Technē's Steve McKeag discusses the importance of mentoring within architectural practice

Laurence DragomirJune 7, 20180 min read

In a departure from architecture’s traditional hierarchies, the benefits of adopting a more collaborative approach to design within practices is becoming increasingly apparent.

A key part of this is mentoring which is critical to ensuring this new culture becomes a reality within architectural practice, according to Technē Architecture and Interior Design director Steve McKeag.

McKeag highlights the culture at Technē, where team leaders will often ask younger staff to identify goals and key tasks early on, as providing staff with the confidence to undertake projects of any size and budget.

The creative side of architecture can be very time exorbitant, so communicating with staff in a way that gets them to lift their heads up and identify the critical task at hand is very important.

McKeag is keen to share a number of initiatives the practice has implemented; initiatives he believes can improve culture across the sector.

Additionally, the studio follows a deliberate policy of project exposure and knowledge building. Wherever possible, junior staff are brought in on meetings with clients and contractors.

Speaking previously with McKeag discussed how fellow directors Nick Travers and Justin Northrop provide a lot of autonomy which in turn fosters a supportive and nurturing workplace environment in which team members share skills, knowledge and experience.

The leadership team encourages an open dialogue between employees at all levels, creating a space where resources and knowledge can be easily shared. According to McKeag, contributing to open forum type discussions assisted his own development and progression to director.

Technē's Steve McKeag discusses the importance of mentoring within architectural practice
Technē's directors (L-R) Justin Northrop, Steve McKeag, Nick Travers

Across the industry we’re beginning to see inspiring outcomes that are the result of intelligent collaboration, of multiple architects and designers pooling their talents, rather than as the expression of a single architect’s ‘genius’. Such collaboration begins early with mentorship

We take a collaborative approach on our projects that is almost the reverse of the old-fashioned model. When they establish a new project, Technē founding directors Nick [Travers] and Justin [Northrop] might outline the core challenges along with the client’s needs, but from there we open it up so that whoever comes up with the best concept is given the opportunity to develop that in collaboration with the project leaders. It’s design led and not top-down.

We give everyone as much exposure as possible to the different facets of the decision making process. It’s part of learning on the job.

Opening up a project to studio-wide feedback has the advantage of inviting a fresh perspective. Brainstorming outside the project’s known constraints can generate new ideas, which the team can then tailor within the boundaries of the brief or the client's expectations.

And if you’re retaining staff that’s a competitive advantage, because of the flow-on effects of greater corporate knowledge, which in turn leads to innovation.

These are skills so important to project communication and which senior practitioners can cultivate simply by helping their mentees.

It’s really bringing back some of those tactile processes and focusing on the concepts – then sharing that through conversation and mentoring – rather than concentrating on photo-realistic renders from the outset.

- Steve McKeag, Director Technē Architecture & Interior Design

Mentoring benefits both parties, McKeag stresses, and the benefits for both the mentor and the wider practice have been shown to result in a better workplace culture, improved staff morale and reduced turnover.

For the mentee, working collaboratively has shown to improve career advancement, job satisfaction, promotion and pay increases. Additionally, those who receive mentoring are far more likely to persist with their chosen career.

The industry’s peak body, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA), recognises the importance of mentoring, with various state chapters overseeing different schemes. Mentoring can help overcome barriers to gender diversity and,
alongside a focus on graduates entering the industry, the AIA Victorian Chapter looks for mentors to mature-age women returning to the field after a period away, perhaps after parental leave.

Other advocacy groups such as Parlour have also long lobbied and promoted equity in the industry and fair rights for all irrespective of age or gender. Parlour is also a strong proponent and advocate of mentoring, with the topic discussed in a series of essays on their site which you can read here.

Other initiatives implemented at Technē which are designed to encourage collaboration and enhance project outcomes are the Friday design reviews. These present an opportunity for studio members to express their interest in joining a project team, or simply to share relevant experience or ideas.

Technē’s Carlton studio also features pin boards which run the length of the work area and exhibit projects currently in progress, encouraging staff to share their insights and experience to colleagues passing by throughout the day.

The office's workshop provides a space where physical models and prototypes can be tested and has been designed to facilitate and promote both digital design and older more traditional methods of learning, something McKeag considers to be a point of difference with many other studios.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.
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