Charting Your Course: Master strategies for organizing and managing architecture firms


The model derives from observing that two key driving forces shape the operation, management and organization of every architecture firm: first, its choice of technology (particular project operating system or process employed by the firm), and second, the collective values of the principals of the firm (Values refers to the personal goals and motivation of the principals in charge of the firm).

In regard to technology:

  • In general: Brains (expertise) firms:  they offer the smartest kid on the block/ In architecture: Strong-idea, organized to deliver singular expertise or innovation on unique projects.
  • In general: Gray-hair (experience) firms: they customize ideas, but rarely are positioned at the cutting edge/  In architecture: Strong-service organized to deliver experience and reliability, especially on complex assignments
  • In general: Procedure (execution) firms: they offer a prompt start, quick disposition and low cost/ In architecture: Strong-delivery, organized to provide highly efficient service on similar or more-routine assignments, often to clients who seek more of a product than a service

In regard to values:

Practice, as defined by Webster, is “the carrying on or exercise of a profession or occupation as a way of life.” Business, on the other hand, is defined as a “commercial or mercantile activity customarily engaged in as a means of livelihood.”

Practice-centered professionals  typically have as their major goal the opportunity to serve others and produce examples of the discipline they represent. Their bottom line is qualitative: How do we feel about what we are doing? How did the job come out?

Business-centered professionals more likely have as their personal objective a quantitative bottom line, which is more focused on the tangible rewards of their efforts: How did we do?



Weld Coxe, Hon. AIA; Nina F. Hartung; Hugh, H. Hochberg; Brian J. Lewis, UDavid H. MaisterU,, Robert F. Mattox, FAIA; and Peter A. Piven, FAIA,  1986. Charting Your Course: Master strategies for organizing and managing architecture firms. In Architectural Technology, (May/June 1986), pp. 52-58. Retrieved here

Image available here

On the importance of social learning in architectural studies


  • Cuff, 1991/Nicol-Pilling, 2000: rich social dynamic and socialized learning in a learning setting form a central plank of the studio-based pedagogy for arch design. Although studio learning has historically utilized the cohort, peer interaction has further potential to alleviate the detrimental effects of power that can manifest themselves in tutor-student relationships.
  • Parnell, 2001: The social dimensions of the studio and the opportunity for collaboration and sharing act as stimulants to learning
  • Fisher, 1991: fraternity culture, it is the culture of the studio that acquires lasting significance for students
  • Costa-Kallick, 1991: critical friend_it enables a form of peer to peer dialogue that directly parallels the kinds of conversation that occur between students in the learning process
  • Dutton, 1991: peer to peer relationships are relatively free from the symptoms of power asymmetries
  • Schaffer, 2003: learning takes place through the internalization of social processes of evaluation and that the norms of the community become a framework for individual thinking and individual identity
  • Boud, 2001: peer learning promotes other facets of learning such as team working, the management of personal learning and judgment and the ability to critique both self and others
  • Anthony, 1991: informal dialogue and formalized learning offers the students the possibility to obtain multiple perspectives and opportunity for continuous discourse. The nature of the studio means that students are exposed to numerous, frequently conflicting perspectives which can present challenges, especially during the early stages of study.
  • Klebesadel-Kornetsky, 2009: critique, as a mode of offering structured and unstructured feedback is a mode that is shared by all the creative arts
  • Bruffee, 1999: constructive conversation as a means to harness peer interaction, socialization and critical dialogue
  • Piaget, 1985: co-operation as central to the development of reflection, discourse and critical abilities
  • Vygotsky, 1986: zone of proximal development term that described how social interaction constitutes a necessary component for full cognitive development to be achieved
  • Flavell, 1985-Stahl, 1992: cognitive and meta-cognitive processes of knowledge construction contradict the common assumption that knowledge is effectively conveyed from tutor to student in feedback processes. Student learning  was found to be conditioned by the individuals’ existing knowledge and understanding, against which new information is aligned creating either a deepening of knowledge or leading to previous knowledge being revised. 
  • Askew, 2000: power has a profound relationship to feedback, whether formative or summative
  • Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006: peer interaction occurs where student progress generates dialogue and criticism
  • Mezirow, 1997: there are instances when students actively seek the authority of the tutor and points where power can be constructively channelled to challenge and stretch students through shifting their frames of reference in ways that peer dialogue is unlikely to achieve
  • Rowntree, 1977: feedback is fundamental to effective learning



David McClean & Neasa Hourigan, 2013. Critical Dialogue in Architecture Studio: Peer
Interaction and Feedback. In Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 8:1, 35-57

Image of Macquarie University Social Learning Space / Bennett and Trimble is available here

Activity Theory and Expansive Learning


Cultural-historical activity theory was initiated by Lev Vygotsky (1978) in the 1920s and early 1930s. It was further developed by Vygotsky’s colleague and disciple Alexei Leont’ev (1978, 1981). In my reading, activity theory has evolved through three generations of research (Engeström, 1996).

  • The first generation, centered around Vygotsky, created the idea of mediation (…) Vygotsky’s idea of cultural mediation of actions is commonly expressed as the triad of subject, object, and mediating artifact (…) Objects became cultural entities and the object-orientedness of action became the key to understanding human psyche (…) The limitation of the first generation was that the unit of analysis remained individually focused.
  • The second generation, centered around Leont’ev (…) Leont’ev explicated the crucial difference between an individual action and a collective activity (…) object-oriented actions are always, explicitly or implicitly, characterized by ambiguity, surprise, interpretation, sense-making, and potential for change. The concept of activity took the paradigm a huge step forward in that it turned the focus on complex interrelations between the individual subject and his or her community.
  • The third generation of activity theory needs to develop conceptual tools to understand dialogue, multiple perspectives, and networks of interacting activity systems (…) Wertsch (1991) introduced Bakhtin’s (1981) ideas on dialogicality as a way to expand the Vygotskian framework. Ritva Engeström (1995) went a step further by pulling together Bakhtin’s ideas and Leont’ev’s concept of activity, and others have developed notions of activity networks, discussed Latour’s actor-network theory, and elaborated the concept of boundary crossing within activity theory.

