The Origins of ArchiTeam: A Retrospective

By the end of the 80’s, with interest rates hitting 18%, it was clear that the large credit bubble was about to burst, and so it did.  By the start of 1991 funding for many projects had collapsed.  Practices simply could not retain employees and hundreds of architects were thrown out of work.  At the same time the State Govt abolished the Public Works Dept, throwing many more out of a job.

The RAIA at the time immediately called an emergency meeting of members, and hundreds attended at a venue in South Melbourne.  However the RAIA felt that there was little they could do to assist.   I recall suggesting that they at least establish a bulletin board, which members could use to communicate with each other, advertise joint work opportunities, and at least keep in touch with the profession.  A key development which was coming into force at this time was legislation requiring all architects to carry Professional Indemnity Insurance.  This was going to be an almost impossible burden for those suddenly trying to operate as sole practitioners.  There were so few work opportunities during this period that architects turned to taxi driving, waiting tables, anything to provide an income.

Andrew Begg (formerly of Begg Barrack & Douglas), Senior Counsellor with the RAIA, with the support of then President Peter Clarke, could see that architectural practice in the state would be weakened considerably if architects were not in some way supported to stay in the industry.

Andy collared me at the end of the meeting and suggested we work together to set up further meetings of architects interested in continuing some form of self-support.  His underlying and profound idea was that we negotiate a single PI insurance cover for a group of Institute members who signed up for it.   With the cost of a single premium shared by a number, the cost per individual would be greatly reduced.   As well as assisting members to stay in the industry, there would be other valuable benefits.

While I investigated possible forms of association, Andy negotiated with RAIA Insurance and lobbied Government for acceptance of the group cover idea.

Andy Begg and myself were the founding Directors of ArchiTeam Co-operative which became established as a Trading Co-operative on 9th June 1992, with approximately 30 members.  I have to say that not all within the RAIA at the time were in favour of the idea of a subset of Institute members, with group PII cover.  Some were actually hostile.  We had settled on the name ArchiTeam, partly so that it might be seen as adding to the “stable” of RAIA organisations, and to impart an air of enthusiastic collaboration among members.  The Archicentre organisation at the time saw it as direct competition, and Andy fought hard to defend the existence of the group.  He should not have had to.  The group was never in competition with the Institute or any part of it.  In the early stages, when we refused to go away, the RAIA insisted that the Board include one Director nominated by the Institute.  Without the efforts of Andy Begg and the support of Peter Clarke, ArchiTeam may not have lasted beyond those first few meetings.

Again Andy stepped around those in the Institute who were opposed to the Co-op by arranging that the RAIA nomination be Bryan Miller.  Fortunately Bryan could see the merit in this initiative and contributed valuable support, as he has continued to do for practices large and small, and for architectural graduates with the PARC course.  After a while the Co-op Rules were amended such that all Directors are democratically elected by the members.

The requirement for all registered architects to have PI cover passed into law, and the group cover for the Cooperative was recognised at government level and accepted in law as a special case under the Architects Act 1991 Architects Insurance Ministerial Order (part D Co-operative Member Architects).

It was such a volatile period, early records are scant but some of the early Directors of the Co-op apart from those mentioned were:  Errol Phelan, Nadine Samaha, Bruce Marshall, Helen Mathews, Max Drake, but a great many members contributed to Co-op activities.

We have been saddened by the death of Andy Begg in 2015.

A major concern was how to deal with claims made under the Group insurance.

This led to concerted efforts to collectively improve risk management by all members.  This has been a valuable focus of the Co-op now since inception, and one of the benefits.  Continuing Professional development is now a major part of Co-op activity.  With a regular election cycle, the opportunity to be elected as a Director on the Board is another benefit, providing valuable experience in managing an organisation larger than one’s own practice.

Because practices were not hiring, another initiative, was the Mentor Scheme. Graduates could team up with a registered Architect willing to oversee their work, though with limited success.   Another was establishing a stand at the HIA Home Show, where members were rostered on to staff the ArchiTeam display, with the aim of attracting commissions.  Bruce Marshall kindly provided the photos.

ArchiTeam’s early purpose was to democratically serve and engage sole practitioner architects and small practices, enable compliance with the Architects Act, fostering the sharing of issues and information, peer review, and support.   It is wonderfully heartening to see that this purpose endures, and membership continues to grow, by now approximately 500.  ArchiTeam has also made huge improvements as a professional organisation.

Hearty Congratulations to all the Directors and Members past and present for ArchiTeam reaching this 25th Anniversary!!