The Challenges of Independence and Why I’d Never Change

Monday, March 30, 2015

More than twenty years have passed since I first struck out on my own as an architect and now I find myself at a defining point in my career. I’m no longer working in isolation, I have a brilliant team around me who motivate me more than every day I spent on my own.

Despite this, I still consider myself an independent architect. That may seem like an unusual claim when 70% of domestic architects are one or two man bands. Comparatively, we’re quite a large practice but I’ve taken great lengths to combine the spirit of innovation and freedom that first inspired me with the resources and support that a practice provides.
This means tremendous personal accountability. I had a choice twenty years ago – a choice that’s still open to me – to be a salaried architect, with all the security and stability afforded by working as part of a larger practice.

Had I chosen that path, I would have been able to apologise my way out of mistakes rather than have them come out my pocket. I’d have had my pay and perks guaranteed every month for as long as I had the job.

I traded those benefits for finding my own work and being solely responsible for delivering overwhelmingly complex projects funded by the life savings of my clients. Pressure doesn’t even begin to describe it. But it’s that pressure that pushed me every day – and long into the night – to do my best.

Now for the past few years I’ve lead a team who have pushed the quality and the scale of our projects further than ever, but the pressure is still there. I’m not just responsible for my earnings and my clients’ savings anymore, I’m also responsible for the lives of my team, their families and their futures.

I’m where the buck stops. No matter how hard the day ahead will be, I need to come in with a positive, motivated mood and stay well outside of business hours. Work never truly ends and twenty years in there’s more than ever.

Some may read the above as negatives. Sometimes, I would agree. But I can’t imagine working any other way.

I wholeheartedly believe this independence delivers the best results for our clients. They take on a great deal of risk through a slow, often vague process that is incredibly personal and intimate, with finances, relationships and dreams all essential ingredients to building their home. It’s only fair that I’m just as invested and dependent on the success of the project as they are.

This bond is truly special. We’re often in similar places in our lives, at a point where we’re able to support our families and achieve a hard won lifestyle but still anxious about how we can continue to grow and leave a meaningful legacy. It’s a crucial chemistry, a mutual respect and sometimes even a lifelong friendship.

Though my role has grown and changed, these relationships have stayed the same and are now shared with a team who allow our clients to achieve even more of their dreams.

Leadership comes with many burdens and every day is a new lesson in how I can improve. But my new position also allows me to plan further in the future than before and what I see ahead excites and inspires me for the next 20 years and beyond.

By John Dyer-Grimes