In its current shape, activity theory may be summarized with the help of five principles:

  • a collective, artifact-mediated and object-oriented activity system, seen in its network relations to other activity systems, is taken as the prime unit of analysis
  • the multi-voicedness of activity systems
  • historicity as activity systems take shape and get transformed over lengthy periods of time
  • central role of contradictions as sources of change and development
  • possibility of expansive transformations in activity systems

Expansion is a form of learning that transcends linear and socio-spatial dimensions of individual and short-lived actions (…) learning is understood in the broader and temporally much longer perspective of a third dimension, that is, the dimension of the development of the activity (…) Expansion is the result of a transition process from actions currently performed by individuals to a new collective activity (…) A transition from action to activity is considered expansive when it involves the objective transformation of the actions themselves and when subjects become aware of the contradictions in their current activity in the perspective of a new form of activity.



Cambridge University Press. Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory. Edited by Annalisa Sannino, Harry Daniels and Kris D. Gutierrez Frontmatter, 978-0-521-76075-1.

Yrjö Engeström. Expansive learning: Toward an activity-theoretical reconceptualization.

Image available here (Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of education and work, 14(1), 133–156. Taylor & Francis)

Kester Rattenbury on the RMIT model


Leon van Schaik became head of Architecture of RMIT in 1986 (…) he found a city with a group of excellent architects, well-respected by their peers, with a strong body of work but little sense as to how to articulate what was particular about it – and with almost no international recognition (…) Van Schaik invited them to ‘surface the evidence about their already established mastery’: to find, articulate, test and improve the design propositions they were making by actually designing. The remarkable local architectural scene, in which van Schaik became active on many fronts, is thus partly an academic outcome of a brilliant ongoing academic design research endeavor(…) The RMIT model is an astonishing success. Around 15 years ago, van Schaik developed the Masters course into a PhD by Practice: a program which now has 150 students enrolled between academic hubs in Australia, South-East Asia and Europe – one of the biggest architecture PhD programs anywhere (…) Students on this program have to be established designers, with a proven track record and a body of recognized work within which they uncover and develop a doctoral thesis. They must articulate their particular way of working and identify their referents – the people, buildings and environmental experiences they are drawing on – to establish their equivalent of a methodology and literature search. They have to extract and analyse their own tactics – the way they draw things, work with clients, interact, whatever they do to generate a design: to identify the working thesis, if you like, in their work. (bold-italics are mine)



Kester Rattenbury, 2015. Revealing Secrets. In the Architectural Review ‘The education Issue’. Full article available here

More on RMIT’s program in Europe here



ADAPT-r is an ITN network that aims to develop new knowledge and understanding of Creative Practice Research (CPR) thus design thinking, public behavior, as well as the emergence of new methods oriented towards the explication of tacit knowledge. It comprises of 33 early stage researchers all creative practitioners and PhD candidates, 7 experienced researchers and 7 institutional partners. Research was conducted in the form of 9 paired interviews.

WORK PACKAGE 01_Primary Research: it follows the logic of the referential focuses of creative practice research training;

  • case studies: these are the venturous practices of the creative practitioners
  • community of practice: the communities that contextualize these case studies
  • transformative triggers: what shifts and transforms their creative practice and how it is related to social contexts; triggers uncover the challenges and the challengers of creativity the practitioners are not aware of; the revisiting, sorting and mapping past work triggers changing understandings; they are the markers of knowledge creation and recognition of development and change in the creative research practice; when things fall into place; Embracing Uncertainty: The space of not knowing; Other ways of knowing: intuition, hunch, feeling and bodily knowledge; they are not immediate insights but rather a means of opening up
  • public behaviors: it means that the practitioner positions himself/herself in his/her communities of practice/relevance; they point to navigating contexts; it is an interaction ritual
  • explicating tacit knowledge,
  • explication of methods

Methodology Analysis: Wording/Metaphoring/Anecdoting/ Diagramming*/ Choosing/ Playing/ Manifesting/ Structuring

Interesting findings on knowledge creation and creativity. 

(…) by thinking about knowledge as socially constructed, something that operates in networks, in relationships between actors, it becomes clear that there is no singular thing that amounts to knowing, instead, there are multiple knowledges. Knowledge represents multiple considerations about creativity. creativity can be a new idea, imagination and/or innovation; it too is multiple. As such it can be thought of as a responsive and relational, not classic and timeless.

There are three types of knowledge. There is input knowledge: the knowing before action. There is output knowledge: the knowing after action. There is relational knowledge: the knowing in action (communities of practice) developed relationally through interaction and collaboration

In order for innovation to be innovative it must be recognized as such by the creative practice researcher’s community of practice (…) the outputs of creative practice go beyond any objects of practice(…) doing creative practice is not the same as doing creative practice research; the practice needs to be framed differently



J. Verbeke, K. Heron, T. Zupancic, Relational Knowledge and Creative Practice, 2017, A publication by ADAPT-r (eds Tadeja Zupancic, Claus Peder Pedersen), ISBN 9789082510850, available here

ADAPT-r official webpage

*Diagrams as a research tool, Annotated, Different Aesthetics, Handmade, Collage, Landscape-like, as tools to discover or represent, as texts, to measure and visualize the projects, spider diagrams, time diagrams, architectonic diagrams, research space diagrams