get.

But once it's like your work is pulling in people, you tend to get people that kind of buy into the ideas of those projects and they tend to have a lot in common with each other.

So I feel like that creates a cycle where studios just naturally get a little bit more consistent repetitive over time.

I don't know if that's, you know, always the case, but it's just something I've picked up on the podcast a little bit anyway and from work with my clients.

It's probably really true.

Something Stewie Vokes always says, but each project isn't just a project in isolation.

It's part of a sort of a body of work.

And I think that that's a really important thing to understand as a practice and particularly as a young practice when you're just trying your best in someone and your cousin's done your reservation or renovation or, you know, doing a deck for someone.

Because I'm just trying to find one thing that you're proud of or one lesson that you learned in that and then you carry that through.

And so, of course, there's ideas that aren't worth, you know, you don't throw them out.

Like Mount Kutha House was probably, you know, our fourth or fifth project with exposed concrete blocks.

But the detailing is much more refined and then lock sisters place, which we haven't photographed yet was around the same time.

And we were infinitely better at drawing blockwork and tin.

And we had had all these conversations with a roofer who did the same.

You know, he did the roof on the second one.

And so like you're getting better as well, you know, and that the ideas aren't worth throwing out as you're getting better at them.

You can test them in different ways.

And, you know, the realities of the economic proposal that we were doing for Mount Kutha House is the same as what we're throwing in their lock sisters place and durability.

And maintenance and all those things.

And we're sort of still doing projects that are testing those ideas and really different spatially or volumetricially or from a conceptual point of view.

Yeah, so it's interesting, you know, you can tend to get kind of almost typecast into these sort of different roles.

In a studio, you know, you get known for a certain thing and then that's what everyone thinks you do.

And it's something that, you know, musicians have to think about a lot and actors have to think about a lot.

And like, there's these roles and it's so it's so weird and fascinating because, you know, architecture and architecture firms where we're just like normal, small, local businesses, you know, at the end of the day, like are we really that different from, you know, any other sort of service provider in the construction industry

It's got this whole other layer of our kind of public image and our work is widely known like an art like it's that artist aspect of our business, which I think is sometimes like, I don't know, it's a weird, weird thing to look at but oftentimes like people will be kind of talking about

They'll send me feedback because we might be having a conversation that's kind of talking more about that artist side of the business, but their focus is on the business, local business side of it.

And then they're like really disagreeing with what we'll be chatting about.

And then there'll be the opposite approach where we might be talking about something that's just very kind of mundane realities of like running just a normal business like an engineer or a painting company or whatever.

And the people are in this like artist mindset and they're like, well, what does that have to do with anything?

And I just, I don't know, I kind of find it interesting how our business sits in this thing where we have to kind of have a concern to both ends of that that we're not, we are a business but we're also thinking about how we do have like an image as a creative brand like it's odd, isn't it?

Do you actually think about it?

Tim healed this amazing lecture one time where he was, he started it where he was just sort of saying, you know, architects stop calling themselves fucking artists, the better, you know, we're just like, we're just problem solvers in the same way that everyone else's problem solvers out.

We've got like a sphere of capability like it overlaps with engineering and overlaps with building and overlaps with landscape and stuff like that and say whether the doctor might have a sphere of problem solving.

And I think that's, that is sort of, I guess the way that they managed in their amazing practice to sort of change the work depending on scale or typology or over time that they started off doing buildings that were completely cut.

They made the carpentry because that was the cheapest way of building at that point in time and that they developed into more masonry and more blockwork and rendered blockwork and stuff as that became the economical way of doing it.

And then spending the money where they wanted to and it's exactly, you know, the sort of thread of theirs was to make these amazing, you know, one incredible room for the project that was for the city, even if it was for the for a house or a public building or whatever.

And I think if you think of it like that, maybe that's the way that you negotiate that sort of stylistic thing and it's actually we're using the material that's most appropriate to solve this particular thing that lets us bring this concept which changes every project.

And that's the focus, but this other thing is just allowing us to achieve that in a way that's efficient and economical and resilient and responsible and all those sort of things like that's the way to look at it.

I had certainly how we try and look at it.

Yeah, and then it just sort of naturally emerges.

Yeah, it is a bit scary when you get clients in the door that have seen another project and they just want that sort of Mac 2 or Mac 3 and that's that's, you know, for me it's definitely a terrifying prospect.

We kind of enjoy when we first talk to clients and say we've got no idea what this thing's made of, what it's going to look like, how it's going to do anything until we started.

And some clients really embrace that and the right clients really embrace that, but when people start saying, well, it's got to be white and it's got to be this and it's got to have that and it's going to do this.

I don't know, you know, part of the puzzle has already been taken away from us.

