Let's outsource everything!

Many Melbourne firms are bursting at the seams with a flurry of new and returning work.

While resourcing these projects, we have debated the merits of hiring versus outsourcing. An interesting thought emerged – should outsourcing be used for all the labour-intensive design development and documentation? This would allow us to specialise in front end design. At first I felt this was crazy – you could easily lose control over the end product. But what if we outsourced everything: changed the culture completely?

In essence we would decentralise the many roles of architecture and restructure as specialised fields. I’m not suggesting that we abolish multi-faceted studios, merely promote greater specialisation and collaboration. Studios could specialise in fields of architectural and interior design, research, documentation, facade and complex geometry, visualisation, and material fabrication. To an extent these studios are ­already appearing.

Traditional architectural offices provide services that are so diverse that they lack a consistent flow of projects and continuity of staff to really innovate.

Specialisation gives the building industry access to a larger pool of talent, each dedicated to innovating in their field.

Project offices would be established for the duration of the process and house various studios for each work stage. Smaller studios could be engaged on larger projects as the role is more refined, breaking the mentality of ‘large project – large office’. Our place of work would shift from year to year as would those we collaborate with. We could adopt a similar structure to the film industry. The Producer (Investor) typically looks for a Director (Design Architect) and with their small team would select a suite of collaborating studios capable of exploring and resolving the design intent. Over time preferred collaborations would naturally form between studios.

This type of structure is tremendously flexible, allowing teams to be tailored to the project. We wouldn’t see coding specialists or design architects drawing bathroom details as they wait for new projects. Rather, these studios would seek continuity of work through their network of contacts. At any one time the collaboration of studios would bring together a broad network of people. Graduates spending time in them would gain knowledge by blending experiences and absorbing the complexity of the industry.

Imagine if we could focus most of our time on our architectural strengths, and be part of a group delivering amazing work through ­collaboration. We would build efficiencies and innovate. We could work with different size projects and briefs without having to expand or contract. Our overheads would be much smaller; we would be flexible and adapt to change easily. Directors and investors would have more opportunities to attract the best talent.

In a film, everyone who made a contribution is acknowledged. In a way film making is a celebration of individual talent in collaboration, something that is obscured in our current architectural structure.

Alan McLean is an architect at Bates Smart Architects in Melbourne