NSW ARB Partners on groundbreaking study

A ground-breaking research project investigating the work-related wellbeing of architects and architecture students, has been funded in the most recent round of the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme.

A first for architecture

The research project, ‘Architectural Work Cultures: professional identity, education and wellbeing,’ is led by Monash University with the NSW Architects Registration Board as a Partner Investigator.  It will be the first major study to use interdisciplinary, qualitative and quantitative methods to examine how workplace cultures and professional identity affect the wellbeing of practitioners and students of architecture.

No research of this scope has been done in Australia, so the research project will provide a snapshot in time, and lay foundations to improve architecture’s workplace and education cultures.

Scope of inquiry

As a profession, architecture is highly unusual in that it stands at the intersection of the creative and construction industries, making it both a cultural and technical practice.

The research project will cover all stages of the career continuum, from the first year of architecture school until retirement, through the lens of architects working in small, medium and large practices.

The aim is to determine exactly what effects – both positive and negative – result from work cultures and professional identity in architecture. The project will go beyond knowledge generation, to action in the profession and cultural change.

The research project builds on an earlier literature review on ‘Architects and Mental Health,’ commissioned by the NSW Architects Registration Board in 2016, and on international research, which argues that aspects of architectural work culture can have a negative effect on the wellbeing of students and practitioners. While there is a widespread perception of similar problems in Australia, there has been insufficient research to prove it.

“This research will address the pressing need for a robust investigation into the systematic problems across the architecture profession that appear to arise from the normalisation of high-pressure work environments.”

  • Dr Kirsten Orr, Registrar, NSW ARB

An interdisciplinary team

The research project will be an interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in the Monash University Department of Architecture (Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture) and Department of Management (Faculty of Business and Economics).

Led by Professor Naomi Stead, who is also the Head of Architecture at Monash, the project team includes Professor Julie Wolfram-Cox, Associate Professor Maryam Gusheh, Dr Brian Cooper. Dr Kirsten Orr (Registrar of the NSW Architects Registration Board since 2019) is to be Partner Investigator on the project.

Also collaborating on the project is Justine Clark, founder of the award-winning advocacy group Parlour (working towards greater gender equity and improved working conditions in architecture) and Byron Kinnaird, a postdoctoral research fellow co-appointed by Monash and the NSW Architects Registration Board.

The research project also includes two PhD scholarships, looking at the education and practice contexts, respectively.

The interdisciplinary collaboration between scholars in architecture and management is significant because, as a profession, architects don’t always make great business-people.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that many architectural practices operate on the financial edge. At the same time, the discipline of architecture looks more to the arts and humanities, as well as engineering and the STEM disciplines, than it does to business and economics.

  • Professor Naomi Stead, Monash University

Partnering with peak bodies

The research project has several industry-based and education partners including:

  • The NSW Architects Registration Board – the regulator of architects in NSW;
  • The Australian Institute of Architects, and Association of Consulting Architects – the peak industry bodies representing architects; and
  • The Association of Australasian Schools of Architecture - the peak body representing architecture schools.

Partnering with the profession

In addition, the research project is partnering with six architecture practices, all committed to improving their employees’ wellbeing for the benefit of community and culture. They are (in alphabetic order): BVN, DesignInc, Elenberg Fraser, The Fulcrum Agency, Hassell, and SJB. 

Toolkits for the profession

Ultimately, the project proposes a series of events, forums, discussions, actions and interventions to improve the work- and study-related wellbeing of architects and architecture students. It will produce two toolkits in support of cultural change across education, workplace and institutional settings.

“The resources generated by this project will fundamentally support the architecture profession into the future – encouraging old work cultures to be replaced by those with a new focus on occupational well-being.  We expect there to be flow-on impacts from this transformation that will benefit consumers of architecture and the quality of the built environment more broadly.”

  • Dr Kirsten Orr, Registrar, NSW ARB


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