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Four ways to diversify your practice

Words:
Tara Gbolade

Don’t just be entrepreneurial, use your special skills to be ‘archipreneurial’ says London-based RIBAJ Rising Star and Gbolade Design Studio co-founder Tara Gbolade. She outlines her business plan below

Gbolade Design Studio's MyPart3 App is a resource for students. Credit: GD Studio
Gbolade Design Studio's MyPart3 App is a resource for students. Credit: GD Studio

1  Architects as app developers

Having observed the impact technology has on society, we wanted to bring some of these innovations into architecture.  Our first foray into developing a product emerged from our Part 3 educational experience. The mobile technology suggested a gap for a resource to aid on-the-go learning for students. While initially undertaking the challenge of learning to code with gusto (using tools such as x-code and github), we quickly realised our strengths were better applied in content development and user interface (UX) design, leaving coding to the experts.

Following what seemed like a projected period of amendments, we launched the MyPart3 App; an iOS mobile application designed to give architecture students high-level information on how to run a project, how to run a practice, and featuring a powerful resources section including podcasts, design standards and industry events.

With a growing number of downloads, the app has led to sponsorship and partnership agreements from leading industry organisations such as Ibstock Brick, Forticrete and Graphisoft – giving these companies the platform to embed their brand in the minds of future specifiers, while providing an ongoing revenue stream from a product we’ve made.

Its development was enabled by the readily transferable skills architects possess: the ability to conceptualise, develop and bring to fruition a product within set constraints. Through the process we gained additional skills including negotiating deals, marketing, PR and trademarking, giving us a better appreciation for the work required for future ventures.

  • External views of Gbolade Design Studio's designs for the r-Home being developed.
    External views of Gbolade Design Studio's designs for the r-Home being developed.
  • Interior sketch section of Gbolade Design Studio's designs for the r-Home.
    Interior sketch section of Gbolade Design Studio's designs for the r-Home.
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2  Architects as generators

The process of creating the r-home offsite product also led to in-depth thinking about standardisation and fed in to the development of our GDS Design Code: our standard apartment types developed to bring high-quality design to our clients’ end-users. These dwellings feature a series of configurations that offer generous space, light, volume and plenty of storage.

We are also exploring the use of generative design tools (an iterative semi-automated design process using intelligent software and client-architect parameters to rapidly generate a certain number of feasibility options) for multi-unit developments.

Adopting the above systems has brought time efficiencies to our internal processes (and external client programmes), freeing resources to focus on place-making while being acutely aware of the client’s triple bottom line.

We’ve found these solutions bring efficiencies in project delivery, allowing us to take on more projects than we ordinarily could, and we therefore can be more selective about the clients we work with.

Being conscious of the re-emergence of interest in offsite construction, and through our experience working with residential providers, we created the ‘r-Home’ to help alleviate the well documented housing crisis. This is an off-site product with a layout that emphasises creating social connections within the home while giving it the flexibility to adapt to changing family needs.

The process of developing this product opened our thinking to property development as a whole, and helped us develop our commercial interests by understanding varying risk levels. This allowed us to take a proactive approach to generating work. We assist our clients with finding land opportunities that suit their portfolios and development ambitions. Some opportunities see us receive referral fees, some allow us to pursue option agreements and planning gain, and some will see us enter JVs with specific developers based on a collaborative partnership.

3  Architects as ‘systemisers’

The process of creating the r-home offsite product also led to in-depth thinking about standardisation and fed in to the development of our GDS Design Code: our standard apartment types developed to bring high-quality design to our clients’ end-users. These dwellings feature a series of configurations that offer generous space, light, volume and plenty of storage.

We are also exploring the use of generative design tools (an iterative semi-automated design process using intelligent software and client-architect parameters to rapidly generate a certain number of feasibility options) for multi-unit developments.

Adopting the above systems has brought time efficiencies to our internal processes (and external client programmes), freeing resources to focus on place-making while being acutely aware of the client’s triple bottom line.

We’ve found these solutions bring efficiencies in project delivery, allowing us to take on more projects than we ordinarily could, and we therefore can be more selective about the clients we work with.

Harlow & Gilston Garden Town.
Harlow & Gilston Garden Town. Credit: Gilston Park Estate

4  Architects as public practitioners

I have been working with Epping Forest District council, through the Public Practice programme, as part of the team delivering the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town. I focus on implementation of sustainable principles for the town’s ambitions of place-making, sustainable movement, economic regeneration for the existing communities, and the additional 10,000 homes needed.

Public practice involves using the unique skills of architects to influence policy and make meaningful change within the public sector; ensuring good quality design principles are championed from the outset, and helping redefine the roles of local government in the way that places are designed, delivered and managed in a bid to make ordinary places extraordinary.

Working within the public sector has certainly brought a much broader scale than we’d ordinarily be used to as architects. There are opportunities to redesign internal processes, rewire departmental structures, and reframe how we work with communities. There are also opportunities to bridge the gap for collaborative working between local authorities and private developers, for the benefit of society at large. Understanding the real ambition of innovative local authorities to bring about positive change and encourage good place-making in their boroughs has been inspiring.


Tara Gbolade is co-founder at Gbolade Design Studio and is a RIBAJ Rising Star 2018. The competition recognises outstanding members of the up and coming generation of architects. The search for this year's cohort of Rising Stars, in association with Origin, begins later this month.

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