Dean Dewhirst

There’s currently major development-driven growth in employment opportunities for architects and interior designers across Australia, and many young professionals taking up those positions are looking to grow their careers in practices that show a passion for innovative design, sustainability and ethics, according to Dean Dewhirst, managing director of Maven, a specialist design sector recruitment firm.

“A year or so ago the market was not as active as it is now,” he said. “There is a very healthy project pipeline right now.”

Mr Dewhirst said that of the 60 or so studios Maven works with, between 30 and 40 per cent are currently actively hiring. The motivations include an increase in contracts – particularly for residential projects across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – and also succession planning on the part of major firms.

Many are also looking at opening new studios and expanding their reach, or strengthening knowledge leadership within studios by recruiting people that have gained insights through research or innovative project track records. Formal study such as a masters degree is not necessarily the golden ticket, rather a whole range of professional development courses ranging from Green Star courses to industry association-run workshops are being pursued.

“We are also seeing a shift towards a desire for more all-rounders, architects who can both work at the front end as part of design teams and undertake the on-site role delivering projects. These more versatile people are highly valued.”

There has also been a shift in how contracts are won. Mr Dewhirst said that around 50 per cent of contracts are now won on the basis of the “pitch, the passion and the presentation”, making the skill of story-telling, and conveying the narrative of a project in terms of how it relates to the site, the place, the urban context and the environment crucial. This combined with innovation in design is a winning combination for some of the leading firms.

Mr Dewhirst said that sustainability is something that very much adds to the “story” an architect conveys about a project, and is also fundamental to how many firms approach design.

“Sustainability adds to the narrative of what [a project] will do for you, the end user, and for the community, and there is a big call for that.

“Its story – including sustainability – is why One Central Park won building of the year.”

There are, however, some firms that are simply more focused on “buying the work” through lowering fees and competing on price rather than design, and he said this was a “touchy point” for the sector.

In addition, the degree of green commitment varies, with some commercial firms speaking the language, but not having an absolute commitment to ensuring it is absolutely front and centre in design.

“There is certainly a heightened interest and awareness of ESD and green building, and there has been for a while, but it does come down to individual commitment and passion,” Mr Dewhirst said.

“Some of the more commercially oriented firms who are just trying to cut fees [to win work] might sell sustainability but I don’t think they [necessarily] live and breathe it [as some others do].”

Overall, he said there was a higher value being placed on design by clients in many sectors. An exception is the Victorian multi-residential sector, where architecture firms are in fight-back mode against developers who prefer to design projects themselves rather than engage an architect.

“There is a real consciousness of the responsibility and the role of the architect, which is about producing buildings that make a difference to people and make places and cities better,” Mr Dewhirst said.

Overall, architects’ clients are increasingly seeing that the value of a building lies partly is in its ability to respond to needs and to context and environment.

“It’s not always just about economic drivers anymore,” Mr Dewhirst said.

This is also being reflected in a healthy demand for interior design professionals, especially where building owners and end users, such as commercial tenants, are adopting and embracing the trend towards green approaches to interior spaces.

“The large-scale and mid-scale commercial clients are really taking up the healthy living and work/lifestyle balance ideas,” Mr Dewhirst said. “And there are a lot of passionate designers [in that field].”