Beth Xotta-Dickson of XOTTA Architects and Victorian Event Correspondent for Architectural Window Systems reports on the growth strategies adopted by three architectural practitioners when expanding their practice.

Small practices and sole practitioners make up around 85 per cent of Victoria’s architecture profession. The three architects, Julian Kosloff (BKK Architects), Stephanie Bullock (BKK Architects), and Peter Elliott (Peter Elliott Architecture and Urban Design) talk to members of the Australian Institute of Architects, Victoria Chapter about how they shaped the future of their practice and excelled in a new space. The discussions also focussed on the opportunities existing for practices wanting to grow their business in a challenging market.

Architects are not traditionally known for taking a business minded approach to starting a practice, often citing creative motivations and professional development opportunities over the typical business-centric drivers of profitability, growth and long-term business viability.

Like many new practices, BKK Architects began as a small residential practice. Julian recalls the early years being full of enthusiasm, but lacking in strategy. “When you post-rationalise where you are now, it is very easy to romanticise the set-up of the practice, but really it was simply based around the idea that we wanted to create good architecture.”

While the founding partners at BKK didn’t have a target market in mind or a desire to focus on a particular building typology when first establishing their practice 15 years ago, they shared a common interest in place making and a desire to create design based outcomes within the public realm.

This shared vision for the practice drove them to become involved in competitions for public works and to engage with the wider Melbourne design community, which fostered a culture of collaboration within the practice. “The architect these days is not the renaissance person - architecture is becoming more and more specialised. The key is not to pretend you know everything, but to find the right avenues to work with the right people.”

Competitions became an important source of work for the practice, enabling BKK to build a diverse portfolio of urban design, multi-residential and infrastructure projects. Stephanie explains that although the shift in focus away from private residential projects aligned with their vision for the practice, they quickly realised that they had lost diversity in their client base, and that they would need to start being more strategic in terms of business development. “We were heavily reliant on a particular type of client, almost all of our projects were for state government bodies, which represented a substantial risk - we had to start thinking forward in terms of revenue projection in a much more analytical way.”

Stephanie advises practice owners to have a clear idea of where they want the practice to be in 5 years, assessing each sector for attractiveness in terms of profitability, design potential, market growth and alignment with practice values.

Peter took a similar path with his practice, which he explains was established “by accident” following a number of residential commissions. While he never had a formal strategy for growth, he always had a clear idea about the direction for his practice, which was informed by his passion for urban renewal and public works.

Peter started his practice in 1975 in a collaborative workspace where he formed clear ideas about how to structure his business by observing the challenges faced by other architects.

Over time, Peter developed a sustainable business model with reliable cash flow and a stable client base by establishing specific parameters that limited the number, type and construction value of projects he took on at any given time. This enabled him to stay engaged with client need and build loyalty amongst his clients, many of which have supplied him with work for over 20 years.

Stephanie advises practice owners to invest their time wisely. “There is an idea that business development is about cold calling and networking - we found that the vast majority of our work was coming from existing relationships.”

Image: Julian Kosloff and Stephanie Bullock, BKK Architects