So You Want To Be Successful As An Architect?

What is success to you might be different to how the architecture industry views success.

One thing is certain: Everyone wants and deserves more. And to have more, you have to learn how.

I am not here to discuss philosophical concepts behind our drive as architects to be better or have more. I am here to promote a better life for architects. More recognition, more clients, more awards, more money.

Maybe you are happy where you are, maybe you struggle, but either way all of us could benefit from knowing what to do to improve the state of our careers.

You may think you aren’t motivated by money, but money is a scorecard in the game of business, and “winning” is fun!

Nothing is cheap these days. Have you tried to buy a house or car lately, or pay for college tuition? The price of everything has gone up! 

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Jewel Changi Airport by Safdie Architects. Image Courtesy of Jewel Changi Airport

It is a fact that the profession of architecture does not pay well. Working for someone else often means being undervalued, underappreciated and yes… underpaid. For any brave souls out there, determined to do something on their own, the industry doesn’t make it any easier to start a business. You might be paid to dream up new realities, but how do you create your own success and take control of your wellbeing?

If you are anything like me, you probably follow the incredibly successful design professionals and celebrity architecture studios thinking that they reap the type of opportunity that never comes your way. They seem to be somehow above the problems you might be facing. But is that really the case? Or perhaps they go through exactly the same struggles as you do, except they found a way to overcome them and came out better on the other side?

People say all sorts of things. I am sure you’ve heard things like Zaha made it because of family money, Bjarke because of his father’s connections, and many more stories like that. They might be true, but they could also be used as an excuse for why it’s hard for you to be like them.

Therefore, I think it's time to examine our belief system and explore why we think something is or isn't possible in architecture. It is time to take personal responsibility for your career and see if what you have been telling yourself is really all there is to it. 

If you have even the faintest dream of achieving more in this industry, becoming a better architect, leaving a legacy and being in control of your life, your freedom, your time and your income, you have to keep educating yourself in business. 

For all those reasons, I made it my purpose to help educate architects in business, marketing, communications and sales to help them with one thing and one thing only: To attract better clients and projects and elevate their financial wellbeing.

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Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins & Will. Image © James and Connor Steinkamp

This spring I bring you the first edition of Disrupt- The Business of Architecture Symposium.

This is the first of its kind event at this scale. 

What makes it different from any other bigger business-oriented events you might have attended in the past?

Here you learn from C-level leaders, partners, directors, founders, and editors-in-chief of some of the most prominent and largest architecture businesses in the world.

The event is organized under the tagline: “Success leaves clues” 

Why? Because success is not some kind of mysterious code you have to crack in order to be happy. It's a set of principles, rules, a system, a plan of action that has been implemented before and worked. Therefore, if you want it to work for you, it can. All you have to do is learn what actions and thought processes belong to the most successful.

Disrupt is where you go to learn more about the blueprint of success in architecture. 

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Little Island by Heatherwick Studio + MNLA + Arup. Image © Timothy Schenck

Some of the topics that we will cover include:

1.How to value your time and get paid upfront.

Big architecture studios give very little of their time away for free. They figure out a way to get paid for front-end work that the other guys don’t charge for. And when they do quote fees they are less concerned about their cost to deliver and more concerned about what they think the client will be willing to pay. They know giving too much away is a slippery slope that is hard to get out of later. So they set the expectations early as they understand this to be fundamental to making money in this business. American architect and author of “The Business of Architecture” book Kathy Dixon will join us at Disrupt to help you understand how to run a financially successful architecture firm. Simone de Gale, English architect innovator, and founder of Simone de Gale Architects, will speak about competitions, procurement and bid strategies. 

2.How to be selective about who you work for and begin to only serve the highest quality clients. 

Successful architecture firms don’t just jump in their car, or get on a plane every time a new potential client reaches out to them for help. They study the situation and see how that specific client and project fits into the business they are trying to build. And if they sense anyone is going to be difficult to work with or resistant to paying a proper fee for their efforts, they drop them – fast – before wasting much time. You can’t make a lot of money if you work for just anyone.