And the joy of the exploration or the journey of realizing what it could be is done and then it just becomes a sort of rinse and replete and, you know, it's a different type of done it block on a different block.

I don't think we're interested in that, but I'm definitely not interested in it.

I think it would be terrifying to get to the end of a career and that's just one building, one roof full, one on one in detail, one door through a shelf, one lane.

Or how the building meets that landscape, it's, I don't know, maybe I'll give it up at that stage.

I think that's where, as like, you know, trying to learn more about business as an architect, you're trying to kind of get up to speed on, you know, what is kind of recommended as far as, I guess, like thinking more about the business side and the strategy there.

Everything you read is about the value of specializing and, you know, trying to get things as kind of efficient and repetitive as possible because that way the business will be kind of more profitable if you kind of do the same thing over and over again.

You develop kind of a, you know, reputation for that and that sort of thing.

But, you know, like, the evidence for that working in the architecture space is not very strong.

It's like, you don't tend to see too many, you know, thriving architecture brands that just kind of, I guess it's debatable, isn't it?

You know, one man's sort of interesting, consistent portfolio is another, is another's repetitive, you know, copy paste, cookie cutter.

Right, so it's hard to say, but generally speaking, I think like the practices that are the best known and the most respected and tend to have no trouble attracting work, they do tend to be quite each building tends to be a contribution of something new and interesting and

But I do think too, you can get economies like we touched on how we could do small projects because it was a point that was raised to us by the National jury about how we were involved in this project and what, how did we make any money.

But I think if you can customize your fee set up or even the structure of what you're documenting to suit the project to allow you to do that type of project, you know, there's, because it could be just really rigorous and go, well, I'm going to touch 20%.

20% on a $300,000 project is not going to stack up, you know, pretty quickly, you're out the door before you get started.

But to, you know, like, I do feel like, and it's not, I'm not suggesting it's anything new, but we have focused on getting the right type of clients and making sure our fees are aligned with other practices that we respect, but also to making sure

that we can get effort into the door with some of these smaller projects with the right clients, with the right people who are invested in design and like what our work can do and how we can help them to realize their project and live better and have an approachable architecture to a degree

that, you know, all that sort of sits underneath the stuff that's in magazines or the imagery of it, really, that can be sort of varied.

I think it's a really, really positive thing. Generally Dave, the way you set up this podcast, because I think that it's, it's something that architects don't talk about very much into a larger group.

I think, you know, we've been really lucky with amazing mentors who have been really open to us about how they set up, you know, business stuff in Brisbane.

But I sort of feel like there's so much that goes on, there's so much other stuff in making a good building than just the design of a good building, you know.

There's so many humans involved and how all of those people interact. I think that's the part that you can, and we've really focused on sort of streamlining and focused a lot of energy on sort of gathering really good people around us that are problem solvers, and so it is going to be

stressfully, even if it goes perfectly, it's going to be one of the most stressful things the client ever does.

So it's like, if you're surrounded by problem solvers and not people who are, you know, Locke and I are the people who are good at being really contractual and really, you know, we're not aggressive contract people.

And what we've learned is, you know, the hard way is we don't want clients who are aggressive contract people, we don't want builders who are aggressive contract people.

We want people who are, you know, we try and, and of course you get stung, but the things that we can control, you know, we try to, you know, and one of them is the builder and the engineer and the certifier and all those people.

So if you can control them, the outcome for everyone and the project is good.

It's sort of, it's much more important that you get a good builder than you get a good door seal detail, because a good builder will do it regardless and they will affect it in.

You know, if you spend your energy fostering that relationship rather than, you know, drawing everything that one is to one and expecting people to build it in a really sort of agro manner.

It's always coming up on the podcast that, you know, getting to the point where you actually end up with the end result of a beautiful set of photos of a building and a really bloody happy client and you're, and you're a happy architect with what you've done.

I mean, the number of things that have to go right, it's just, it's like mind boggling.

And, you know, just in terms of the podcast, we, I just really even, I'm talking about, you know, the initial stage of kind of who comes in the door and maybe, you know, how do you structure fees?

The right way.

And I reckon it's like 1% of the overall list of things that have to be in the, you know, have to be in order for things to go smoothly.

It's absolutely astonishing.

I mean, I don't know how you guys do it.

But anyway, respect behind every project you see in a magazine.

It's like, oh man, so many things have had to turn out right.

But yeah, exactly.


Well, maybe we should leave it there, guys.

I've taken up all of your afternoon.

So thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

I really appreciate both of you guys spending the time.

And yeah, thank you so much.

Pleasure, man.

Thanks, Dave.

View episode details


Listen to Office Talk Australia, Marketing for Architecture using one of many popular podcasting apps or directories.

Apple Podcasts Spotify Google Podcasts Overcast Pocket Casts Amazon Music
← Previous · All Episodes · Next →