BUILDING A SOLE PRACTICE (AND SOME OF YOUR FIRST PROJECTS)
This month, as Eliza Blair Architecture celebrates the completion of some of its first projects, I chat to Eliza about what led her to pursue sole practice and some of the learning curves along the way...
Towards the end of maternity leave with her second son, Eliza couldn't fight the feeling she wanted more in her career. "I had spent 14 years working in all sorts of different practices, large and small, with eight of those years being at HASSELL. I had worked on a huge variety of projects of different scales over all stages", she explains, but what would be the next step? After a couple of months reflecting on her strengths and passions and thanks to a bit of a prod from an old friend during a chance encounter at a wedding, Eliza realised she was ready for sole practice. "Once the decision was made, everything started to fall into place", including a couple of side projects which came her way. "Before I realised it, I had all the motivation I needed" and Eliza Blair Architecture was open for business. "It was a really exciting time."
Of course, running her own practice comes with its challenges, many of which working in other firms, big or small, can't prepare you for. "The peaks and troughs of workflow can be difficult to deal with as a sole practitioner", admits Eliza. "You are only ever one project away from being too busy or too quiet." Equally, the 'sole' in sole practice takes some getting used to. "Probably the one thing I miss most about a studio culture is the ability to bounce ideas around and make collective decisions." Luckily, working towards more efficient processes and trusting herself to make decisions solo (and faster) has helped Eliza deal with these challenges.
Eliza Blair Architecture recently completed South Melbourne Terrace. Striking the balance between retaining original features in the former general store, while creating light-filled and breezy spaces creates a modern home filled with character and special moments. The process helped to solidify some of the most rewarding aspects of practice. "For me it’s always been about seeing that direct link between architecture and human experience. To directly influence someone’s sense of happiness and wellbeing, is a really powerful thing. It takes a long time to get to this point in a project though, and it’s a fleeting moment, so I try to also embrace the day to day enjoyment that I get out of the variety in my day, being hands on in every aspect of the process, the self-driven motivation, and also the flexibility of being able to do things on my own terms."
"As my work is now starting to get built, I am constantly learning about better ways to communicate things to a builder", Eliza reveals. "You can miss things, they can miss things, and what you do or say can have a great impact. I don’t think that aspect of the learning curve will ever end though. You never get to the end of a project and go, 'nailed it!'" Self-reflection, ongoing learning and a dash of perfectionism is necessary in sole practice. Eliza's not looking back, though. "Doing work that I enjoy and am proud of, and at the same time, be able to spend time with my kids" is a benefit of sole practice that is hard to trump. "I have been able to choose how and when I work, make a living (I use that term ‘living’ very loosely) and even get some work published. I think that’s about all I could ask for", Eliza says.
In the next few years Eliza hopes to be working with others in the practice, "whether that means partnering up with someone or hiring more staff, I’m not sure yet." This will no doubt bring that sense of collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas Eliza misses from her previous work. There might also be mentoring or teaching on the horizon, "I’m really keen to stay in touch with the next generation of architects and keep on learning, who knows, I might even teach myself Revit!"