But how do you create a good business strategy that helps you get the clarity you need as to who your ideal clients are? Iben Falconer, Global Marketing and Business Development Leader at SOM, will join the conference giving a lecture about “strategic growth and business development.” We will also be joined by partners Chris Mulvey and Sean Scensor at Safdie Architects to learn how they realize mega-projects out of a 50-person office in Boston. UnStudios partner Filipo Loddi will speak about value-adding activities through design services teaching you about diversification in business and the importance of practice positioning through research and innovation. With all new business relationships also comes the threat of something going wrong. These undesired situations can hugely affect your business if not managed well. Ria Patel, Lead Public Relations coordinator at ARUP, will speak about how the biggest engineering company in the world manages crises and maintains the practice's reputation.

Oftentimes architects go into business preoccupied about what's next for them – next client, next project, next paycheck – often overlooking the importance of planning for success. Philip Keil, principal and Director of Strategy at Zweig Group, will join us to speak about leaving your legacy as an architect, and how to plan strategically for purpose-driven leadership. 

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Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport - Terminal 2 by SOM. Image Courtesy of Robert Polidori

3.How to create an unshakable brand that brings you the reputation and clientele you deserve. 

As a business consultant for architects, I work with all-scale architecture firms and solopreneurs, many of whom, at the beginning tell me that if not for their business development efforts, they’d have little to no work. But this is precisely because they don’t invest in branding, communications, marketing and public relations. A way to keep fees high, quality of projects high, and afford to hire and invest in good people is to become good at branding. BIG’s partner for Global Brand and Communications Daria Pahhota will talk about the identity of the Architect: Culture and Communication. Finn MacLeod, Global Communications Lead at SOM, and his colleague Fadi Asmar will join the conference to teach you about the value of brand differentiation and storytelling to strengthen and humanize architecture businesses. Archdaily’s very own David Basulto will present a keynote on Digitalisation and Opportunities for Architects. We will learn from founder and editor-in-chief of ParametricArchitecture Hamid Hassanzadeh about publishing and creating alternative streams of income through expert positioning online. Amanda Ferber, a young architect and curator of the world's biggest, architecture only, Instagram profile, Architecture Hunter, will join us to teach you how to utilize social media to spread your message about your brand, globally, building an unshakable image for your services.  And finally, Oscar Riera Ojeda from ORO Publishers will speak about ​​”Architecture on paper: over five hundred years of criticism, pedagogy, documentation and branding” sharing with you his insights from his 35 years experience of architecture book-publishing.

4.How to get specialized and lead your practice through research and expertise. 

Specialization rules in the AEC business when it comes to making money. This doesn’t mean you can do only one thing. Obviously the larger you get, the more specializations you can have. But one thing I know is clients don’t want generalists! They want design professionals who are experienced in the type of work they need done for other client organizations similar to theirs. If you are truly specialized, you should be better at what you do, and you should be able to do it more efficiently than another firm that is doing something different for different types of clients. Rarely, if ever, have I seen being a generalist pay off in terms of firm success in this business.

The director of AMO at OMA Samir Bantal will join me for an exclusive interview to speak about research impact strategy for practice and the business of expertise within the architecture sector. Yehia Madkour, director of Innovation at Perkins&Will, will speak about how their research efforts into sensor technology has developed into an alternative source of monthly income based on the SAAS model for the practice. Harry Ibbs, former Director of Technology for ZHA, now a director at Gensler will disclose how design and technology can help you grow your business. 

5.How to keep your people and build inclusive equitable teams.

