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The coach: ‘I'd like to switch to commissioning projects’

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Matthew Turner has advice for an architect who wants to move to the client side, as well as a sole-practitioner whose wife would like to join the firm

How do I reposition myself as a client representative?

On a recent major project, I really got on with the client representative, who made it a great project to work on; and their job struck me as an interesting role. I had already been thinking about the future, and now think I would like to explore opportunities on the client side, commissioning projects. But I really wouldn’t mind avoiding the time and cost of retraining. How do I go about repositioning myself?

There are lots of adjacent professions to architecture, meaning people with architectural skills can reposition themselves without necessarily the requirement to completely retrain. However, this transition requires work, and dedication. The easiest way is to prove your value in your current activity as an architect, and then find new opportunities through networking and recommendation.

Given the good relationship you have built up with your previous client, this person could make a great mentor to help you navigate this new phase of your career. A mentor can be helpful in a number of ways. For example, you note you ‘think’ you want to move to this, but before you make any move it is worth checking you understand what the role you are contemplating involves. You may find the opportunities you are interested in do not have clear job descriptions with easily identified job ads, so all the more reason to work on networking, something a mentor can help with.

Being a cross-sector person can be a very good sell in the future

Some client representatives, depending on the sector, are serial project contractors. Others, because of the small amount of major construction their organisation might undertake, are often also involved in all sorts of other projects a lot of the time, which may not be what you might find interesting.

Another way to make this kind of transition is through developing broader consultancy experience to complement your architectural skills. As a Londoner you are lucky there are so many large multidisciplinary firms that can offer this opportunity. Of course you may need to retrain if you are to move to another discipline, but often these consultancies get employed to do all sorts of other activities apart from architecture, anything from project briefing to evaluation, activities that many a client also needs to undertake.

I applaud your wish to keep yourself fresh in your career; being a cross-sector person can be a very good sell in the future. By combining knowledge of the client’s perspective with experience of practising architecture, you could well be developing a niche speciality. Played right, this could be a very shrewd move to enhance your employability.

Should my wife join my practice?

My wife would like to join me in my practice in an administrative role, but I am not so sure. On a practical level it makes a lot of sense. After a child-rearing break, she doesn’t want to return to her previous full-time job. I am a sole trader with my office in the garden, and I would really welcome the assistance as I am really busy. She is super practical, and could handle all the office management standing on her head. The problem is I feel it could jeopardise our relationship. I don’t think she appreciates that I have a slightly different way of dealing with my professional life, and I worry that being with her all the time could make things complex.

I think you know the answer to this yourself, as it is fundamentally about your relationship. Whatever the practical advantages you set out, your email makes it really quite clear you are concerned about the blurring of the boundaries of home and work. Perhaps this is made harder because you are worried that saying no will come across as a rejection?

You are self-aware enough to know you may not want to expose your wife to your work persona

Yet this is definitely the lesser of two evils. Handling that conversation, however painful, is surely better than potentially risking much more should your work and home life become sullied.

It sounds as though you are self-aware enough to know you may not want to expose your wife to your work persona. Just because some husband-and-wife practices work well, it doesn’t mean it is the only way to work, and I think most that have this arrangement wouldn’t have gone into it already suspecting that there were sides of work that didn’t overlap well with home life. It may well be expedient, but the balance of your life, especially as someone working at home, has more considerations than only the practical.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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