Leone Lorrimer

By Donna Kelly

12 June 2013 — Suters Architects and dwp have formed an alliance, known in Australia as dwp|suters.

Chief executive officer Leone Lorrimer said the move allowed the company to further its geographic spread and improve capacity to deliver expert services to a broader location. It has brought together dwp’s experience in hotel and high-rise residential developments with Suters’ education, sports, hospital and senior living foundations – which were growing quickly in Asia and the Middle East.

“It also gives our people greater potential for career development and a greater access to knowledge,” Ms Lorrimer said. “We have been working on this alliance for a year and we are already starting to find opportunities.”

Ms Lorrimer said, like all other industries, architecture had been doing it tough over the past year.

“Everyone has been sitting back waiting for the economy to return and last year has been very tough for architects, lawyers and other service providers. Broadly across the whole economy we have had to tighten our belts and reduce discretionary spending. It’s been a period of austerity.”

But Ms Lorrimer said it was also time the architecture industry looked at its future in terms of the “business generally”.

“We are seeing major companies, particularly financial institutions, totally transforming their business processes,” she said. “There is a reduction in all of the routine. For example, to do a hospital before computer-aided drafting, you would have needed a team of 30. Now that’s automated you might need a team of six to 10.

Punt Road Oval redevelopment Richmond, Melbourne by Suters

“Technology has allowed us to automate all of those routine things. But there is a side [to architects] which is still very, very traditional. And classically architects who run businesses don’t have the luxury of a professional manager – they might have a financial professional – but otherwise it is very hit and miss.”

Ms Lorrimer said it was time architects looked to professionalise their practices with their use of technology mostly having “a long, long way to go”.

“We have been chained to our desks. Because you needed a lot of grunt [from computers] to do content creation. But now with cloud technology and machines that don’t need that level of power we can be more mobile. It is freeing up architecture.”

Ms Lorrimer said major banks had unchained their staff years ago and were using agile working practices to make decisions in real time rather than waiting for meetings.

“They have no need for endless meetings and the attitude that ‘we can’t talk about this until next Tuesday’,?” she said. “These leading-edge businesses are using technology to get ideas to the market very quickly. And architects need to learn about some of these lessons.

“It’s all about developing better ideas and communicating our case to our clients. It is a much more robust system.”

Ms Lorrimer said along with learning from Australian businesses, architecture firms needed to realise they were also working in a global market with competition from around the world.

“Look at which firms are being asked to bid for such signature projects as James Packer’s casino. The British and Americans are all over our marketplace.”

But Ms Lorrimer said while there was a way to go, she was the “eternal optimist”.

“It’s all about strategy and action,” she said. “If you see a challenge you don’t say, ‘All the projects are going international.’ You say, ‘How can we do things better here?’

“You find out ways we can be on top. We need to compete.”