Everyone is talking about the upcoming “great resignation” we are supposed to soon be facing. I don’t believe that the crazy percentages of people who are expected to quit in the next year will necessarily apply to firms in our industry, but I do believe those firms that can consistently keep their turnover rates down perform better than those that don’t. It just makes sense. Low turnover looks better to clients and increases efficiency. To have low turnover, firms need a real sense of purpose. They have to pay their people well. They need to invest in the tools and training their people want and need. And especially today, they need to be flexible in terms of accommodation of varying work schedules and locations (for a wide variety of reasons). These things are essential if you want to keep your people in your company. 

Diana Darling: president and publisher of Architects Newspaper will host a conversation with Woods Bagot New York Studio Executive Director Vivian Lee to talk about “Women in Architecture”. Jette Cathrin Hopp, director of acquisition and new projects at Snohetta, will speak about people process projects and how to build a people’s first business. Jee Liu, founder of WallaceLiu will join us to speak about "People culture: equality, inclusion and diversity in the workplace". We will also be joined by Amanda Levete's very own Head of Operations: Martha Darling who will disclose how to recruit and retain your people in order to ensure a steady growth for your business. 

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Le Monde Group Headquarters by Snøhetta. Image © Marwan Harmouche

6.How to be optimistic and confident. 

Those principals who have real confidence and are optimistic about their futures and the future of their firms do better than those who are negative. The financial performance of their firms reflects the optimism and confidence of their leaders. But what makes you confident and what is the direction confident leaders look into? 

Principal of Zaha Hadid Architects Patrik Schumacher will join us to speak about the metaverse and the new opportunities for design, held in digital realms. Given that the topic is very hot these days, I have also invited metaverse and NFT innovator Krista Kim to give us a great insight into the economy of the metaverse: property ownership and rentals. We will discuss future possibilities for business that many of you might decide to embrace and niche into. Think of the first days of the world wide web, or when cryptocurrency came about ten odd years ago. Metaverse today is like the internet then. We don't know what it is going to grow into, but once we as a society step into this realm, there will be no coming back. All this means new business, therefore education into these matters is key!

Technology, digitalisation, alternative business models, digital marketing all those buzzwords mean new worlds, new possibilities, evolution and progression. With that progress comes the development of both hardware and software that can better support our adaptation. 

Therefore, in order to help you fully understand how to best utilize all these possibilities, we are being joined by Barbara Marshall and Ken Hauck, Industry Strategy Directors at Z by HP and Teradici, to speak about how architects can best drive business agility and productivity in the age of hybrid work. Access to the right computer can positively impact productivity and profitability, particularly in complex 3D environments like architectural design and engineering. 

Chaos, creator of VRay technology, will join us by putting up their own keynote with Bartosz Domiczek and Artur Tamiola from Commonpoint, who will advise on what should be the next step to push your freelance career forward. They will cover most of the things that an artist clashes with within the creative industry, like self-promotion, self-development, high-profit clients. Many architects turned archi-viz artists because the production of renders has proven for them to be a faster turn-around project and a valuable business model to pursue. Chaos, of course, supports architects' journeys into the future by giving them access to create hyper-realistic designing in the digital realm.

If you are an architect, engineer, or designer within the AEC industry you most likely have not been taught business at school. Until today, universities did not acknowledge the importance of equipping future designers in business education. Jeronimo Van Schendel, Director of the Master in Business for Architecture and Design at IE School of Architecture and Design will join the conference to speak to “Disrupting the built environment through business-focused architecture education.”

If you are on the professional career path and want to grow your entrepreneurial abilities, you have to start with knowledge. This event is here to help you understand, get inspired and see things from perspectives that have perhaps been hard to access, until now.

As Benjamin Franklin once said: “An investment in education always pays the highest return”.

We launch with an early-bird discount offer, which expires on the 1st of April. Places are limited and will sell out fast! Invest in yourself today.

For more information and ticket purchases go to:

About this author
Cite: Sara Kolata. "So You Want To Be Successful As An Architect?" 27 Feb 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Leeza Soho by ZHA. Image © Hufton + Crow

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